I’ve seen the world of publishing from both sides now. Ten years working in children’s editorial and marketing departments at Chronicle Books and Tricycle Press. Seven years selling those books to readers. In the eighteen years since I entered the publishing industry we’ve seen a few disruptions—the biggest being big-box chain stores, on-line retailers, and e-books. But gratefully, writing and reading remain essentially human enterprises, and the humans at indie bookstores remain a vital link between those readers and writers.
For your local bookseller, it’s not just about commerce, it’s about community, culture, and choice.
Anyone can find and read a bestseller. There’s no challenge in selling Mockingjay or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. What drives me is introducing kids to books they’ve never heard of, pulling gems from the haystack to let them shine. I feel it’s particularly important to hand a book to a kid that he wouldn’t pick up on his own, maybe one with a girl protagonist. Or a fantasy novel for the sports fanatic. Or a verse novel for the girl with dyslexia. Or a graphic novel for the struggling reader. It’s important to remember that books are not just mirrors but also windows. They should show us the larger world, even—and especially—if it doesn’t look like ours. In a world of algorithms that will tell you what “customers who bought this item also bought,” indie booksellers strive to give you what you don’t know you want, small books from small publishers with big ideas that fit you perfectly.
Twice now I have sat on the American Bookseller Association’s “Indies Introduce New Voices” committee as one of 13 independent booksellers around the country tasked with discovering the top debut works in the middle grade and young adult genres. In 2011 we introduced Divergent to the world but also Ashfall by Mike Mullin from little-known publisher Tanglewood Press. Indies evangelized that book into a successful trilogy not because the publisher paid for placement but because we adored it. Come in, we’ll geek out with you on that book that no one else has read.
Booksellers are not only funnels but also sponges. We soak up conversations and requests from customers to pass along to authors and editors. We remember what you sent your grandkids last Christmas. We connect authors with their readers in person at signings, school fundraisers, and book clubs. We comment on early stage manuscripts. We consign local authors’ books. And we’re all different, all human, readers—the ultimate disruptors.
What better day to come in and introduce yourself than Small Business Saturday. I challenge you to challenge us.
Summer Dawn Laurie is a children’s specialist at independent bookstore Books Inc. in San Francisco where she runs the Wild Girls Mother-Daughter Book Club and a monthly critique group for children’s book writers. She is also an independent editor, chairs the Children’s Alliance of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, and sits on the executive board of the Litquake Literary Festival.