I don’t have a problem with Amazon. Not really.

This weekend a friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. It was an article by Adam Stern in The Chicago Tribune entitled “Independent Bookstores are More Than Stores”.

This article gave me a lot of feels.

First, as a reader, I totally agree with him. I remember as a kid haunting local bookstores. I would sometimes spend hours browsing bookstore shelves. That’s how I discovered Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony and even Jane Austen. We had a used bookstore in our town called The Book Nook. I would often trade books in there. I’d bring in a stack of dog-eared novels and leave with another. I believe that’s where I first made the acquaintance of Stephen King. There is absolutely nothing like browsing a bookstore’s shelves and taking home a new book by a new author you might never have tried before.

And yes, this experience is slowly dying off.

Second, as an author, I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. They make it easy for me to publish my books. It costs me nothing but time to put my book up for sale on Amazon. BUT they make it easy for anyone to publish their books. Forgive me for sounding a little uppity here, but when I decide to publish something, it’s gone through intensive editing. I self-edit, but I am an editor, so I can do it. My books are not the stream-of-consciousness, unedited, full-of-typos books that have given independent/self-publishing a bad name. In fact, I would venture to say that my books are better edited than some bestsellers. But it’s difficult for readers to trust self-published books because anyone can self-publish. Hence, the love/hate relationship.

I cannot hate on Amazon when they provide essential tools for me, though.

Third, as a bookstore owner. Okay, I should hate Amazon, right? Again, there’s mixed feelings here. My store serves a different purpose than Amazon. You will not find the latest Oprah pick (does she still do that?), the newest best seller, the trendiest hot read on my shelves. I have well-loved classics, dog-eared novels, a decent selection of nonfiction, and LOCAL, INDEPENDENTLY-PUBLISHED AUTHORS. So as far as that goes, I don’t have a problem with Amazon. When someone comes in and asks for Nicholas Sparks’s latest or the new book by Barack Obama, I cheerfully refer them to Books-A-Million or Amazon. “But I want to keep my money local and help you,” they say. “So browse the shelves and find something you like from what I have,” I reply.

That’s my problem (and, I guess, Stern’s) with Amazon. But it’s not just Amazon. It’s big publishing in general. And people like Oprah who presume to know what other people should read. They have the influence and resources to push the same authors over and over again. The same ideas get consumed over and over. Just because I can publish my well-edited, pretty damn readable book doesn’t mean it’s going to be discovered by readers who have been conditioned to want to read the latest bestseller, the latest trendy nonfiction, the latest thing Oprah said was good.

So, to those who call me up and ask for the book they heard about on Good Morning America this morning, I say, “If you truly want to help your community and keep your money local, have a look at our local author section. There’s some good stuff in there that you will never know about if you don’t give it a try.”

My independently published graphic novel.

Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.

Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes and fill up my heart.” That is indeed what reading is for many today. But it’s also a privilege and a right that human beings of all races had to fight for.

Before the invention of the printing press, only the upper classes had books to read. They were just too expensive for the common folk. Too busy surviving plague and poverty, many of these people never learned to read. Bibles, especially, were kept to the clergy and the church, mainly because they were the only ones who could read it in its original Latin. God forbid that the lower classes read it for themselves and start thinking and interpreting religion for themselves.

But then came the English translation of the Bible—which was banned for that very reason. It was smuggled into English hands by determined bibliophiles, but William Tyndale, the translator who lived in exile in Europe in order to complete his life’s work, was executed.

Of course slaves were not allowed to learn to read. Not only were there no schools for them, it was against the law to teach them in most slave states. But learning finds a way. Some slave owners allowed their slaves to learn to read as part of Christian education, and some educators found interesting ways around the laws, including a floating school on the Mississippi River.

My point here is that all cultures and races have fought at some point for the right to read and write, and in an era such as the one Americans are going through right now, we need to preserve every last bit of that right. Our president threatens social media and the press, bookstores in Minnesota are battered by protestors and looters, and all of this is happening against a backdrop where independent bookstores and small presses are struggling for survival anyway.

So my plea is this: Don’t be part of the forces that would oppress you and take the light of knowledge away. Don’t burn the bookstore your ancestors fought for.

Today’s anti-information, non-factual age is a dangerous one for local bookstores, the media and science. In the end, it is up to us to make certain our heritage and ways of life are preserved. Protect what generations of every culture have fought for. Keep our bookstores open.

Just the next step

The local author “cove” of my bookstore, The Next Chapter Books & Art. Yes, my books are on the shelf!

“I guess I should have expected it,” my husband teased when I said I wanted to take over the local bookstore. “I mean, first you’re a published author, then you start self-publishing, and now you want to own a bookstore.”

I laughed. But really, is he totally wrong?

I want to sell my books.

I told a fellow author who stopped by the store to wish me well that the other day. “I want to sell books. My books, your books, whatever.” And it’s true. That’s what I want to do as a bookstore. Highlight and sell local authors’ books. Because there’s a surprising number of us here in my little town who can spin a pretty good yarn.

My friend, who has several books at the store himself, smiled. “True. But you want to sell your books most. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

And he’s right, too. I do want to sell my books. Most. So I’m owning it. It occurred to me when I heard that the bookstore was going to close if someone didn’t take over that my books wouldn’t have a spot on a bookstore shelf anymore. I’d have to go looking for more stores willing to take them on.

As I don’t like beating the pavement, maybe it was just easier to take on a bookstore and learn to be a small business owner and pay bills and create a marketing plan and write press releases and be a grownup?

Maybe there’s something slippery about that slope, but it does seem to be working, and I can’t deny taking over this bookstore has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I look forward to going in to work every day, I work on bookstore ideas at night, the store is my favorite subject—when I started considering setting a picture of the store as my background on my phone, I had to admit, I might be in love.

Everyday it seems a little stronger,

Everyday it lasts a little longer.

Come what may, do you ever long for

True love from me?

—James Taylor, Everyday

So I guess it’s okay if I’ve taken another step along the road of self-publishing. Yeah, I want my books on the shelf, not just here but in bookstores everywhere, but until that happens and as long as the only reason I’m here is not to sell my books only (just most), I’ll do my damnedest to keep this beautiful store open and selling all the books, including mine.