A Note to Fellow Bookstore Owners: What Writers Really Need

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my many years as a writer, it’s that I don’t always want what I need. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past two years as a bookstore owner, it’s that I can provide what indie writers need…even if it isn’t what they always want.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores are sometimes a distant dream for writers. We all wish to have our books on the shelves at a bookstore. We’d love to have that happen automatically. Publish a book, get it on the shelf. But except for virtual shelves, this is a sometimes unreachable dream. Even if you happen to have a “local” brick-and-mortar in your community, if you walk in a lot of times you’ll find the same thing you find in large chain bookstores, and, too often now, wildly discounted big box stores.

And these local bookstores often have restrictive guidelines and requirements for carrying local indie authors.

What writers need is a home for their books. A place they can be on the shelf. Surviving as a bookstore in today’s world of fruit and kindling beamed right to your phone can be difficult. Surviving as one voice shouting in a room full of other people can be even harder. Local bookstores and local authors need to work together to accomplish what they both need: more local authors willing to sell their books on consignment instead of expecting local bookstores to order them along with James Patterson’s latest—and more stores willing to give local authors a chance to see their books on the shelf.

I was in one of those “million books” type stores a few weeks ago (don’t judge me!). I took a peek at the Local Interest section. I was shocked to see “local” interests like the Blue Ridge Parkway…in Virginia! But the worst was a book about lobster fishermen in Maine! That’s what passes for local interest when the folks who order your books don’t live locally.

I’ve been in other small, local bookstores as well. They definitely try harder to maintain that local flavor. But once you start ordering new books, it’s an easy slide to devoting more space to Stephen King and Clive Cussler than the local authors who walk in off the street. Bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason. Name recognition. And a poetry book by local poet Michelle Garren Flye isn’t going to hold up very well when it’s sitting next to Amanda Gorman’s latest— Okay, there might be more reason than just name recognition for that…I love her!

But you get my point, right, authors and booksellers? Work together. A very famous “local” author (Nicholas Sparks) once told me “the cream rises to the top.” I think he meant that as encouragement. I’m taking it as heartfelt advice. My store is the churn. Readers do the churning. The local authors who end up on my “Bestselling Local Author” table are the cream.

We need more churns and authors willing to sell their ingredients for a percentage of the take.

What local bookstores need: a good local author section. What they want? A bookstore cat as great as Derby! (Photo by Michelle Garren Flye, local author and poet…and bookstore owner)

Finishing Something

It’s a good feeling, right? Finishing something. I recently realized my next book is finished. I mean, yeah, it was written a while back, but even the editing stages are finished. It’s as polished as it’s gonna get, I think. Well, maybe one last run through.

I’m not going to tell you anything about this book except that it’ll be book 7 of my Sleight of Hand series. If you haven’t read any of my Sleight of Hand series, never fear. All of them are stand-alone romances with occasional appearances of characters from previous books. It’s like a romance series that focuses on a family or a particular small town, but the community that these books focus on is actually a little more…magical. The characters are not related except by marriage (well, there’s one set of brothers…). As for being set in one small town, nope. Settings range from the coast of North Carolina to Hollywood, Las Vegas and New York.

It’s kind of fun to think that this all began with Close Up Magic in 2013. I’d always been fascinated by stage magic. I often tell the story of five-year-old me being chosen by a magician to be on a “flying carpet”. I was instructed to keep my eyes closed so the magic would work. My mother told me afterward it certainly appeared that I flew. Ever since, I have loved stage magic. I know there’s a trick and I sometimes try to catch the magician at it. But even if I do figure out how a trick is done, it doesn’t spoil the fun for me. Often it just increases my respect for the magician’s performance.

So why am I not announcing more about my next book in this series? I obviously am very excited about it. It’s the best one yet, I know it. I put a lot of thought into this one, which is why it took so long. The answer is simple. I’m planning to roll out the next book on The Next Chapter Books & Art’s social media first. This bookstore has become so much a part of my life, including my writing life, it just makes sense.

So if you want to be one of the first to see the cover (which is bound to be beautiful due to being designed by the fabulous Farah Evers Designs) and read all about my new book, follow The Next Chapter Books & Art on Facebook and Instagram.

In the meantime, I have a couple of other projects in the works. I’d like to put out another booklet of my poetry, rework my backlist now that I’ve discovered Vellum, and Book 8 is calling me already. Not to mention my alter-ego Shelley Gee wants to get to work on Jessica Gravely as soon as possible.

So I’m off to the bookstore. Come join me there!

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.

Mumfest weekend!

Just a quick note here to let you know I’ll be at Mumfest this year, representing both Michelle Garren Flye and my alter ego Shelley Gee, who you might know as the writer of charming children’s mysteries. I will have copies of all my books, including my poetry booklet, which is in limited release (meaning you either have to go to The Next Chapter Books & Art or find me to purchase a copy). I’ve cut the prices for Mumfest weekend if you buy directly from me, so it’s a great time to stock up on good books! I hope to meet some of you at Mumfest. I’ll be in the purple tent on Middle Street with my friend Noel of Blissworks. It’s hard to miss! Noel’s artwork is fantastic!

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Mumfest 2018