Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Look at an Indie Bookstore - What Writers Can Learn by Kathy Halsey and Patricia Toht

Take a peek with me and GROGger Patty Toht into indie bookstore life. Patty is a former bookstore owner, children's author, and now a librarian. I began my career as a teacher, transitioned to being a school librarian, and now work part-time at an indie bookstore. Welcome to indie life, a whole different world than big box stores and Amazon.
Bookstore owner Melia Wolf of Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers & me

Never Never Land, Patty's children’s bookstore in the suburbs of Chicago

Open the door to Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers on any given day. and books lovers will find the owner and staff busy with a myriad of tasks. In one week, the store hosted middle grade author Alan Gratz, David Shannon, book talked middle grade fiction to a small group of parents, former teachers, and grandparents and that was just three days of a typical week. 

As Patty explains, there are so many tasks that the independent owner takes on that are sourced out to others in national operations. A funny misconception Paty had was that, as a bookseller, she would have loads of time to read books! As the owner/operator, her days were packed with a huge variety of tasks, from ordering and stocking to helping customers to scheduling employees and paying bills. All of her reading was done at night.

 Indie Bookstore 411
Your local indie may not have the inventory of a big box store, the money to hire publicists, accountants, or a huge sales force. However, you local independent bookstore will have these unique qualities that can't be duplicated elsewhere.
  • Booksellers who are book aficionados and genre experts who can find you just the right book. For example, my indie, Cover to Cover in Upper Arlington Ohio has booksellers who are former teachers, librarians, and gamers. We know the newest picture books, YA authors personally, science fiction and fantasy for all ages.
  • Indies develop a relationship with you, know your tastes, offer discounts for frequent customers, and treat you like a friend. Relationships with customers matters to them.
  • Programs that support that local community and the schools such as local/national author visits, book clubs, a third space with is safe, writer workshops, and professional development for preservice teachers. This Thursday, Cover to Cover will host best-selling YA author Edith Pattou at theUpper Arlington Main library from 6-8 PM. 
 How Books Are Bought
At Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio, book sellers are always updating their orders on what books to buy. Staff members can recommend books, discuss them with the owner, and a decision is made. Staff knows that if we recommend a book, we need to be able to hand sell it. Here's another audience, children's workers may think about as they write. 
Patty shares other ways that bookstores acquire titles. (Cover to Cover also uses these three primary ways to get stock.)

• "Sometimes I met directly with a publisher’s representative.  We would flip through the catalogue and discuss the titles. Often the rep had F&Gs of picture books and ARCs of novels so I could actually see what the interiors looked like and read jacket copy. We would also discuss any marketing plans for the books, as well as book displays and special deals.
• If the publisher didn’t have a rep to call on my tiny bookstore, I thumbed through catalogues and read the descriptions of the titles. I usually began by ordering books from tried-and-true authors or illustrators and then moved onto books that seemed to be a good fit for our clientele.
• I also worked with two distributors, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. These companies  carried books from most publishers (kind of like an Amazon for booksellers). These companies were great for smaller restocks of top sellers and for filling special orders. But their discount wasn’t as good as ordering directly from publishers."
Check out all this fabulous children's nonfiction at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!
The  Best Way to  Promote Your Books
Before I began working at Cover to Cover, I frequented the store, driving across town to support my independent bookseller. I bought books, attended author signings, and introduced myself to owner Melia as an avid reader and writer. Its important to connect authentically and early in your writing career to really establish a good working relationship. (I'm pre-published, but I'm a big fan of Cover to Cover.)
Author Patty offers this advice for authors.

• "Stop by! Ask if the bookstore carries your book. If they don’t, show them a copy so they can read it. Let bookstore owners get to know you, love you, and love your work.
• Refer your local friends to your indie. Remind them that, at an indie, you get to hold and read actual books rather than ordering by a description. Indie sellers know what books their customers love and are very adept at putting the right book into the right hands.
• Sign stock! Customers like giving signed books as gifts.
• Have a launch party or other event! It’s fun to have special occasions to celebrate with customers." 

 I'll be recommending Patty's rhyming picture book, Pick a Pine, for this holiday season!
The holiday season is upon us. Let's support authors and independent bookstores and give some extra holiday cheer to those in our industry this year. Curl up at an indie bookstore soon!

Cover to Cover has this wonderful space for reading and lounging. 


  1. Great ideas to support our local indie bookstores! I wish there was one near us. Unfortunately, I have to travel over 10 miles to reach one. But, there still might be some way to promote them. Maybe someday . . .

    1. Hi, Jarm, maybe yo can buy via your indie online. Ty for stopping by the GROG.

  2. This was fun to read, Kathy! Thanks for posting! One of my dreams is to open an indie bookstore one day...

  3. Emma, just like writing and publishing, there's so much more behind it. You have to take a huge lap of faith, just like w/writing.

  4. I've been that indie bookseller. Spent a glorious 3+ years at ACWLP in SF. Today, I frequent many indies in SF and work with one to order books fo school as well as books for special events. As part of Litquake, we work with several indies for book sales during the festival. LOVE indies. Love love love

    1. I knew you were an indie girl, Jilanne. They are part of our lifeblood . They get readers and writers much better than chains.

  5. yay for bookstores and the folks who understand what their book-loving customers want.

  6. I'm fortunate to be close to NYC with the awesome Books of Wonder, where I've had the pleasure of attending a few events - hearing Yuyi Morales discuss and read Dreamers was amazing. So happy to see that you've found your "peeps", Kathy, and are connecting readers to great #kidlit.

    1. I ha heard so much about Books of Wonder, Patrica. Love the indies.

  7. This is such a helpful 'peek behind the curtain' post. Thanks for the insights. I'm so lucky to have a wonderful indie, Snowbound Books, in my town. We try to support each other. Remember, Small Business Saturday is tomorrow!

  8. Carrie, thank you, Glad this was helpful. Indies and authors support each other.