and this time a few dollars short, which I spent on books. Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day. Yes I know that three out of my four books live in the e-Book world; only one can (hopefully) be found in an indie bookshop near you. But ya gotta give it up for those stores that survived and often thrived despite the onslaught of mega-merchants.
Back in the day, I not only learned how to write, (thank you Susan), it was only after my first book was published, that I also discovered how things worked after a book was released—at least in those years. Publishers had reps who visited, toiled with those who stocked the bookstore shelves, and presented their newly published list.
I was lucky. Truth is, my publisher’s rep cared as much about the bookstore as she did the publisher. She often knew the store’s overall stock as well as its booksellers, even its owner. I know this because she and I became friends and I occasionally accompanied her when she did her rounds. In fact, we became close enough that Susan and I began to get invited to rep parties—not only hers, but those of reps with other publishers.
Learned a real lesson. Basically I discovered that representatives from all different legacy publishing houses not only read their own house’s books, but swapped with other houses’ reps to keep up with what was being published. Also because they simply loved to read.
I’ve been to parties with writers, editors, and some pretty intellectual people, but I’ve never heard better party talk than the book discussions at those rep’s houses. Pretty amazing and lots of fun.
But, like everything else, good things come to an end
Barnes & Noble and Borders began to blow up individual bookstores—including smaller chains—and that made publisher reps another sacrificial group of lambs. Some survived, but not many.
Then came the Internet with Amazon et al. Stores I visited on a regular basis during the 90s simply no longer exist. I find this a painful reality. Not just because there are less brick-and-mortar outlets for authors, but because the whale who swallowed Jonah also gobbled everything else in sight to grow larger and more profitable. Trying to feed upon those who not only loved books, but stuck with scraping by because of that love.
So, given huge chains (including Walmart and Costco) and the Internet, we’re at a place where the independent bookstores that survived often thrived because of their customers’ loyalty. And they are even better than ever. Their clerks are not only friendly and helpful, but have often read many of the books their store carries. You walk into these independent stores and see cards stuck under specific books with a clerk’s comments, recommendations that say, “if you enjoyed this book you might like…” Some shops have entire shelves stocked with books that their workers enjoyed.
And of course, independent bookstores continue to be the places where authors speak, read, answer questions from the general public and, of course, sign their books. It’s certainly a treasure for writers, whose work life by definition is solitary and it’s an economic necessity and a pleasure—perhaps more so for writers than the people who come to hear us. As I’ve said in previous columns, there are a lot of pluses involved with e-Books and online publishing. But sadly there just aren’t as many places to mix as there once were. It’s not really an option to hang out at Amazon, Kobo, ITunes or any other internet book selling establishment and chat with readers.
I started off my Patriot’s Day column apologizing to Brookline Booksmith. They had invited me to speak at the store shortly after TIES THAT BLIND was newly published and I had planned to put up pictures of the event for my next column. But sometimes columns, like novels, begin to tell you what to write rather than the other way around. And with the running of the Boston Marathon coinciding with the verdict of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I felt I had to write about the death penalty instead.
But what better time to be back to the Booksmith than the column that extols indie bookstores? I have a lot of people and places to thank for my writing career and, not the least of which, are the wonderful people at Brookline Booksmith. You hung in there with me for close to two decades. Thank you.
In tribute, here is a video link that presents a collage of their long and storied history, replete with famous and not so famous authors. (If you watch it all the way through you will catch a glimpse of a not famous, but younger and a much better looking me.)