Indies First: Authors share their experiences working as booksellers

The Indies First movement garnered more than 1,000 authors working at bookstores across the US and in Canada for Small Business Saturday, including James Patterson and Garth Stein.

George Levines
Bear Pond Books, a bookstore located in Montpelier, Vt., was one of the indie stores that participated in Indies First on Small Business Saturday this weekend.

Indies First, a movement started by author Sherman Alexie in which writers worked at bookstores on Small Business Saturday, was held for the first time on Nov. 30 and seems to have been a great success.

According to industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, more than 400 bookstores participated in Indies First, with over 1,000 authors lending their time.

The day was also a financial success for some, with Tom Campbell, co-owner of North Carolina’s Regulator Bookshop, telling SA the store had “by far our biggest day of the year” and Joan Grenier, owner of Massachusetts’ Odyssey Bookshop, describing the store’s sales as “up considerably.”

A couple of authors shared stories from their selling day, with writer James Patterson tweeting that he had a “great time” working at Florida’s Classic Bookshop.

“Makes me wish I worked there,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” author Garth Stein worked at five bookstores in the Seattle area during the day.

“ 'Welcome to Eagle Harbor Books,' I sing out to new customers entering the store,” Stein wrote for Shelf Awareness of his time working at Bainbridge Island’s Eagle Harbor Book Company. “The people look at me like I'm deranged.”

When Stein headed to Queen Anne Book Company, where Alexie had worked at one point during the afternoon, a couple who arrived was disappointed to see Stein instead of Alexie. Stein was able to grant their wish – he called the store where Alexie had gone and sent the couple over to see the other author. Stein proclaimed himself satisfied by his day, which included recommending Cara Black novels to a customer looking for a mystery for a gift.

“My bookseller friends know I've got some chops,” Stein wrote of his day. “And they know where to find me if they need me. Until then, I've got a book of my own to finish.”

“Air Kissing on Mars” author Kim Dower worked at California’s Book Soup and said she rehearsed selling lines such as “Can I help you find something” all week before her stint as a bookstore worker.

“I did learn, however, that asking people who were browsing in a bookstore if they liked poetry was a real conversation stopper,” Dower told Shelf Awareness. “Too bad! People have been traumatized by the way they were forced to learn about poetry in school and they never got beyond those first bad experiences. It shouldn't be that way!”

Dower was happy to notice that her efforts won a few over – she spotted some customers sitting and reading poetry in the store after she talked with them. 

 “Bookselling is addictive,” she said.

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