Here’s a thing that happened to me: I walked into an independent bookstore to inquire about hosting an event related to my new book. I was, after admitting to being an independent author, shut down pretty quickly. Some indie bookstores, it turns out, have no time for indie authors. So that’s cool.
Fortunately, not every indie store I visited reacted this way – I am, in fact, fortunate to live in a community that typically embraces local authors – but that first store really stuck in my gut. As if I’d shown up with a copy of Dr. Seuss’ My Book About Me filled out in crayon expecting my own shelf, (which is something I do own, if anyone is interested in a signed copy of six-year-old Natalie’s autobiography) without checking a credential or flipping through a page or two, I was told, “We don’t work with self-published authors.” That is obviously their prerogative, and I will survive without them. But in general, can indie authors survive without the support of indie bookstores? And, in an Amazon-centric world where Borders can’t even make it, can indie bookstores survive without embracing indie authors?
Here’s what I mean: I chose to self-publish for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is that the old guard of the book industry is going the way of the music industry. Indie artists, social media and digital music revolutionized that sector. Now, all musicians are expected to get their start as an indie artist until a record label discovers them. The old guard was the record labels; the new gatekeepers are the local and regional music venues that give indie musicians a chance to grow an audience.
The same thing will (and/or should) happen with books. Because book readers trend older and less tech savvy than music fans, it will naturally take more time. But if anyone is positioned to be on the front line, it’s independent bookstores. Indie bookstores could be the new gatekeepers for the next generation of authors – if they take the time to do so. That is what can set them apart from Amazon and Barnes & Noble: connecting their communities the new literary blood.
Just as the current generation of music lovers began looking beyond MTV and commercial radio for their new favorite musicians years ago, the next generation of readers will want to look beyond the NYT Bestseller List or the Whatever Oprah Says Club to find their new favorites. Local bookstores could connect that next wave of literary appetites with the new, indie authors who want to feed them. That, it seems, gives us plenty of incentive to work together.