Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supporting Independent Bookstores

As some of you know, it is only recently that I've been in a position to work full-time on my novel writing business.  For the past eight years, I've done all of my writing on weekends, late at night, or on long plane rides.  After doing a week of full time writing and edits, I made a point to take a day and do some promotion with local contacts.  I am soooo glad I did.  I wanted to know how small, independent bookstores were faring in this new digital, e-reader world.  It turns out, some of them can do quite well.

I've always loved independent bookstores because they are customer-centric. They run a bookstore because they LOVE books, and they love talking about books.  You will often find recommended stickers tacked to the front of a bookshelf to assist customers in finding a new author or a new series.  These are books that the owner and/or staff have personally read and recommended. 

One of my favorite things that independents do is that they support local authors, whether well-known NYT bestsellers or small press and indie published.  Not only do they provide a venue and local media notice for signings and book groups, but they also keep on top of the book business, particularly watching trends in sales and distribution. In the case of Jan's Paperbacks, the owner was also more than willing to share what she learn with local authors and those visiting from elsewhere.

The first local bookstore I visited in my quest for information was Jan's Paperbacks in Aloha, Oregon--about five miles from my home. Owned by Debbie Burke, Jan's Paperbacks has been serving the western Portland suburbs for more than 30 years.  Debbie's particular contributions to supporting her local authors and community were recognized this year at the 2012 Romantic Times Convention in April, where she won the Bookseller of the Year award.  This coveted recognition looks at all nominated booksellers throughout the country. The plaque reads, "A bookseller for the changing times: innovative, loyal, unafraid of risks, a community builder and supporter, a hostess with a heart of gold, and a good friend and mother to all." After meeting her this week, I completely understand why she won this award. All the tributes are true.

One of the things I wondered was how independents are faring in the digital world.  I'd read some articles about how Amazon was forcing independents out of the market. I'd read other articles suggesting that most customers go to a brick and mortar store to look at the books, but then order online from Amazon.  Both of those trends really concerned me. I value the one-on-one relationships that independent booksellers build with their customers and with authors. I didn't want to see that ending by losing more venues to meet readers.

Fortunately, Debbie pointed out that independents DO have options now to participate in the online market.  Jan's Paperback's has an online sales site that is connected with Google Books (and in the future will include Kobo books and e-reading devices).   This means that anyone can go directly to her online website and order books, then get an immediate download in epub or PDF format.  In addition, Debbie will ship print books from her store to anywhere in the U.S.  So, if you can't find my books at your local store, you can get them from Jan's Paperbacks.  Knowing there are options for independents to also sell ebooks really made me smile.

As if all of this wasn't enough happy information, I also learned that Debbie doesn't mind recommending other independent booksellers either.  She gave me names of two other bookstores in my local area to visit and described their specialties and who to contact.  Wow! How many businesses would be willing to share their knowledge and customers with potential competitors?  I'm impressed!

I hope you will check out your local independent booksellers and see what they have to offer.  Be sure to thank them for their love of books and for remaining open, even in these difficult economic times. I hope they all prosper and we get more dedicated booksellers that provide a nice home for people to meet, browse, talk about books, and then buy in the formats they like.

Jan's Paperbacks of Aloha, Oregon is an independently owned bookstore offering their in-store customers quality new and used inventory with the additional option of trading previously read books for store credit.  In 2011, an online store featuring new print titles and eBooks was introduced to give customers near and far the neighborhood bookstore experience while shopping from the comfort of their home.  For more information, visit Jan’s Paperbacks at 18095 SW T.V. Hwy, Aloha, call 503-649-3444, or go online at
Do you have a favorite independent bookstore near you?  Tell me what you like most about your local bookstore.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Celebrating Random Acts of Kindness

On this day where many are remembering 9/11 and the terrorist attack on our nation, I have decided to celebrate something wonderful about the people in our country--something that I believe no terrorist can take away from the human spirit. That is random acts of kindness. 

I have been the bearer and receiver of random acts of kindness throughout my life. So, what is a random act of kindness?   It is different from the kindness we provide or plan for everyday--kindness to our family, our office mates, or a friend we know needs help. It is different from the volunteer work we might undertake.  All of these are amazing and should be celebrated. But the "random" act is one that you did not plan but do because it seems right. It is an act that involves a stranger.

A random act of kindness can be free of money. It can be as simple as giving a hug or saying thank you for your service. It can be telling a stranger something wonderful you've noticed about him/her. It can be offering a flower or an entire bouquet, from your garden, to a neighbor you've never met. It can be making sure a wandering child gets back to his/her mother before danger approaches. It can be helping a person to cross the street safely when he/she seems confused or unable to move easily.

We sometimes hear of random acts that involve money, and I've engaged in these as well, though they may not be appropriate or ones that everyone can do. It can be coming up with that one more dollar for the person in front of you at the grocery store who finds herself a dollar short. It can be paying for a meal of someone in a restaurant who is alone.  It can be paying for the gas for the car behind you in the line at the station. It can be buying a book for the person at the bookstore who is reading but cannot afford to buy.  It is anything that is unexpected and kind.

I'd like to share with you a true story that happened to my husband and I during the Bite of Oregon Festival which we attended on my husband's birthday in August. This is not something we absolutely needed, but it is still a random act of kindness for which we are greatful and reminds us of the natural kindness of strangers. For those who don't know about the festival, it is a time where Portland celebrates it's culinary and beverage roots. A variety of food, ranging from that of great chefs to street food presented in food trucks is the centerpiece, as well as drinks presented by Oregon wineries and breweries. This year was especially appealing for two reasons: 1) The entrance fee was a mere $5 (in recognition of the economy the fee was reduced to get more people to come; and 2) It was also celebrating brewing in Oregon. A home brewer for more than 30 years, my husband was keen to try new brews. I am also fortunate that he loves to cook, and so going to the Bite of Oregon on his birthday was a great way to spend the day.

It was toward the end of our day at the festival that the random act of kindness occurred. We were enjoying a beer tasting in a crowded tent and had barely managed to get a small table out of the glare of the sun. A woman approached us trying to find a table for her and her husband who would be joining her in a few minutes. We offered a portion of our small table and had the good fortune of great conversation with this young couple. When they learned it was my husband's birthday, they volunteered to buy a beer. When she returned with the beer, she had purchased not only the beer but the Bite of Oregon commemorative glass as well and wished him Happy Birthday.

Again, a small random act from a nice couple who we will likely never see again. Did we need that glass or the beer? No, but it was the spirit in which the gift was given and their desire to help celebrate an important, milestone birthday with us that was the kindness. Strangers making my husband's birthday even more special and reminding me once again of the inherent goodness in most of us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Interactive Fiction: It's More Than Reading

I'm sure most of you have heard of J.K. Rowling's new website, Pottermore, and her ventures into "interactive reading."  Of course I had to sign up and see what it's all about. Right now it's still in beta, but it looks like fun.  It has extra tidbits related to each chapter of the books. The graphics are top notch and the navigation is interesting--not typical but also not hard to figure out.  Right now there is only a few things up, so I can't wait to see more. The most interesting part for me is where J.K. shares insights into the characters, place names, wizarding games, etc.  It's always interesting to see how an author comes up with ideas.  I'm sure I will soon be addicted to everything Pottermore.

Children's book publishers have long been providing an interactive element.  For example, as long as I can remember, one could purchase a favorite story and insert your child's name. After some research I learned one of the first books in this format was released 40 year's ago. Packard's work was so complex there were approximately 40 different possible endings!  Once Packard convinced a large publisher, Bantam, to take them on they written by him and R.A. Montgomery. 

Now, there is a type of choose-your-own-ending book being offered for adult mystery romance readers. The concept reminds me of playing clue, but in this instance you help decide who did what and persuade the author to provide the next installment with your feedback.

 Fellow Rose City Romance author, Tawna Fenske, is engaging in a type of choose-your-own-adventure serial. Only in this, she writes the book to a certain point and then asks her readers to make choices. Getting Dumped Part 1 and Part 2, were released in June.

These two parts make up the first two installments of an Active Fiction series from Coliloquy. In Part 1, Tawna let readers guide some of the choices made by her heroine. She reviewed the aggregate statistics from Part 1 and then incorporated them into Part 2. When Part 2 begins the reader's now learn who's brandishing the pistol and follow along as the girls' sleuthing kicks into high gear. Next the readers need to let Tawna know who they think JJ can trust to help, and who's hiding sinister secrets.

I have to admit, this is pretty intriguing and, I suspect, challenging (fun?) for Tawna. Between twitter, GoodReads, Shelfari, and now suggesting to the author how a story should progress, reading is getting to be so much more than a solitary adventure these days.

I'm not sure how I feel about this possibility.  I'm one of those people who tends to read a book in one sitting. Once I get invested in the characters I want to see them get through their challenges and know where they end up.  I don't know if I would have the patience to wait for the next installment. On the other hand, it's pretty cool to think your ideas would influence the story.  You could read the next installment and say to yourself, "I told her to do that and she did!"

How do you feel about these changes? Do you like the idea of participating in how the story unfolds? Or do you prefer to have the whole book done and ready for you to immerse yourself from beginning to end?