On Indie Bookstores & Romance Book Clubs
As you know from my Read More Romance posts, I'm pretty much an obsessive romance recommender. I can't help myself. It's especially bad when I meet someone who has never read a romance novel or who has opinions about romance. You know the kind I mean. The kind that are wrong.
But either way, I can't stop myself from talking about romance whenever I meet someone who's interested in talking about it--which makes dinner parties at my house rather rousing and bizarre for newbies who start off simply trying to be polite and end up getting a dissertation on the rights of romance readers. But I'm a halfway decent cook, so it all works out in the end. :)
Three years ago, I started one of my pro-romance diatribes with the manager of my local indie bookseller, WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. WORD is AWESOME. It's a tiny, beautifully designed store that has a great event space and a tremendously well-curated cookbook section...
First, a story:
Once upon a time, I wrote a book called A Rogue By Any Other Name. I was very excited about this book, because it was the first in a new series I proposed...the third series of my career -- the one that is supposed to make it ok for me to officially call myself a writer in mixed company. I was also excited about this book because it was done. And writing it had been akin to labor. As in, laboring a child. Long, terrible, horrifyingly painful labor, that results in a 10lb baby. Or, in my case, Bourne. But we'll leave it at that.
My brilliantly talented publicist at Avon Books set me up with a party in Rhode Island (my home state) on the day that A Rogue By Any Other Name was officially in the world, and I took the train north to that cupcake and champagne-laden party, filled with hometown friends and family and a fair amount of strangers. The party was held in an independent bookstore near my hometown that does not carry romance. It was fun. I talked for 20 minutes, took questions for another 40, and a good time was generally had by all. We sold 90 books in 2 hours (and only 2 of them to my mother!); I was thrilled.
Afterward, the manager of the bookstore approached and said, "That was great! We'd love to have you again...if you'd like to come back."
Would I! "I'd love to. And in the meantime...would you like me to sign the leftover stock?" This is a thing that bookstores ask of us, typically, when we go to visit them. It basically means...we have some of your books on hand, and if given the choice, readers would rather have a signed book than an unsigned one, so would you sign what's around so new readers can get signed books from us? Honestly? I asked knowing the answer. I've never had a bookseller say no to that question, and I'd just sold 90 books! Clearly, people in Rhode Island loved me!
"No," she said, as I attempted to keep my jaw from dropping. "Our customers don't read romance."
WHAT?! 90 Books! She'd been there! In fact, she was the one who told me we sold 90 books!
And yet...her customers...they don't read romance?
Reader, I'm still bamboozled by this story. I might need to go take a walk before I continue.........Ok. I'm back, and Baxter, at least, is happy.
Let's get back to this "our customers don't read romance," insanity. Let's leave aside the fact that romance holds the largest share of the US Consumer book market and that it's a $1.4 billion dollar industry and that nearly 75 million people read a romance novel in 2008 (4 years before this conversation), and I'm guessing that at least one or two of those 75 million people live within walking distance of this bookstore.
I'd just filled the store with sixty or so people, who had bought 1.5 books each (I won't lie--the cutting of books in half did concern me).
And this woman was clearly blind.
Except, it wasn't blindness.
Blindness I could forgive.
This woman was snooty.
What she was saying wasn't "My customers don't read romance." What she was saying was, "My customers are too smart for romance. My customers read SERIOUS BOOKS. Literary fiction and nonfiction and sometimes mystery, but that's as downmarket as they'll go." But what I heard was, "I don't want your kind in here. And you won't convince me otherwise. Not even with 90 books in a night. Not even with everything you just said about feminism and history and legacy and Jane Austen. I barely accept Pride & Prejudice on my hallowed shelves."
We've all had this moment, right? Any one of us who's dared admit we read romance or, worse, dared read a romance in public has had this moment. The "oh, you read that" moment. The "Romance is trashy" moment. The "I'm judging your book (and you) by its cover" moment.)
And this is a big problem. Because when romance readers (who read on average somewhere between 12 and 15 books a month) feel like we're not getting the love from our local indies, guess where we go? Big box stores. Online stores. Chains. And we love them for carrying the books we love. We feel validated when we have a section all to ourselves. Or a whole category that we can click through to our heart's content. And when we have sub genres? And romance on the FIRST PAGE of the website? Stop it. It's romance reader heaven.
But guess what? We're secretly sad we don't have our own little indie. We're jealous of people in Houston because they have Katy Budget Books and of the ones in Lansing who have Schuler Books or the ones in Naperville who have Anderson's. We are book lovers, and we want to go hang out with other book lovers. We love paper and ink and the sound of the cracking spine and the smell of the damn glue. We have hundreds of novels stuffed under our beds, and in our purses and (I'm not ashamed to admit) on our bathroom shelves. We are card carrying READERS, and we have the word counts to prove it. And we shouldn't have to fight to prove to indies (the captial-B Bookstores of bookstores) that our books are worthy, because owners and operators of indies should see that we're in the same club! I mean...all hail the printed word! And if there's smooching, all the better! (Come on. Who doesn't like smooching?)
Oh my gosh this post is getting long. I'm turning back. Returning to port. I swear.
All this is to say...
Boy do I love my local indie.
WORD Bookstore is tucked away on a near-waterfront street in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. They don't have much space at all. It's maybe 1000 square feet of space, but they have used the space in a remarkable way. They have events almost every night of the week -- a fabulous children's section, a brilliantly well-read staff, live music and awesome readings and even a "singles" board, where you can meet another local book lover and maybe get some smooching in (see how it all comes back to smooching)?
Oh, and get this...they carry romance.
They don't have much space, so it's not a huge romance section...but they carry the classics -- the books that will gateway drug you into the genre (Susan Elizabeth Phillips & Lisa Kleypas & Loretta Chase & Jennifer Crusie & JR Ward) -- and local authors (Eloisa James & Maya Rodale & yours truly) -- and anything that's got a bookseller in it (Kieran Kramer's Cloudy With A Chance of Marriage is a favorite in there) -- and anything that's just plain good (Thea Harrison & Tessa Dare & Meredith Duran). And they'll order you anything you like, and take recommendations for their own reading lists with pleasure.
Oh, and they'll take orders for signed copies of my books anytime--you order and I have an excuse to head to the bookstore to sign books "for business." And to linger for pleasure. :)
The coolest thing?
We recently started a Romance of the Month Club. Every month, I choose six romances (two historicals, two contemporaries & two paranormals) all with a common theme -- some of them are brand new and some of them are old-skool (Yes. With a K.). You get to pick the one you are most interested in, and it gets mailed to you with fun goodies. You also get access to a private Goodreads group where we chat once a month about the books and what you liked/disliked/wished there was more of...and you get to meet a few dozen other romance readers across the country who are all excited to read and talk romance.
This month includes:
It gets even better if you're in NYC, though...because some local customers of WORD, whom I did not know before the club began, have started an in person romance book club. They choose one of my picks, and then meet on the First Saturday of the month to discuss it. Last Month it was Elizabeth Hoyt's The Raven Prince, and the discussion was fast and fascinating and fabulously brilliant. Next month, it's Kristan Higgins's My One and Only.
I'm so excited to share my favorite romances with readers through the club...but I think I'm even more excited to share my local bookstore. Join us!
But seriously. There have got to be more indies out there that embrace romance. Leave your favorite romance-loving indie in comments, and I'll add it to this post!
Indies That Rock Romance:
* Anderson's Bookshop, 123 West Jefferson, Naperville, IL
* Hearthside Books, 254 Front Street, Juneau, AK
* Katy Budget Books, 2450 Fry Road, Houston, TX
* Posman Books, Grand Central Terminal, New York, NY
* Schuler Books & Music, 2820 Towne Center Boulevard, Lansing, MI
* Turn the Page Bookstore, 18 N. Main Street, Boonsboro, MD
* Wakefield Books, 160 Old Tower Hill Road (Wakefield Mall), Wakefield, RI
* WORD, 125 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY