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A Two-Way Street: The Author-Bookseller Relationship

At this year’s Cleveland Inkubator writing conference, when I wasn’t leading a session, taking notes at Benjamin Percy’s keynote, or catching up with writing friends, I made sure to attend a few sessions. At the top of my list was “Tips for Working with Independent Booksellers,” a panel discussion in which the owners of three independent bookstores in Cleveland shared their insight with local writers and aspiring authors.

“Your writing is your blood, sweat, and tears, and we want to support you,” Suzanne DeGaetano, owner of Mac’s Backs on Coventry, said during the session. But that support is a two-way street. Authors, take note: these booksellers stressed that the best author-bookseller relationships are mutually beneficial.

For example, Lynn Quintrell of Appletree Books recommends authors introduce themselves to indie booksellers personally (rather than sending blanket, generic emails) and to be savvy about developing real relationships with bookstore staff. Harriet Logan of Loganberry Books adds that no matter the size of an indie bookstore, space is always going to be tight, which means a bookseller must be selective in what she takes on and how the author’s book will reflect upon the store. Authors who do their research and cultivate connections with independent bookstores may have a better chance of enticing the bookseller to carry their work.

More details regarding each of these independent bookstores, including some of my own personal associations with each store along with words of advice from the owner, can be found below:

Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry 
Fun fact: The store adjoins Tommy’s, a beloved Cleveland diner, so book lovers can pop over for some falafel or a milkshake after browsing the shelves.
A book I purchased at Mac’s Backs and loved: From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
My standout memory of the store: Mac’s Backs hosted my book launch party for my story collection back in 2011.
Owner Suzanne DeGaetano’s advice for authors: “Come to our stores. Publish links to our stores’ websites [when directing readers to purchase your book]. Go hear other authors speak at local events. Be a part of the larger community.”

Loganberry Books
Fun fact: The store fully embraces its purple theme, from the store’s décor to the bags for your newly purchased books. Bonus: Loganberry has a live-in cat.
A book I purchased at Loganberry and loved: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
My standout memory of the store: Participating in the store’s Author Alley event back in 2012 during a heat wave, where the staff handed out free banana-flavored popsicles.
Owner Harriet Logan’s advice for authors: “Participate in our events, like Author Alley, Broadside & Ephemera, or Local Voices. Mention our store’s name in the press [when discussing your book].”

Appletree Books
Fun Fact: Each November, the store hosts “Writer in the Window,” which gives local writers the opportunity to spend several hours writing in the store’s expansive front windows.
A book I purchased at Appletree and loved: Words Are My Matter by Ursula Le Guin
My standout memory of the store: Spending a few hours writing on public display (and in the full force of the sun, which was lovely in November) in the store’s window back in 2016.
Owner Lynn Quintrell’s advice for authors: “Make sure you reach out to all bookstores [in your city]. You have to do the legwork. You have to get out there and peddle the thing. Give every bookstore a chance, and work on your relationship with booksellers.”

“To me, the joy in the business is matching someone with a book they love and having them come back and ask for more recommendations,” Quintrell added. “The personal service piece in indie bookstores is huge.”

Despite the shuttering of chain bookstores and the rise of online retailers, there’s a real need for physical bookstores. Readers turn to indie bookstores for the personal interaction they can’t get from a website, and readers are also embracing books as  tactile objects rather than abandoning them entirely in favor of e-readers.

So even in our rapidly changing publishing and bookselling landscape, there’s a real need for independent, local bookstores—and booksellers like DeGaetano, Logan, and Quintrell stand ready not only help readers connect with books they love, but to help authors navigate their careers.