“The creativity and community action is extremely encouraging”: A Word with . . . Annie Metcalf

In this week’s A Word With You, we spoke with bookseller Annie Metcalf about virtual events in the age of coronavirus and the perfect book & brew pairing. Annie is the Marketing & Events Coordinator at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, Minnesota and reviews Young Adult literature for BookPage. Follow her excellent Twitter, @AndrewMeatcliff.

So . . . how are you?

Like many, I’m generally doing well, if a bit stressed. But I just feel extremely fortunate to have my health, a job, and a safe place to nest during all this. Ironically, I moved apartments about 3 weeks ago, so I have yet to experience shelter-in-place boredom! While I don’t necessarily recommend moving during a pandemic, it does have the benefit of keeping you extremely busy; I’ve been unpacking, organizing, and hanging shelves and art for weeks.

What have you read recently? What would you pair it with?

I am SO close to finishing Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. It’s a must for anyone who enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the first two books in her Cromwell trilogy. I can barely describe her prose style other than it’s constantly and deliberately disorienting, but it’s also full of forward momentum. Basically, this book is more engrossing than any 700-page historical fiction about 16th-century English religion and finances has a right to be.

I’m usually more of a hop-forward person, but I would absolutely pair this with the Almond Milk Stout from Eastlake Craft Brewery (open for delivery), and a scrumptious snack from Potter’s Pasties (also doing take out and delivery!).

What are publishers or bookstores doing now that you are particularly excited about? Who is inspiring?

I’ve been inspired by all the fantastic ideas I’m seeing in discussion groups, on social media, and in newsletters. If I could reverse-engineer the philosophy behind all this creativity, it seems clear that we booksellers need to be open to new technologies, but use it to capitalize on what sets us apart: our individuality and taste, our connection with our communities, and our deep knowledge of our customers.  

Live story times? Instagram multi-person events and Zoom book clubs? A Discord channel for book recs (shout out to our friends at Next Chapter)? These are fun, accessible, and creative ways to reach our communities in the virtual space, which is something I sincerely hope we are able to continue even when it becomes safe to gather in person again.

What does business look like right now? How are events going?

Magers & Quinn is lucky enough to be a busy, high foot traffic store under normal circumstances. So, we are certainly feeling the loss of our day-to-day customers, sales-wise, (and also we just miss seeing and talking to folks about books). And our wholesale and business to business departments have not been very active during this time, understandably.

However, the support we’ve seen through online sales has been astounding. We were able to get designated an essential business, so we do have a skeleton crew of folks in the store working on our web orders and with our online customers. We’re shipping only—no pick-up option at the moment. We’re pulling more orders than ever before off our shelves for shipping from right here in Minneapolis, and are also fulfilling orders for out-of-stock items from distributors.

Event-wise, we just had a very successful pre-order/virtual event campaign with romance author Abby Jimenez for The Happy Ever After Playlist. Her publisher was fantastic at rolling with the changes, and set up a “private” stream for the virtual launch conversation. Only those who purchased through Magers & Quinn got access—which is amazing, because Abby has fans all over the country! Abby was a champion at driving pre-orders to our site, so it was by far our largest pre-order project ever, and the virtual event went off without a hitch. 

We have a few more virtual event partnerships in this same vein coming up. And as time goes on, we hope to be able to offer more simple, free, live-streams. I’m definitely getting a crash course in all the different platforms. . . . Stay tuned to our events pages on the website and Facebook!

Also, check out this new image created by our friends at Kenspeckle Letterpress in Duluth. We were in the midst of working with them on new designs when the COVID-19 situation reached Minnesota, so they surprised us with this new mask-wearing logo.

Do you have any new practices you hope to continue doing even after this crisis subsides?

People want a relationship with us. Social media can be very time-consuming and can easily fall to the bottom of the to-do list when we’ve got a week of back-to-back events or the sales floor is crazy busy. We’re going to work very hard to maintain the dialogue we’ve started on social media, even after we can see our lovely customers face-to-face again. 

What do you hope for the future of indie bookselling?

Again, the creativity and community action this situation has revealed is extremely encouraging. This is a business that can be slow to change, but I think we’ve all learned that we can adapt and update our practices quickly when the need arises. I look forward to seeing that spirit carry over into a brighter future where we can have a mix of physical and virtual togetherness.

Looking for a way to support independent bookstores? Make a donation to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), purchase a book online from your favorite bookstore, or visit Bookshop.org.

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