Category Archives: Bookstores

“Great books are great books, regardless of the publisher size”: A Word with . . . Cristina Rodriguez

For this week’s A Word with You, we interviewed Cristina Rodriguez, the General Manager and head buyer at Deep Vellum Books, a bookstore in Dallas, Texas that specializes in international literature, independent presses, and marginalized writers. She is a Bookselling Without Borders fellow and a 2020 Firecracker Award judge. Follow her @CristinaRodrgz.

So . . . how are you?

I’m good! It’s funny because I feel like “how are you” is such a loaded question nowadays, but honestly in this moment I feel pretty okay. I’m extremely thankful that I’m still working and that I have very close friends and family that I’m constantly in touch with, but in no way do I want it to seem like everything is perfect. I tend to be a pretty chilled out person normally, but it can be hard to take things day by day when it really feels like things are abruptly changing moment by moment. One minute I’m excited about something, the next I’m feeling down, or restless, but I’m learning how to be patient with myself.

Tell us about the hotline!

Like many of our bookstore friends we’re currently closed to the public. I wanted to find a way to continue interacting with readers that offered some relief but that didn’t feel completely centered around capitalism. So, I created a bookseller hotline where people can call or text to get book recommendations, life advice, daily horoscopes, or just talk. People call in to talk about books, sometimes they want to discuss their love life, feelings about loneliness, or even what reality shows they’re currently obsessed with. I’m pretty down to talk about anything and feel really honored that strangers are willing to share a bit of their lives with me. I know a lot of people find comfort in books, but this hotline has taught me that sometimes that’s not enough.

Deep Vellum Books loves to spotlight indie presses, and obviously you have an up close and personal look with Deep Vellum Publishing. Is the crisis changing how bookstores work with indie publishers?

The moment everything drastically turned for the worst, I feel like indie publishers really stepped in to show that they were listening and trying to support bookstores. I received so many emails and texts from people in publishing checking in with how I personally was doing, but also what they could do to help the bookstore. It’s this kind of support and understanding that you normally don’t see from larger publishing houses.

What I’ve noticed recently is that bookstores are really interacting with small presses and debut authors in such a noticeable way. Everyone is willing to take bigger risks with marketing ideas and events and it feels fresh and genuine. I think readers can sense the sincerity of the indie presses that booksellers love and as a result it gets them excited about a book that might normally be missed amongst the New York Times bestsellers.

I feel fortunate that I work for a bookstore that has an indie press connected to it. I’ve been able to see firsthand what goes into the production of a book. It’s given me a deeper book education about the importance of independent publishing in the book ecosystem and as a result has affected how I do my job. Our bookstore’s inventory is 90% independent presses and that’s intentional. I know that this kind of buying is not possible for a majority of bookstores and I like that stores are able to have the freedom with their inventory to do what works best for them. We’ve made this model work for us and I hope to expand our inventory in the future in a way that is still very thoughtfully curated and shows off best books that are coming out from indie presses. 

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

I’m constantly inspired by all of my colleagues who wake up every day and just keep pushing forward. With everything going on, most days it feels easier to call it and go back to bed. But I think seeing everyone’s creativity and hustle makes me feel a little less hopeless. As far as bookstores go, I’m a big fan of RiffRaff in Providence, Rhode Island and I love their Surprise Book Care Packages they started doing. I’m a terribly indecisive Libra and sometimes I just need to be told what to read. I completely trust and love Emma Ramadan’s book taste, so I know once I finish the books she sent me, I’ll order myself another one. The Transnational Lit Series at Brookline Booksmith has also become one my favorite virtual event series to attend. And I think we can all agree that Coffee House Press’s paid writing program is super inspiring. I hope it motivates other presses to find new ways to support the literary community in a monetary way during this crisis. As an industry it’s nerve wrecking to have to step out of our comfort zone and experiment with new ideas. But it’s exciting to see what progress is being made to change the book landscape for the better.

What does business look like right now? How are online sales and events working?

I wish I had something new to bring to the conversation but like other booksellers have mentioned before everything is so much harder than it used to be. And I didn’t even think things were that easy before the pandemic. Every time I figure out how to do something new, something else will happen and I’m like, lol no girl, you do not know what you’re doing, you better phone a friend. But I guess that’s the positive. Everyone is so willing to help and share their experiences I feel less alone in this.

In terms of online sales, it never feels consistent. We have good and bad days, but I feel like that’s kind of expected for everyone? The hotline gets daily calls or texts and that helps with sales, but nothing will ever compare to being able to physically hand-sell books. We’ve built a stronger following on social media recently and it’s been an interesting challenge to try to convey my bookselling style on the internet. My regular customers know that I don’t really take myself that seriously and when you shop at Deep Vellum, you’re going to get book recommendations in addition to my unfiltered opinions on a range of unprompted topics. I miss that kind of deeper connection with customers and I don’t know if virtually we can ever replace it, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying.

As far as events go, I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m perpetually tired and virtual events are so much work and often have very little pay off. I also think people are just exhausted by Zoom events and while I would never turn down an author event for a book that I think is exciting, I’m trying to be considerate with the kind of programming I put out. I want it to be fun, interactive, and not feel redundant. If that’s not possible then I don’t see the point.

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

I definitely plan on keeping the bookseller hotline because as much as it’s meant to help others, I would be lying if I said it didn’t help me too. And while I’m not really a Zoom enthusiast, it has made me re-evaluate what I can do to improve event programming and the inclusivity in the store after the crisis ends. Event spaces should be more accessible and the fact that we haven’t offered some kind of virtual or live feed for those who are physically unable to attend feels likes a disservice on our part.

What do you hope for the future of indie bookselling and publishing? What trends do you hope will end?

I mean, I have a lot of questions, comments, and concerns regarding all facets of the book industry, but I’ll try to keep this short. I would love to see greater solidarity over livable wages and Medicare for all, but most of all I would love to see better representation in bookstore staffing and the publishing world. If we want to diversify the types of books our culture reads, we first have to address how we discuss voices of different cultural backgrounds and expand the representation of who is selling and publishing their books. I want readers to think critically about their own roles within stories of marginalized experiences and for booksellers to not have to avoid any aspect of a book (if it’s translation, queer, POC, etc.) in order to sell it.

I’m actually quite terrible at identifying what a “book trend” is, so I just read and do what I want, otherwise I think it would overwhelm me. I do kind of wish people would stop doing “small press” merchandising displays in stores. It feels gauche. I think when you put indie presses in a small book display to “normalize” them to customers it does the exact opposite. It almost feels like pandering to independent presses and an attempt to distract customers from the fact that a majority of what you order is Big 5 bestsellers. My hope is that bookstores with larger credit lines become more thoughtful with their book buying and try to allocate a better percentage to indie presses. Great books are great books, regardless of the publisher size. 

What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

My project list feels endless at this point, but my main focus right now is getting our new website launched. I’ve also been working on some fun video stuff for preorder campaigns and a collaborative project between the bookstore and Deep Vellum Publishing is in the works. We want to dive in and talk about their backlist catalog a little more, create more interactive content, and of course allow me to ramble about books and pop culture. This should hopefully launch soon!

As far as reading goes, I watch a stupid amount of television. Then try to read a significant number of books to balance out the fact that I have low-brow interests and no real hobbies, so I’m going to do this book pairing a little bit differently.

Does anyone remember the movie Thirteen? Starring a young Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed? If no, it’s a chaotic teen drama that I probably watched too young and took a little too much direction from in 2003. I just re-read Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger and it’s the perfect match. Similar to this movie, Maidenhead depicts everything from young drug use, underage sex, but takes it a step further by examining issues of porn, race, and class. It’s one of my absolute favorite books. 

I finished Seven Years by Peter Stamm at the beginning of quarantine and the only way to describe reading a Stamm book is that it’s like smoking a cigarette after a long stressful day in perfect weather. Or like listening to Ariana Grande’s song “ghostin” for the first time. It’s sexy, it’s sad, and has the appropriate amount of drama and longing that I want in a book.

I just started reading The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek and have every intention of watching the French film after I finish because Isabelle Hupport is a babe and erotic dramas are kind of my thing. If you’re like me and also love unapologetic, depraved, erotic fiction, some of my favorites that I plan on revisiting this summer are: The Mirror in the Well by Micheline Aharonian Marcom, Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa P., Hashish by Oscar A. H. Schmitz, The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body by Bjørn Rasmussen, Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, The Ancestry of Objects by Tatiana Ryckman, Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Was Bigger by Brontez Purnell, and Leash by Jane Delynn.

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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“You Can’t Eat Frustration”: A Word with . . . Josh Cook

For this week’s A Word With You, we interviewed Josh Cook, marketing director and co-owner of Porter Square Books, which was named the 2020 Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Josh has been selling books with Porter Square Books since it opened in 2004, and is a frontline bookseller, magazine buyer, and the website and social media manager. He is also the author of An Exaggerated Murder (Melville House, 2015). Follow him @InOrderofImport.

So…how are you? 

Pretty good. Or, weird, but doing a lot better than a lot of other people and trying to feel grateful about that. I’m still working, still getting paid. I live in a place where I can get take out, beer from local breweries, groceries. I have a backyard and a nice porch. There are absences in my life, and as important as going out, being in the same physical room as my friends, being able to hand books to customers, being able to visit family is, none of that is existential.

Can you talk about winning Publishers Weekly‘s Bookstore of the Year? What was that like—and what did you think 2020 would look like after winning that award? 

I didn’t really have a lot of expectations. When we were nominated, I was most looking forward to the speech that David would give at [BookExpo] if we won and then, when we actually won, we found out on a 10AM Zoom meeting. That happened just a few minutes before the announcement went public and after we’d been closed for a little while and after we had changed our business model, like, three times in a week. There wasn’t a lot of emotional space if you know what I mean. It is, of course, validating to see something you’ve built recognized on a national scale, but I think its real importance and its real impact on us and our community was the opportunity it gave everyone to celebrate. I think a lot of people in our community felt they were a part of that award and they’re right.

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

I’ve been running to stand still so much recently I almost feel a little disconnected from the industry despite working so much. I’m excited for Coffee House’s new paid writing program. I’m excited for a lot of the books coming out this fall. I’m excited that so many bookstore GoFundMe are actually getting funded, even ones with six-figure asks. I’m excited that individual booksellers are finding ways to sell books even if their stores are closed. I’m excited that we seem to be starting a bigger discussion of systems of power in publishing and how we can build a more just industry. I’m excited that it looks like some number of Amazon shoppers have migrated to indie bookstores.

There is always potential that tags along with volatile situations. There are opportunities to be creative and inventive, to discover new ways of doing things that could leave the world a better place than it was before the crisis. And it seems like, unlike in 2008, communities really understand the value of independent bookstores and are spending the money to keep them afloat. It’s scary that it still might not be enough. It’s frustrating that so much of the work being done and money being spent is by people who don’t have the time and don’t have the money. It’s frustrating that a lot of this would be easier if some number of powerful and wealthy people did just a tiny fraction more than the nothing they seem to be doing.

But you can’t eat frustration and though you can’t eat excitement either, it’s at least something to get up for in the morning. Bookselling in 2021 might look completely different from how it looked in 2020 and I think there are good reasons to be excited about that.

What does business look like right now? How are online sales and events working?

A lot of other people have been saying this, but I’ll say it again because I think it’s important to how we think about what our economy could look like after the crisis and to adjusting our assumptions about online commerce: Every sale takes three times as much work. Sometimes more. That said, our online sales have been strong. We already had relatively strong online sales, so even though we didn’t build our online commerce for pandemic mitigation, a lot of our in store customers have transitioned to shopping online. Furthermore, we’d also built a strong social media presence, and so there are a lot of people around the country who just wanted to support indie bookstores and chose us because they like what we do on Twitter. I also think both of those things helped us capture some Amazon customers. So, we’re doing okay with online sales. 

But the simple fact is, there is no digital technology yet that is as good at selling books as a physical bookstore. I mean, just think about how many different books you can look at in a minute of wandering around bookstore verses scrolling through a website, how much faster it is to read their summaries, how much easier it is to flip to a random page to test out the prose. Even before we consider gifts and greeting cards and socks and literary magazines and everything else that is difficult for a bookstore to sell online, it is, technologically speaking, a lot harder to sell books online than in a store. So, PSB is doing okay, maybe even great, in the context of this moment, but we’re selling far fewer books than we would be if the store were open.

In terms of events, I think we’re still figuring it out. We haven’t done a ton. We’ve had some with a ton of views and a healthy number of sales and donations and some with not so much. We’ve sold out one ticketed event, but it’s the only one we’ve had and that was Christopher Moore. Given the type of work virtual events take and the type of communal space they occupy, at the moment we’re planning on doing fewer virtual events than we were doing in store events, but that’s the only thing we’ve really decided. That is the other side of “innovation.” Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out what works. One thing hasn’t changed though, authors that did outreach to their fans had more successful events than authors who didn’t.   

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

We were all hoping for an end date, right? Okay, the crisis is over today so tomorrow we can have a huge party. That’s clearly not going to happen. I think a lot of people, regardless of whatever recommendations are made by authorities, are going to maintain social distancing of some kind at least until there is a vaccine. So there is a good chance we’ll need to continue things like curbside pick-up and local delivery after the store is fully open in order to serve our community. For obvious reasons, I hope people will keep buying the Josh Sends You Three Paperbacks bundle, as that has been a lot of fun. It’s basically a bookseller’s dream. There were also a few things we were working on that were put on hold, that we hopefully have the space to pick back up. I think we’d like to figure out ways to do hybrid events. Not only do events with a virtual component have no attendance limit, they’re also more accessible in general, so I’d really like to use what we’ve learned in the crisis to make our events more accessible when they can be in the store again.

The thing I hope for the most is that Amazon customers who came to us because Amazon deprioritized book orders stay with us. At least some of them. If indie bookstores can get to the other side of this AND those customers stay in the indie bookstore channel, we could end up with a much stronger industry than we’ve had in decades. And if we combine that with some of the other things we developed, like The Bookstore at the End of the World, like the various bundles stores are selling, we could find ourselves in something of a golden age of empowered, independent booksellers.

We have to ask: do you have another book-themed tattoo planned?

Not specifically! I’ve got a bookselling one in the back of my head and I’ve had something to commemorate my book also in the back of my head for a while. Just kinda waiting for an excuse if you know what I mean. I don’t have anything like my Ducks, Newburyport tattoo in the queue, but who knows what book I’ll try to sell 100 copies of this year.

What are you working on and what are you reading? Do you have anything you would pair it with (a food, a movie, another book, etc.?)

I’m still plugging away at the same [work-in-progress] I’ve been on for a few years now, along with the range of side projects I always keep around. I’m not in a place where I can say too much about the main project, but I will say I am looking forward to What is Grass by Mark Doty. I’ve always liked having different projects that require different brain spaces that I can turn to when I don’t have whatever I need for the main thing, but it’s been a real boon during the crisis. Having writing that doesn’t need to be done on the computer, that doesn’t have any real stakes, that I can just pick up when I have a relevant idea and put away when I don’t makes it easier to just keep putting words out there and that seems like a luxury these days. 

I’ve been able to keep up my reading pretty well, too, especially now that the bookstore has been settled into its processes for a couple of weeks and we can have days off. I’m working my way through The Dreamed Part by Rodrigo Fresan and Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash (both works of genius, but very different types of genius). I just started Telephone by Percival Everett, High As the Waters Rise by Anja Kampmann, and Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride (the prose is like she put the sentences of Henry James in a mirror and then smashed it), and I’m working my way through a handful of the Best Translated Poetry finalists, including The Next Loves by Stéphane Bouquet. I’m also excited to start Feminist City by Leslie Kern and Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau. Other new books that I hope sell a shmillion copies are the new Wanda Coleman selected works, Wicked Enchantment. She should be a household name (at least in poetry households) and I really hope Wicked Enchantment does that for her. And Cars on Fire by Monica Ramon Rios is wild. Great book for fans of Lina Wolff and Renee Gladman and the story “Invocation” has what might be the best use of two column storytelling I’ve ever seen.  


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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“A Bookstore Is Not Meant to be Empty”: A Word with . . . Matt Keliher

In this week’s A Word With You, we spoke with bookseller Matt Keliher about how he’s handselling at a distance and the industry-wide changes he’s fighting for. Matt is the manager and head buyer of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minnesota. Follow his twitter @MAKeliher to hear what indie book you should be reading next.

So…how are you? 

I’m doing all right. Putting one foot in front of the other, day after day. I’m getting real tired of going to an empty bookstore every day. Bookstores aren’t meant to be without people in them. I’m basically pulling at the pant legs of my postman to sustain a conversation.

What’s some good advice you’ve received recently?

I think the best advice I’ve heard recently is that we shouldn’t feel bad about charging for the cost of postage because most people know that it’s an added expense and that it cuts significantly into the margin of the book and therefore most people are fine with paying a couple extra bucks for postage if it helps the bookstore remain whole.

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

Coffee House Press rolled out their Coffee House Writer’s Project that helps put money in the hands of booksellers and writers. It’s a great, innovative program I hope many more people become aware of and lend their support. I’m inspired every day by booksellers doing their best to continue providing their communities with the services that their communities require. It’s a different battle for everyone, and everyone is handling each day and each challenge differently.

I’ve been particularly impressed by Volumes in Chicago. They’re not only dealing with this crisis, but also handling a new landlord from NYC that seems to care very little about whether or not they remain a tenant. That landlord/renter dynamic can be challenging to overcome. And their GoFundMe has some sweet perks like the dance from The Breakfast Club performed by all-star authors.

What does business look like right now? 

It’s weird. It’s the weirdest, strangest thing, every single day. Our business is strong, online sales are strong, phone orders and special orders are coming in faster than we can move them out most days. But it’s just bizarre. A bookstore is not meant to be empty and quiet. A bookstore is not meant to have its door locked when the sun is highest. It’s all of my least favorite parts of bookselling—processing, sealing packages, bookkeeping, emails, etc.—and none of my favorite parts—talking to people about dope books.

But St. Paul has impressed the hell out of me. We’ve been offering a Surprise Me buy option on our website that has been hugely popular. Basically, you give the booksellers a clue about what you like, and we pick something awesome and mail it to you. It’s like if you were asking a bookseller to handsell you something in person . . . except now I always pick the right book. And it’s a big help to us also because it allows us to sell books that we have in stock which is more financially beneficial than ordering more books from our distributor every week. It’s my favorite part of every day.

We also were fortunate to have author Nora McInerny run a preorder campaign for a new book, Bad Moms. She made it her personal mission to drive me to be overwhelmed by sales, and absolutely succeeded in that task. It was more orders over a shorter period of time than our store has ever taken on. It’s been incredible to see, and entirely overwhelming, in the best way.

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

Definitely. There’s a lot of little process and method kind of things that we updated to make our operations more efficient from what we’ve learned in the last month or so. We’ll keep the Surprise Me option available on our website forever, I think—that’s how much I love it. We’ll be continuing to improve our website to better handle a high volume of sales. I think bookstores all over are winning the long term support of many, many new customers in their communities as a result of the personal and effective service we have been providing lately.

Photo credit: Caroline Yang

What do you hope for the future of bookselling?

Greater solidarity among all workers across the industry, fighting, arm in arm, for the best for all of us. I’d like to see a national booksellers union. Higher wages across the board, from booksellers to publicists to warehouse workers. I’d like to see publishers take on a greater role in creating a more equitable playing field for all facets of the industry. I’d like to see broader and better messaging about how the book industry would benefit greatly from progressive government policies like Medicare For All. If you believe in independent bookstores, either as a reader, publisher, book reviewer, or wholesale distributor, without believing in healthcare as a human right, then you aren’t really supporting independent bookstores. Also, pay your interns or do not have internships. Oh, and another thing, there is no reason in the year 2020 that publishing must be centralized in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world. I’ll stop now.

What are you reading?

I am reading Denis Johnson’s short stories. I haven’t been able to lend my attention to a novel in some time. And I’m pairing it with John Prine, homemade pizza, more whiskey than I care to admit, and Money Heist on Netflix. (Psst: *whispers* if you like Money Heist, I have some translated fiction to tell you about.) 


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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“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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“Everything is being stripped down to what’s essential”: Introducing A Word with You

Times are strange right now. We’re all looking for ways to stay connected to the book world we love so much, from the wonderful independent booksellers who champion our books to our publishers who put those books into the world. With that in mind, we’re pleased to introduce A Word with You, our new weekly feature where we’ll chat with folks from all over the publishing ecosystem to hear about what we should be reading, what’s inspiring them, and how they’re dealing with this global crisis.

Our first conversation is with Jason Leivian, owner of Floating World Comics. He opened the store in Portland, OR in 2006, focusing on a unique selection of mainstream, genre, literary and self published comics. It has since been celebrated as one of the most beloved comic shops in North America. Floating World branched out into publishing in 2008, starting with underground broadsheets and zines and then comics and hardcover art books available all around the world.

So . . . how are you?

I’m gonna steal a response from my friend Tom [Kaczynski of Uncivilized Books]: So far so good. But, ask again in a month.

What are you missing the most right now?

Friends, my customers and coworkers, Portland’s cheeseburgers.

What’s the best piece of bookselling advice you’ve received recently?

I’ve been very busy creating an online version of the store for mail order, scrambling to try and generate sales while our doors are closed. The best advice is anytime someone tells me to slow down and just do nothing for a while. Get some sunshine, relax in the backyard, pull some weeds out of the garden.

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

Floating World Comics

There’s a pretty good sense of unity with other booksellers and publishers. We’re all in the same boat. In the same way that we’re hoping to flatten the curve of the health crisis, I think that’s sort of happening with the economic recession that’s coming as a result. We got just enough relief (or offers of relief) to make it past April 1. We’ve got a while until the next round of bills are due. If we can share the burden, pass it around, pick it up again, repeat, we might be able to sustain.

That sense of unity is relatable on a spiritual level. Everything is being stripped down to what’s essential. Some of those discoveries are surprising to society. When we rebuild after this I hope that we’ve learned from the experience and can make resolutions.

There’s been a lot of rewarding moments—connecting with customers, people that care about Floating World, and the comics community here. It’s been endearing and inspiring.

I was emailing with one of the book printers that I work with in China and she was signing off all of her emails with warnings about the virus, which was just starting to spread in America. This was in early March. It was the same every time: Please take care of yourself, wear a mask when out, wash your hands, try not to be in public.

A week later she mentioned that they had a regular source of mask manufacturers and she could send some free masks with some paper samples I requested.

Another week later (March 19) everything on the calendar was getting cancelled, the shop was closing. I wrote to her asking about the masks. Are they N-95? How many could we get?

She sent pictures of the KN-95 masks, the Chinese equivalent of N-95 masks. I sent some of the photos to my Mom who can read and speak Chinese. We read about the rise of counterfeit masks from China, but saw that the factory we ordered from had been around for 5 years.

The minimum order was 1500 masks. We considered the risks. What if the masks didn’t work? What if they didn’t make it through customs? But I trusted my printing rep. I’ve had a working relationship with her for years. This was a personal connection that I trusted and her concern for us in America was genuine. She got FDA registration so they could get the masks through customs. My wife texted some friends to see if anyone wanted to place orders. One of her friends said she wanted to buy two entire boxes to donate to our local hospital. The next day my wife’s friend had thought about it and wanted to order another box. She knew someone who wanted to buy a box too, for their local hospital.

Jason with his wife and daughter

I’m guessing it’s not possible for a hospital to just place an order with random Chinese manufacturers. There are probably strict medical regulations that they can’t get around. But in a pinch this is a good workaround. We’re getting supplies to people today that will make a difference.

The first shipment arrived a few days ago. We distributed some to friends and then found a contact at the local hospital where we could take the donation. They were speechless. They were so grateful. We did a little post online and started getting thanks from health workers in our area.

I know that earlier I said the best advice was to slow down and do nothing. But my default is to do everything I can think of. If I know the work is good and worth doing, I do as much as I can until I’m exhausted.

What’s something good you’ve read recently?

I’m reading a book about the history of electronic music, told through developments in equipment and technology called Live Wires.

David Anthony Kraft’s run on Defenders is fun. Steve Gerber’s style is more intense, takes you on a trip. Kraft’s comics are like a six pack of cheap beer, easy reading. I’m interested in tracking down more of his work.

Read a bunch of Christopher Priest comics recently – his Deathstroke run and about half of his Black Panther run.

The Beautiful Ones, Prince’s unfinished memoir.


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