Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer
September 25, 2014
Hullo. This is Neil Gaiman (an author) and Amanda Palmer (mostly a rock star, but also, recently, an author too). We are writing this letter together.
This is an open letter to all the other authors out there: people who make books. Fiction and non-fiction, books for adults or for children, respectable books and gloriously shady books. You lot: writers of books. Listen up.
We want to talk to you about Indies. Independent Bookshops. Y’know. Places that aren’t Target, Barnes and Noble, Sam’s Club, or Walmart.
Places like the Wilmington Bookshop and The Trident Bookstore. When Neil was a boy, he used to go to a local family-run and family-owned bookshop in Sussex, and browse the shelves, trying to decide where to spend his pocket money. John Banks, son of the family, recently returned from university, noticed this youngster and began talking to him, and, pretty soon, started pointing at authors he thought Neil would like. Some of his favourite authors arrived in his life because of the sharp-eyed and attentive clerk who worked the counter at the Wilmington Bookshop, in Sussex, England.
Neil wanted to be an author when he grew up. But if he wasn't an author, he thought, the best possible profession would be working in a bookshop, pointing people at books they might like, ordering books for them, divining with some kind of superhuman ability that the book with the blue cover that their granny needed was actually Forever Amber, and otherwise making people's lives better while being in bookshops.
A few months ago, before she started working on her first book, Amanda walked into the Trident Bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston. She wasn’t even in there to browse books….she was in there to go to the bathroom, like you do. On her walk through the store, she noticed a book called Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown, sitting on the Staff Picks table. Amanda remembered seeing Brené’s TED talk about fear and vulnerability, and picked up the book, which she started reading and couldn’t put down. She bought it. Two months later, Amanda wrote Brené a fan letter, and then Brené wrote the introduction for Amanda’s new book.
The Internet cannot make this magic happen. It cannot suggest books you have no idea you want. There’s nothing like the human, organic serendipity of an independent bookshop, where people who read and love books share their love with others.
Last year, Sherman Alexie came up with an idea so audacious and imaginative it could only have been conceived by an author who wanted to be allowed behind the counter in a bookshop. The idea, “Indies First”, is this: authors get to spend a day hand-selling books and helping out in their local independent bookshop.
Good, right? You, an author, will experience the joys and frustrations of being a bookseller. Mostly the joys – it's one of the busiest days of the year for small businesses, especially in bookshops. The day in question is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, “Small Business Saturday”. People are beginning to buy gifts for the holidays (now is your chance to persuade people that they need your books – especially if you've signed them – and your friends' books, and books you've always loved that, if widely read would make the world a better place). It will be, we promise you, a much more sociable day than the ones you spend staring at a blank screen or a white sheet of paper, communing with imaginary people and suchlike.
Last year, over 1,100 authors made contact with their local bookshops and went and helped and worked and had fun. Much more fun than just signing (although you can always sign your books for people.)
So: choose your independent bookshop, talk to the owner or manager, and agree on what you are going to do that day. If you have a website, put that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button and the IndieBound button. If you prefer, you can sign up on the author registry so that a store can contact you.
If you’re afraid of leaving your home because you have a paralyzing fear of strangers, and would rather just go to the pub, we’ve even recently discovered a bookshop that serves beer: The Spotty Dog, in Hudson, NY. They will probably be happy to pour you a pint while you work your shift.
You will be supporting independent bookshops. They need your help. They in their turn will be supporting you. Everybody wins.
Sherman Alexie created a movement; let's take it to the next level. Call your local indie bookshop and find out how you can help.
Neil and Amanda
P.S. If you have any questions about Indies First contact firstname.lastname@example.org.