Booksellers Setting the Stage for Indies First

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Indies First on Small Business Saturday is just 17 days away, and independent bookstores across the country are scheduling festive events, ordering cookies from local bakeries, and preparing to share the day’s bookselling duties with authors.

Jason Reynolds
Jason Reynolds is the 2017 Indies First spokesperson.

Fresh off his latest young adult novel’s debut in the top five on the national Indie Bestseller List and the New York Times bestseller list, Jason Reynolds will be on hand at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C., and the staff could not be more excited, said Anna McCormally, events and marketing manager.

“We love Jason. He lives in the neighborhood, so he pops by sometimes,” McCormally said. “I’m pretty new to East City, and when I learned that Jason Reynolds just pops into the store, I was overcome with joy. We’re very happy we’re going to have him on the 25th.”

Long Way Down (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), a meditation on teenage gun violence, is the 11th book for Reynolds, who is this year’s Indies First spokesperson. Indies First, launched by the American Booksellers Association in 2013, brings together authors, readers, and publishers in support of independent bookstores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, this year November 25.

Fittingly for a day inspired by author Sherman Alexie’s experience volunteering in an independent bookstore, Indies First will see authors such as Reynolds stepping into the role of bookseller for a day. “He’s going to be our guest bookseller, so he’s going to be behind the register for a little bit and also visiting and mingling and signing books,” McCormally said.

East City Bookshop is among the stores on the Indies First Activity Registry, where booksellers are sharing word of author visits, musical performances, book swaps, giveaways, discounts, charity drives, raffles, cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, costume contests, and, of course, seasonal treats.

The Indies First map
The Indies First map of events.

Bookstores that have not yet shared their events are encouraged to add their plans so they will appear on the searchable Indies First map. Shoppers can also browse participating stores alphabetically by store name or by state.

Once Upon a Storybook in Tustin, California, is planning a day with four author visits and a pop-up shop with Brian the Pekingese, which sells organic children’s pajamas, plush toys, and bedtime storybooks.

“We love to do Small Business Saturday as an opportunity to give our customers one more excuse to come visit us rather than the big box stores or the malls,” said Once Upon a Storybook owner Susie Alexander. “We like to give them lots of different options for things that will happen that day.”

The children’s bookstore will also encourage customers to shop for Brian the Pekingese merchandise not only as gifts for their loved ones, but as donations to a children’s charity that collects pajamas for kids in need. “We thought this would be a great opportunity for our customers to donate pajamas. They can either bring in a new pair of pajamas or donate them from the Brian the Pekingese pop-up shop that we’ll be having,” Alexander said.

Three of the authors visiting Once Upon a Storybook will sign books: Paul Paolilli, author of Nightlights (Albert Whitman & Company); Danielle Davis, author of Zinnia & the Bees (Capstone Young Readers); and Lorri Horn, author of Dewey Fairchild, Parent Problem Solver (Amberjack Publishing).

Marcie Colleen, author of Love, Triangle (Balzer + Bray), will be a guest bookseller. “She’ll be helping people find their perfect gift. She knows a lot about children’s literature, so it will be a great opportunity for our customers to connect with her,” Alexander said.

Shoppers at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be able to interact with authors throughout the day, said Angela Whited, events and marketing manager.

“We have so many awesome authors here in the Twin Cities. We usually have about six authors,” Whited said. “From 10:00 to 4:00, we have two authors in the store at a time and they can interact with customers, make recommendations, and just add a fun energy. This year, we’re really excited because Kelly Barnhill was free and we can say, ‘We have a Newberry Medalist today.’”

Barnhill, whose 2017 novel The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers) was awarded the Newbery Medal in January, is coming to Red Balloon for the second year in a row. Authors Drew Brockington, Rick Chrustowski, Megan Maynor, Melanie Heuiser Hill, and Alison McGhee will also be on hand.

“People get very excited. We make our list public and people will come in to see an author,” Whited said. “It’s a fun day. It’s like the socializing part of a signing line, except less formal.”

Small Business Saturday, which was started by American Express in 2010 to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize their local, independently owned stores, is popular in St. Paul, Whited said.

“Small Business Saturday is really catching on here, and our location on Grand Avenue is a great shopping area,” she said. “There’s lot of other small independent businesses on the avenue. Traffic on the street is always really good.”

In fact, it’s such a busy day that apart from inviting guest authors, Red Balloon avoids scheduling other big events for Indies First.  “We do a lot of story times, but they are very well attended, and on a busy shopping day, it’s better to keep people moving freely,” she said. “I like our mode, which is, ‘Come see who’s here.’ That way, we’re free to sell books all day, which is what we hope happens.”

Amid the bookselling at Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Illinois, there will be a performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Owner LuAnn Locke said she invited a local theater company called StagePlay Learning to put on the play after being impressed by the production at the library last December.

The 45-minute, two-actor show involves the audience in the action. “It’s really fun and interactive for all ages. I’m really excited about being able to offer that for our customers,” Locke said. “One person plays all the ghosts, and the other person plays Scrooge, Cratchit, and all the other parts. They do super-quick costume changes.”

While the event starts at 11:00 a.m., the entire day at Afterwards will be festive, with hot cocoa, coffee, tea, and cookies. “We like to practice what we preach, so we are into shop small, shop local,” Locke said. “We’re ordering a bunch of treats from local bakers. Our customers get excited about it because they know they can come in and get yummy treats.”

There are also drawings and giveaways for customers, starting with a free tote for the first several in the store. If the customers bring the totes back throughout the year, they get 10 percent off.

Also on display is a gift basket filled with goods from local artisans, including bookmarks, mugs, and coasters made with illustrations from children’s books. “Everybody who comes in that day is entered into the drawing for that as well,” Locke said.

Shoppers visiting any ABA member bookstore on Small Business Saturday can also enter a special giveaway in celebration of Indies First. ABA is partnering with Penguin Random House for the #shopindiesfirstsweepstakes. Between November 15 and November 26, Twitter and Instagram users who tag an independent bookstore and use the hashtag #shopindiesfirstsweepstakes will be entered to win $1,000 worth of books from Penguin Random House.

Booksellers who are still seeking an author or illustrator to host can visit the Indies First Author and Illustrator Registry for a list of participating authors and illustrators.

Booksellers can also review the Indies First specials on offer from a number of publishers, university presses, and distributors, including Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

To help booksellers evaluate the advantages of backlist offers available for Indies First, ABA has created a convenient new buying tool, the Backlist Buying Calculator, a self-calculating Excel sheet designed to calculate and analyze a store’s backlist buying savings.

Booksellers will need a username and password to access the list of special offers and the Backlist Buying Calculator; e-mail for login details.

Booksellers can visit the Indies First page on to learn more about this annual event and follow or share their own updates on social media using the hashtag #indiesfirst. Questions about Indies First can be directed to