BrocheAroe Fabian on Opening River Dog Book Co.

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BrocheAroe Fabian is the owner of River Dog Book Co., a Wisconsin-based bookmobile slated to open in spring 2019. This June, she launched an online bookstore under the same name, where she hosts the Armchair Travel Book Club, a virtual and in-person book club.

Fabian has 12 years of experience in the book industry, having most recently worked as marketing manager at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina. Among other positions, Fabian was the children’s department manager at Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in 2008, as well as a sales and marketing associate at Beacon Press in 2011. In 2012, she helped open The World’s Only Curious George Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Bookselling This Week recently checked in with Fabian to talk about owning an online bookstore, hosting a traveling book club, and choosing the perfect dog for her bookmobile.

Bookselling This Week: What drew you to the world of indie bookselling?

BrocheAroe Fabian: A Nora Roberts novel. No, seriously, I always knew I wanted to own my own business someday, but it wasn’t until I read the Key Trilogy that I saw a model for what I wanted to do. The three women in the story opened a business together that combined books and art and a salon, and I thought, “Oh, right, people are booksellers. I want to do that.” Four years later, I got my first bookseller job, and I’ve never looked back. It’s the perfect mix of front-facing customer service, knowledge sharing, business inspiration, hard but rewarding work, and nerdiness that just suits me down to the bone. I understand not all booksellers feel this way, and that’s okay. But for me, it’s truly a calling.

BTW: When and why did you launch River Dog Book Co.? Why do you like using an online platform for bookselling?

BF: The long story short is that a few years ago, I was living in New Zealand, working on my immigration paperwork, and then I met my partner. I start there because that was the only time in the last 12-plus years that I wasn’t working in the book industry directly. I had given it up, in great part because I couldn’t find a way to make it work financially in conjunction with the other goals I had in life. When my partner and I committed to each other and I made the decision to move back to the States to join her, I came back to the job world I knew the best and found myself blossoming again as an independent bookseller. In another wonderful twist of fate, at the end of 2017 the mayor of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, put out a public call for an independent bookstore, and as my partner also has opportunities in Wisconsin, I answered. We will be moving there this fall, and so in preparation, I launched River Dog Book Co. in June of this year.

I am loving the online book community! I have been a book blogger since 2005, if you can believe that, so my online book communities are very important to me. Plus, I love disrupting the prescribed interaction of “come into my store, buy a book, leave.” Online platforms for book engagement do so much to further that interaction, to elongate it into an extended and often more meaningful engagement period, and I’m thrilled at all of the resources that exist for making that possible.

BTW: How do you choose what books to keep in stock? Do you curate your selection in any particular way?

BF: Yes, of course! First and foremost, I stock what I love to read and recommend (which, luckily, is a little bit of almost everything), which is why I will be actively selling both new and used books. I’m always on the hunt for out-of-print books, especially great children’s and teen books. Secondly, I make use of publisher and bookseller association marketing materials. Even if I haven’t read a book, if I have beautifully designed creatives from the publisher or bestseller lists from my regional association, I’m going to be using them. And lastly, I follow, on average, about 40 different book-related newsletters so that I can make sure I’m up on the small presses, diverse voices, and geek culture books that I might otherwise miss if I only focused on those big-marketing-budget titles.

BTW: Can you tell me about the book club you recently launched?

BF: The Armchair Travel Book Club has been a longtime dream of mine. It’s entirely self-serving in that it combines my three favorite activities: reading, traveling, and making new friends. I know I’m not the only one who likes to do those three things, and so I’ve started this book club to connect with everyone else around the world who feels the same way. Right now, anyone anywhere can join the Facebook group, while there are location-specific chapters for Raleigh, Minneapolis, and New York City on MeetUp. Those three chapters will have in-person MeetUps I’ll be able to attend this year, and there will be virtual book club meetings that anyone anywhere can attend. Our first book for the August/September read is Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s The Map of Salt and Stars (Touchstone). I’ve been an advocate of this book since its ARC stage, and had the pleasure of hosting a dinner event for Jennifer several months ago. When I chose this book, I reached back out to her, and she was very gracious and excited to get involved. We’re creating some unique content for members of this club only, and we’re in the process of scheduling a virtual book club meeting with her in attendance. Members of the book club are welcome to get their books from anywhere, but if they choose to purchase it through River Dog Book Co., they will receive access to those extra goodies and the meeting that Jennifer attends. Everyone else is welcome to engage in the weekly discussion questions posted in all four groups, attend the in-person MeetUps, and attend the other virtual book club meetings.

I have the October/November and December/January books chosen already, but I’m waiting to announce them until I’ve confirmed what those extra-special goodie items will be for each of those picks. I’m so excited about the range of books we’ll be able to read in a club whose focus is on journey, place, travel, and setting, and I’m making an effort to switch between new, just-published books in hardcover and older paperback favorites.

BTW: You plan on launching a bookmobile next spring. Why start with a bookmobile?

BF: The bookmobile is crucial to me because it brings the books to the people and encourages that community engagement aspect that is my passion. I can go to nursing homes and hospitals and schools and temples and churches and even hold author events, all with a bookmobile. Plus, I can reach those “book desert” communities that aren’t being served by a local bookstore. I can also choose to participate in large festivals, where people are there specifically to browse vendors. In this way, I don’t have to choose that one type of customer — the one that will drive to my one location and purchase a book and then leave — to engage with, I absolutely have to reach out to anyone and everyone in order to fulfill the bookmobile’s purpose. That said, I do plan to have a specific location to park on Tuesdays — new book release day! — so that customers who pre-order through me know where and when they can stop by to get their book the day it comes out.

BTW: Are you currently working with anyone else, or do you plan to in the future?

BF: I’m a one-woman shop officially on paper, but let’s be honest — it takes a village to build an indie bookstore! So while the official answer is no, I don’t have a business partner, I have an amazing graphic designer in the form of my life partner, and I have the incredibly supportive indie bookselling community. Also, I am actively planning partnerships with all kinds of businesses when the bookmobile is established in Beaver Dam, whether that’s book club meetings at a wine shop, a cookbook cooking club with a local restaurant, or a book-and-film series with the local movie theater, etc.

BTW: What are your plans for opening a brick-and-mortar storefront?

BF: Depending on how successful the bookmobile is and what type of funding I can secure in the future, I would love to have a brick-and-mortar space within a few years. I have a lot of ideas for a bookstore/café-event space that I would love to put into action!

BTW: Why did you choose to use a French bulldog for your logo? Any reason besides the fact that they’re adorable?

BF: Confession: I don’t have a Frenchie — yet. I knew the business name before I knew what dog it would stand for. The French bulldog had the winning combination of playful attitude and a recognizable breed silhouette, and it has been a dog I’ve always wanted and is the perfect size for a bookmobile. And now, of course, I just have to get a Frenchie rescue to match my bookstore logo.

BTW: What are you most excited about in terms of your future in bookselling?

BF: I was lucky enough to start working in the book industry before e-books came along. I say that because I watched, participated in, was affected by, and learned from the industry’s response to e-books when they did arrive. I believe that we’re on the cusp of yet another revolution in bookselling, and I find that entire prospect incredibly exciting. What’s going to happen with Barnes & Noble, what’s going to happen with the small-town downtown revitalization movement taking place across the U.S., and what’s going to happen to the indie bookstore model as rents are rising, funding remains problematic, and new, tech-savvy booksellers are rewriting both traditional code and the very way we consider who and what an indie bookstore is? I plan to be part of that revolution, and I firmly believe it will be a positive one, one that continues to engage our communities locally and internationally with the wealth of knowledge, empathy, and stories that exist in books.