Face Out: ABA Board Member Jamie Fiocco on Her Life Among Books

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In the final installment in our series profiling American Booksellers Association Board members, Bookselling This Week talks to Jamie Fiocco, the owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Fiocco is in her first three-year term as a Board director.

Growing up, Jamie Fiocco was the stereotypical kid who got into trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime lights out. Both her parents always had a book going, and, although Jamie grew up on a series of horse farms and spent a lot of time outside, books were always a big part of her life. In fact, Jamie describes herself as a “total book geek,” who even arranged her books alphabetically by author in her bedroom bookcase. Her favorite gift every year was a gift certificate for the local independent bookstore (the former Intimate Bookshop in Chapel Hill).

In 1991, as a recent college graduate, Jamie landed a job at a local technical publisher, Ventana Press in Carrboro, North Carolina. She spent the next 15 years in publishing: working first in customer service, then marketing, and eventually primarily in international sales and distribution for a variety of technical publishers. In 2004, her good friend and fellow “horse and book nerd” Keebe Fitch, the owner of McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro, North Carolina, convinced her to “help out for the holidays”; Jamie ended up managing the store for four years. In late 2008, a local developer in her hometown was looking for an independent bookstore to anchor his shopping center (his young daughter’s idea), and he was able to talk Jamie into giving it a try. Though she knew the town needed an indie bookshop ever since the Intimate closed more than a decade earlier, Jamie said she was hoping someone else would do it! Nevertheless, in November 2009, she opened Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill and is very happy to be part of the bookselling world.

Bookselling This Week: When did you first become a member of ABA? What motivated you to join?

Jamie Fiocco: I became a member of ABA when I started as manager at a McIntyre’s Books. The store had always been involved in our region and ABA, and I was immediately attracted to the friendly, competent association staff. I was thrilled to work with a trade organization that was so supportive of members and facilitated contact among booksellers all over the country.

BTW: What do you think are some of the most important changes in bookselling since you opened your store?

JF: My store is relatively new — six years old — but we opened in the midst of the coming of e-books and e-readers and the supposed demise of the print book. I have great respect for the booksellers who had already weathered the issues brought about by the growth of shopping malls, chain stores, and online shopping; at least I had an idea of what I was up against! I was grateful to ABA for researching options for indies in regards to e-books and e-readers that would allow us to keep the conversation open with our customers about e-books. I think that strategy — for us, at least — worked, and we did not alienate customers who wanted to start reading some books electronically. I think also the standoff with Amazon and Hachette (and others) over e-book pricing was an important time in the business, raising the public’s consciousness on how the big online outfits work and how the business of publishing and bookselling is changing. I also feel that the rise of Independent Bookstore Day and Indies First/Small Business Saturday further illustrates increased public recognition of the importance of small businesses and how they positively shape communities.

BTW: What are your key goals as an ABA Board member for fostering the book industry, and bookselling in particular?

JF: I think the ABA Board has a unique window of opportunity to change how publishers, authors, and others work with the indie channel. I think a great deal of good work has been done, including the Indies First and Indies Introduce programs and publishers’ rapid replenishment shipping. I think we’ve garnered some solid data that illustrates how the indie channel can influence sales of a particular title if we’re behind it. I think there are more ways we can work with all our different industry partners to streamline operations and perhaps invent new best business practices. I believe the ABA Board should make it a priority to continue to aggressively investigate what else can be done.

I also think there’s a need to further ABA’s good work locally and regionally. I’d love to create a network of professional bookseller “guilds” that foster education and professionalism among frontline booksellers, in the hopes that these booksellers stay in the business rather than moving on when they need to earn more. This may need to involve not just the store itself but also landlords and local municipalities, with the major goal being competitive wages paid by independent bookstores and career advancement tracks being made possible.

BTW: What are you reading now?

JF: Reading All the Light We Cannot See last year got me onto a World War II kick, so I’ve just finished Citizens of London and am now listening to Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943. I love audio books; I usually listen to nonfiction and read fiction. I’m reading and loving a novel set in early 20th century Mississippi — Miss Jane by Brad Watson — coming in July from W.W. Norton. Great prose and a fascinating female protagonist, who I was very surprised to find is based on one of the author’s ancestors — which makes the story even better.

BTW: You get a day to walk through any city, town, or landscape with any one writer. What writer and what place?

JF: OK, here’s the farm girl in me coming out now: I’d love to ride shotgun with James Herriot (aka James Alfred “Alf” Wight OBE, FRCVS) as the country veterinarian makes his rounds to all his clients’ farms in the Yorkshire countryside. When I was growing up, I loved his semi-autobiographical stories of life, death, and everything in between in All Creatures Great and Small and his many other books. A close second would be hanging out with Laura Ingalls Wilder on the prairie, but I’m under no illusions that I wouldn’t be put to work so I’m taking the easy way out here!