Last week, the American Booksellers Association reached out to the children’s and young adult authors whose debut novels were chosen for the Summer/Fall 2020 Indies Introduce program, to ask them about the experience of being selected by indie booksellers as well as what indie bookstores mean to them.
To hear more from these authors, sign up for the virtual Children’s Institute (July 15–16), during which the authors will speak with booksellers about their books.
Here’s what the authors shared with BTW:
Tracy Deonn (she/her), author of Legendborn: “It was so meaningful to hear directly from Kathy Burnette of Brain Lair Books in South Bend, Indiana, that Legendborn had been chosen for Indies Introduce! Her enthusiasm for the book was palpable over the phone, and hearing that the aspects I love most about the story — a teenage Black girl coming into her own, recognizing her own power, and being in the middle of all the fantasy action — are the same elements that the bookseller loved, too? Priceless! Indie bookstores are the best places for word-of-mouth recommendations, which always carry weight in my experience. Between handwritten staff pick cards attached to shelves, quick conversations at the register about my book selection, and overhearing other customers talking to booksellers, indies not only grow the list of titles on my TBR but they also grow my list of authors to watch. I love the stores that feel like a shared living room, or a community space. As a reader, those indies make me feel safe to explore new books and voices.”
Caroline Brooks Dubois (she/her), author of The Places We Sleep: “When Chelsea Bauer from Union Avenue Books in Knoxville, Tennessee, called me, it was the defining moment I realized my book had crossed from being just a piece of art I’d created within the four walls of my home to a book out in the big world all by itself — having its own little relationships with readers. It was such a lovely surprise and joy to learn how the independent booksellers, people I admire, had enjoyed The Places We Sleep. I seek out indie bookstores when I travel to new towns. They’re all similarly welcoming and uniquely singular. Readers and caretakers of books congregate there, so I always feel at home.”
Sophie Escabasse (she/her), author of Witches of Brooklyn: “I was choked. My brain went into a foggy mode of too much emotions coming from too many angles. I think I must have repeated 10,000 times, ‘I can’t believe it, thank you, thank you so much, I can’t believe it, thank you…” It’s like having the coolest kids on the block inviting you to their party, it’s a dream come true. I love to spend time in independent bookstores. They have always been a safe and welcoming environment for me and books feel alive in them. Booksellers talk about them, recommend them, pick them for their staff pick of the week. Local bookstores also mean events, readings, authors coming to talk, they’re part of a community’s life — and that’s precious. I love that each single bookstore you go to has its own history, its own persona and character, that it reflects the neighborhood and the people living in it. I cherish the fact that indie booksellers are: 1) Real people with their own taste that you can talk to, and not a list of reviews. 2) Book lovers that genuinely enjoy talking about books. And 3) The ones at local bookstores get to know their customers, often establishing long-term relationships. Indie bookstores and the people working in it are weaving culture in communities; they are essentials.”
Lora Beth Johnson (she/her), author of Goddess in the Machine: “There’s something very special about a bookseller liking your novel. Books are their job. They’re connoisseurs. When I got the call, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It was such an honor and so unexpected. I love my local indie, and every time I travel, the first thing I look for is a local bookstore. As a reader, I love getting personalized book recommendations from independent booksellers. As an author, I appreciate their enthusiasm in championing my work. As a citizen, I appreciate all they do for their communities.”
Dante Medema (she/her), author of The Truth Project: “Honestly, this was wild. I think I was folding laundry when Lauren Nopenz Fairley of Curious Iguana in Frederick, Maryland, called and it was a number I didn’t recognize — when I answered I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but then as she explained I was floored! I had NO idea my book was even being considered so this came as a really big surprise. It meant so much to me to hear from someone who loved my book and the characters — I’m so incredibly honored to be among some truly amazing titles and authors! It’s a little-known fact that I wrote a huge chunk of The Truth Project in an indie bookstore. The Writer’s Block in Anchorage, Alaska, is in the heart of Spenard — a part of Anchorage vibrant with life, art, and amazing food — and this bookstore and café are no different. In the summer of 2018, I spent every free day writing there. For me, it’s bigger than a bookstore. It’s a community, and part of the ecosystem of writers here in Anchorage with its own heartbeat and energy that bled into my book that will now be on the bookshelf there.”
Chris Negron (he/him), author of Dan Unmasked: “When Drew Durham of Books Inc. in Palo Alto, California, called to tell me Dan Unmasked had been selected by the American Booksellers Association for their Indies Introduce program, he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. He was genuinely excited to be the one to be able to give me such incredible news.
“During our conversation, Drew told me the most wonderful things about my book, things a kid lit author only dreams of hearing. That Dan Unmasked was ‘necessary,’ that his ‘only regret was that it wasn’t written when he was a kid.’ I hope he doesn’t mind my quoting him like this. Perhaps it might help you understand how truly honored I was. Even through my ear-to-ear grin, I was still frantically taking notes, trying to document every word.
“It would be incredible to receive this kind of feedback from any reader, but it was especially cool to hear it from a bookseller at an independent bookstore. On a phone call, no less, instead of merely through email. Drew taking the time out to call me like that made the honor more special as well as more personal.
“After we hung up, that personal part of the experience really stuck with me. It hammered home something I already knew, but became even more sure of that day. Indie bookstores are really all about people. Well, people and books, of course. Let’s not forget the books.
“Seriously, though, like that phone call was, just about everything at an indie is personalized. And we all know that personalized stuff is the best stuff. The closest-to-your-heart stuff.
“Personalized, like author events that connect readers to authors and authors to readers.
“Personalized, like book clubs that introduce like-minded readers to each other and give them a space to congregate and share their favorite reads.
“Personalized, like knowing your long-standing customers so well that you can recommend books they’re going to enjoy even before they’ve ever heard of them.
“Personalized, like suggesting the perfect book to a young reader at just the right time. One that shows them the best kind of mirror, or throws open the most revealing type of window. One that — maybe — introduces them to a lifetime of reading in the bargain.
“If indie bookstores are all about people, then it’s the people who work at them — the booksellers themselves — who make them that way. I’m so honored that Dan Unmasked might help keep that wheel of everyday personal connection turning, that my book can play some small part in the vital work of indie bookstores: serving the communities they inhabit, but even more than that. Connecting the members of those communities together in innovative ways so that brand new communities can grow.
“Thank you to Drew, the entire selection panel, and the ABA. I’m incredibly honored to be part of the Indies Introduce program.”
Karah Sutton (she/her), author of A Wolf for a Spell: “It was honestly one of the greatest moments I’ve had as an author. I originally decided I wanted to write a middle-grade novel while working at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, back in 2009. My manager there was the first person I ever confided in about wanting to write books for children, and she later became one of the first people I told when my book sold to Knopf Books for Young Readers. Early on in writing A Wolf for a Spell I tried to make it something I could envision myself excited to hand-sell, and now to know that booksellers might be doing exactly that fills me with joy and gratitude. I was a teenager when I applied for a job at my town’s local indie bookstore, excited to work at a place that had always felt like a safe space for young readers and where I formed some of my earliest memories. That store felt like a second home. At the time there was a local newspaper columnist who wrote an article about how bookstores were a thing of the past. Outraged, I unleashed my teenage fury in a letter that was printed in the paper, explaining how only local bookstores offer the personal recommendations, the opportunities to meet your favorite authors — how they are cornerstones of a vibrant community. Years later, all those things are as true and important as ever. I am so proud of indie bookstores and their resilience and contributions to readers’ lives.”
Aiden Thomas (they/them), author of Cemetery Boys: “It was so lovely hearing from Mariana Calderon of Second Star to the Right Children’s Books in Denver, Colorado! I really believe that there is an extra amount of love and dedication that goes into being an indie bookseller. Indie bookstores are so much more than just stores. They serve their communities by providing safe spaces, connection, and supporting the local economy. When you walk into one, you know for certain that you’re going to be met by folks who are hugely invested in finding specific books for their patrons. They also feature books that otherwise wouldn’t get a chance in big chain bookstores, like books that didn’t get a huge marketing budget or are written by BIPOC authors!”
Ash Van Otterloo (they/them), author of Cattywampus: “Knowing all the careful thought and time indie booksellers put into their reading and their book recommendations, it was wonderful to hear my book had resounded with them! That’s the most meaningful feedback I could have dreamt up for my debut, so to say I’m honored is an understatement. I adore it when folks nerd out over their passions, so I’m a sucker for any book that makes a bookseller’s eyes light up. I must read it; I can’t not. My local sellers are excellent at listening to folks describe a general vibe they’re craving, then coming up with half a dozen stellar recommendations. They’re much more community-minded than any selling algorithm. Also, consider the indisputable fact that bookstores are the best-smelling rooms in the universe!”