Sherman Alexie Spearheads Indies First

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Acclaimed author Sherman Alexie has launched Indies First, a grassroots movement that calls on authors to show their support for independent booksellers by signing up to work at their favorite indie bookstore on Small Business Saturday, celebrated this year on November 30, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

This movement emanated from a conversation a year ago between ABA Vice President Betsy Burton, co-owner of The King’s English Bookshop, and Nancy Stauffer, Sherman Alexie’s agent.  It started with the question, “What can authors do to help the indies?” Over the Labor Day weekend, Alexie started the movement with a letter to a small group of authors, whom he called on to become “superhero[es] for independent bookstores.”

Alexie, who worked as bookseller-for-day at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle this past spring, told his fellow “book nerds”: “We will become booksellers. We will make recommendations. We will practice nepotism and urge readers to buy multiple copies of our friends’ books. Maybe you’ll sign and sell books of your own in the process. I think the collective results could be mind-boggling (maybe even world-changing).”

There’s not a lot of work involved in joining the grassroots effort, he assured. “Just pick a bookstore, talk to the owner (or answer the phone when they call you) and reach an agreement about how to spend your time that day. You’d also need to agree to place that store’s buy button in a prominent place on your website, above the Amazon button if you have one. After all, this is Indies First, not Indies Only, and it’s designed to include indies in our world but not to exclude anyone else.”

Word of the movement has spread quickly, since Alexie’s September 1 e-mail. So, to make it easier for authors and booksellers to participate, the American Booksellers Association has created a webpage for those who wish to sign up. (ABA is helping by hosting this web page, but the direct conversations between authors and booksellers are what will make this movement take off.)

While it’s expected that participating authors will see a boost in title sales at the store where they volunteer, Alexie said, “The most important thing is that we’ll all be helping independent bookstores, and God knows they’ve helped us over the years.”

Authors who have already signed on to participate in Indies First are: Laurie King and Paul Fleischman, at Bookshop Santa Cruz, in Santa Cruz, California; Cynthia Lord, at DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine; Rick Bass, David James Duncan, and David Abrams, at Fact & Fiction  in Missoula, Montana; and Shannon Hale and Josh Hanagarne at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Here’s a PDF of Alexie’s letter that authors can refer to when talking to the indie bookstore where they’d like to volunteer, and that booksellers can use to reach out to their favorite local authors to encourage them to sign up.

Authors can sign up here, and bookstores can sign up here.