Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Booksmith: A Conversation with an Independent Book Seller, Part 2 of 2

By Linda Lovely

Today’s blog entry is Part 2 of a recent interview with independent bookstore owner Tricia Lightweis. Tricia and her husband, Alan, opened The Booksmith in Seneca, SC, in 1989.

Do many of your customers read thrillers, mysteries and/or suspense?

I’d estimate about five percent of our customer base reads exclusively in these genres. However, I think half of our regular clientele read the gamut of genres and often choose mysteries or suspense.

One interesting development over the past five years has been the increased willingness of readers to try books by international writers. In years past, we had a hard time interesting local readers, no matter how good the book might be. The popularity of Stieg Larsson is a prime example of how acceptance has broadened.

How do you connect with readers and build loyalty?

It’s very important to show respect for readers’ favorite genres—including mystery, romance and paranormal. A bookseller shows respect by making sure the newest releases are in stock, as well as a good supporting backlist.

Every month for the past 20 years, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 7,000 newspaper inserts. In the past, these inserts were all 24-page industry tabs filled with reviews and other book news. Recently we’ve begun to alternate the industry inserts with a much more personalized 12-page newsletter. We also send out an e-mail marketing letter.

We sponsor many author book signings and events, and invest substantial sums in advertising them via print and radio. One of our success factors has been our willingness to devote a lot of money to marketing and supporting the book industry.

We’ve had a loyalty program since day one as well. We stamp a card each time a customer buys a book. When enough stamps are accumulated, they can be redeemed for discounts.

How do you select authors for book signing events?

In order for us to invite an author, the individual has to be on our radar. And 99 percent of the time, the only way we know about a regional author—regardless of who their publisher might be—is if they approach us.

When they do ask us to host events, we expect them to roll up their sleeves and work with us. We expect them to be available when our customers shop and to be friendly and able to talk with customers. We also expect them to help by marketing themselves.

Before the event, they should contact friends and family and encourage them to come. These days we also insist that authors provide links to our store on their websites or blogs. An author who expects our help had better have a link to let their fans buy books on the indie bookstore’s website. Having links to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and no link to an indie site is a slap in the face.

What other mistakes do authors make when dealing with independent bookstores?

Bookstores—especially if they advertise aggressively—don’t make money on author signing events. But events are a vehicle to bring new people into the store and build relationships. Unfortunately, not every book is a good candidate for a book signing. Recently I had a woman who’d written a book on genealogy and wanted me to host a book signing. I told her it was too specialized for our store, customer base and location.

When we decline, authors do themselves no favor if they get offended and become offensive. We may be able to help them in other ways. It’s a business and they should operate professionally.

What do you see as your role in the community?

An independent bookstore should absolutely be a community center. It should be a place where people from different backgrounds can gather, chat and feel welcome. That’s part of the independent bookstore culture.

We’ve all endured challenges as to what books we should carry in our stores. We stand our ground on that front and always will. We are awfully glad to have the support of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

The Booksmith [] is a member of the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA), The American Booksellers Association (ABA) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE).

Award-winning author Linda Lovely writes romantic suspense novels featuring “smart, sexy heroines caught up in danger-packed situations that require them to partner with equally smart, sexy men.” Her novel, "Counterfeit," is a finalist in the Romantic Suspense category of the 2010 Golden Heart contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America.


JB Lynn said...

I enjoyed this series. Much thanks for giving us a glimpse into the world of an independent bookseller!

Beth Groundwater said...

Great interview--both parts! It seems to me that the independent bookstores local to me are succeeding by doing just what Booksmith is doing: being active in the community and customer-centered, and adding sideline businesses, such as a coffee/tea/wine bar or greeting cards or toys or whatever.