Bookstore Day has been tentatively rescheduled for Saturday, August 29
Some important news...
• You will be able to amend or cancel your order of IBD exclusives before May 1. Please only do this if you feel you absolutely need to as all exclusives have already been printed and produced according to your original orders. This applies only to the exclusive items coming from Ingram, and does NOT include totes, t-shirts, or bookmarks.
• You can check your IBD order on your iPage (it will show as backordered). Then simply email me with any changes. Please include your Ingram number, store name, the ISBN for each changed item, and the NEW TOTAL. If you originally ordered 10 of something and you want to change it to 5, just put 5 next to the title and ISBN.
• A reminder that none of IBD orders will ship from Ingram until the beginning of August (if all goes well) and you will not be billed until it ships. Shea Serrano's Basketball book has been postponed and we are rolling out online sales of Renee Watson's WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE this month (see below). Bookmarks and tote bags are no longer available.
Posted By Linda-Marie Barrett,
Thursday, April 9, 2020
Simon & Schuster is partnering with Bookshop.org and Libro.fm to support independent bookstores. For the rest of 2020, Simon & Schuster will donate any affiliate fees earned through sales at Bookshop.org to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.
In addition to this financial support, they’ve created beautiful assets for booksellers to use on Instagram and Facebook, in which authors like Stephen King, Jason Reynolds, Cassandra Clare, and Lisa See express why independent booksellers need support now more than ever.
Booksellers are unique people who possess equally the rugged individualism of the entrepreneur and a citizen-steward mindset when it comes to our towns, organizations, and communities. Our perspectives can provide insight into the transformation necessary to reemerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger people that are part of stronger groups.
Ahead of our regularly scheduled May meeting, the SIBA Board would like to invite all members to share the concerns, thoughts, and challenges facing you as members. We would also ask you to bring, if you have them, any contributions of insight or solutions you have found to problems related to this new reality, things that are providing you comfort and inspiration right now, and any ideas you have to share with our organization and our industry for the future. The format will be open. We encourage you to bring your perspectives.
The constantly-changing information regarding this ongoing pandemic and our various states' policy changes surrounding it are causes of fear and insecurity and we are all facing daily, even hourly, personal and community uncertainties. The sudden onset of an increased amount of difficult, important decisions to make and conversations to have is overwhelming for many of us.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is an amazing community of booksellers and entrepreneurs that share together in the best of times and uplift each other during the worst. The SIBA Board of Directors invites all members (owners and managers, we encourage you to also invite your staff members) to participate in a town hall forum on Friday, April 17th from 1-3 PM EDT to begin a discussion designed to determine what we can all do for each another right now, in this incredibly difficult time, and going forward.
Reader Meet Writer, Okra Pick with Steven Wright Coming Up April 16th @ 5 pm – Are you in?
It was so wonderful to hear Steven Wright at #SIBA19 and I’m excited for him to share his book with readers across the south. If you haven’t signed up to participate in SIBA’s Virtual Author Series Reader Meet Writer, you can do so by emailing email@example.com.
And if you have, Steven’s The Coyotes of Carthage is “a blistering and thrilling debut—a biting exploration of American politics, set in a small South Carolina town, about a political operative running a dark money campaign for his corporate clients.” (Edelweiss)
Steven Wright is a clinical associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, where he co-directs the Wisconsin Innocence Project. From 2007-2012 he served as a trial attorney in the Voting Section of the United States Department of Justice. He has written numerous essays about race, criminal justice, and election law for the New York Review of Books.
Bookseller Chill with Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a six-week series beginning March 26 at 2 PM EST and continuing each Thursday, same time, same zoom link, till April 30. Each session will last approximately 30 minutes and include concepts from Bryan's book: #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life (HarperCollins, 2019), followed by what Bryan calls simple, short "MicroChiller" meditations that will help us relax and restore during this time of great uncertainty. You can read Bryan's recent post at Forbes.com: The Psychology of Uncertainty: How to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety.
SIBA and participating publishers are giving away the galleys and other materials below to southern indie booksellers on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you are interested simply email the publisher to request a copy. Supplies are limited, so act quickly!
Worie Dressar is 17 years old when influenza and typhoid ravage her Appalachian Mountain community in 1877, leaving behind a growing number of orphaned children with no way to care for themselves. Worie's mother has been secretly feeding a number of these little ones on Sourwood Mountain. But when she dies suddenly, Worie is left to figure out why and how she was caring for them.
Plagued with two good-for-nothing brothers—one greedy and the other a drunkard—Worie fights to save her home and the orphaned children now in her begrudging care. Along the way, she will discover the beauty of unconditional love and the power of forgiveness as she cares for all of Momma's children.
Storyteller and popular speaker Cindy K. Sproles pens a tender novel full of sacrifice, heartache, and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
Edelweiss has created a hub page of special offers from publishers, including offers specifically for bookstores facing the challenge of closures and interrupted sales. There are dozens of offers listed, from Arcadia to Wiley Press.
Sign up fo the Workman Chalkboard Digital Resources: Authorless event kits, educational/homeschool materials, author videos, and downloadable visuals for social media to help promote titles and bookseller contests and giveaways for stores and staff plus extra swag for customers! Here is the March chalkboard if you would like to take a look through and get an idea of what it's like. Booksellers that are subscribed are really enjoying it so far.
Simon & Schuster indies.
And so do our authors! Please feel free to download the assets and share the love.
Holiday House has added a new resource page to meet the needs of those booksellers who would like to connect authors/illustrators and their books with community members in a virtual environment. Please feel free to download and print all materials and link to this page on your website, enewsletters, or any other platform. This page compiles all their materials, which includes activities, lesson plans, event kits, read-aloud guidelines, and more. They are adding additional resources daily!
Cavalier House Books co-owner and SIBA Board member John Cavalier presents "Tips for Managing an Unexpected Crisis," focusing on business strategies during COVID-19. During a time of crisis, it's vital to put a plan in place, as a thoughtful response can mean the difference between persevering and closing up shop. John talks generally and specifically about how you can work with your staff and community to craft a plan that will help you achieve your goals. He also provides a list of concrete steps you can take to build resiliency for your store's future and daily operations.
One of the earliest effects of COVID-19 on the book industry was the cancellation of almost all scheduled author tours and book events – with devastating impact on both the authors and bookstores.
SIBA has created the Reader Meet Writer Author Series as an alternative for bookstores that--now that most of the country in under some version of a shelter in place order—are seeking to create ways to engage with their customers online. Participating stores will be able to invite their customers to exclusive video events with authors which are only available to SIBA stores. Events will be hosted by SIBA and can be attended by up to 1000 people. Bookstores handle all ticket and book sales from their customers.
The schedule of events for the next three months is already in place, beginning with many of the writers whose books are Spring Okra Picks, including Grady Hendrix's highly anticipated “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” a SIBA bookseller favorite.
Here is the confirmed schedule so far:
Reader Meet Writer, Okra Pick April 7 Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires / Grady Hendrix
April 16 The Coyotes of Carthage / Steven Wright April 21 Blue Marlin / Lee Smith
April 28 Feels Like Falling / Kristy Woodson Harvey
May 5 Before She Was Helen / Caroline B. Cooney May 20 The Prettiest Star / Carter Sickels May 21 A Taste of Sage / Yaffa Santos
Reader Meet Writer, Southern Edition
May 6 Native / Kaitlin Curtice
May 12 Hello Summer / Mary Kay Andrews
More events will be added as authors are confirmed. To participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org. IMPORTANT! You must contact SIBA by Saturday, April 4th to be included in the first event with Grady Hendrix
“We sold out of copies of Taylor’s book and have re-ordered to meet demand. We were really pleased to be able to offer this to our customers and it came at just the right time. It gave folks something else to think about and our community really loves hearing from authors. We’re so grateful that SIBA is doing the heavy lifting. That really helps us out right now with the 75 thousand things we are doing.” -Serena Wycoff, Copperfish Books
What participating stores do:
Promoting the event to their customer base.
Handling ticket and book sales, and providing SIBA with the number of RSVPs.
Providing their customers with the specially created link and passcode to attend the online event.
Reporting book sales and feedback to SIBA after the event is over
What SIBA does:
Scheduling all Reader Meet Writer events
Preparing presenters with what they need for the event
Preparing all the materials participating bookstores will need to promote the event
Hosting the event itself, including handling all technical issues and managing all event logistics
“We had 35 people RSVP and sold 20 books. I call that a success.” – Tom Lowenburg, Octavia Books
A pilot event was held on March 31 with eight bookstores and Taylor Brown, an Okra Pick author whose book tour for his new novel, Pride of Eden, had been scheduled for over a dozen of southern bookstores before being cancelled. The test event attracted almost 100 attendees, which stores were able to leverage into book sales.
“What I loved about this is that all the work was done for me.... I have a ready-made virtual event that I just need to share. It is a part of my store it is a part of my store community and it is something I can offer with No Work on my part. I create a special email address for RSVPs. I create an event page (with the verbiage already templated by SIBA) and push it. I wait for the link from Wanda and send that to my RSVPS. I am offering something to my customers that some of them really need- the ability to connect with people and authors around books. I can keep them engaged with our platform and our store... and I can focus on the time-consuming drain that is all the other work.” – Kimberly Daniels, The Country Bookshop
Please fill out our COVID-19 Bookstore Impact & Best Practices survey, to let us know how COVID-19 has affected you and your bookstore. We want to stay connected to member stores, and find out what’s going on in your communities. We're also looking to share with other member stores those best practices that you have implemented in your store. This information will be shared with the ABA to advocate for financial relief funding for independent bookstores and small businesses.
As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we encourage you to return to this form at any time to submit a new response.
SIBA promotes six new books every month to readers, the customers of our member stores, in our Lady Banks Bookshelf promotion.These titles appear at the top of our weekly Lady Banks Commonplace Book newsletter, which has a circulation of over 60k. We also feature them above the fold on the homepage of Authors 'Round the South and as the cover image of the ARTS facebook page, with buy links promoted to our 15,000 Facebook friends. Plus, we boost these titles on our Facebook page for thousands more views. A different member store is featured with the titles every week.
For publishers looking to promote their new titles out to readers across the South, Lady Banks Bookshelf is our greatest value because of high visibility and engagement across multiple platforms. To support the efforts of publishers launching books during this challenging time, we're offering this, and all of our other promotions (except the RAMP holiday catalog) for half-price. Contact us for more information or to get your titles on "The Shelf" in coming months.
Posted By Nicki Leone,
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
With so many people now staying at home, good books are more essential than ever. Southern independent booksellers have selected thirteen titles for their 2020 Spring Okra Picks, their seasonal list of great forthcoming Southern books. The Spring Okra Picks publish in April, May, and June and feature southern voices, southern stories, and southern writers. Each and every one of them also has a cadre of southern bookseller champions, eager to share their enthusiasm with other readers. Visit https://authorsroundthesouth.com/okra to read more, and see a sneak peak of the first chapters of some of the forthcoming books.
Southern independent bookstores: we grow good books!
The 2020 Spring Okra Picks
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books, April, 2020
"I flew through this book! It was a great depiction of Southern housewives in the 90's. The mixture of quirkiness, horror, and Hendrix's unique take on vampires made it hard to put down." ~ Amanda Bradley, Blytheville Book Company, Blytheville, AR
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
William Morrow, April, 2020
"Like her splendid earlier novel, News of the World, Paulette Jiles' Simon the Fiddler is set in a post-Civil War Texas. I was instantly charmed by this beguiling tale, equal parts adventure yarn, love story, and candid chronicle of life after great conflict." ~ Clara Boza, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
Hub City Press, April, 2020
"Told with empathy and heart, as well as a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away." ~ Ashley Warlick, M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers, Greenville, SC
The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright
Ecco, April, 2020
"Dark humor and dark money make for a compelling combination and Dre Ross may be the most sympathetic villain around. A cautionary tale for our times full of heart and dire warnings of how politics can go wrong." ~ Jan Blodgett, Main Street Books, Davidson, NC
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith Blair, April, 2020
"Lee Smith is a remarkable voice and someone you hope to spend an afternoon with. Her sense of humor and attention to detail make this quick read a delight. How would you feel when your parents try to take you away on a 'we have to patch up the family' trip? You can sense the tension and laugh out loud at the lens of Jenny's point of view." ~ Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC
Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Gallery Books, April, 2020
"Diana is one of my top five favorite book characters of all time: she's witty, she's got a spine of steel, and she's from a social class that tends to be glossed over in women's fiction. I loved how heartwarming this book was. I say this about all of Kristy's books, but it genuinely made me laugh out loud and tear up, too!" ~ Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL
Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney
Poisoned Pen Press, May, 2020
"If you read Caroline B. Cooney back in the day like I did, you will love this new one. No one is who they seem to be. Cooney keeps you on the edge of your seat as the narrative flashes between the main character and her past, describing how she evades an old stalker to reclaim her life. Cooney reminds the fans why she's been a huge name in thriller fiction for decades." ~ Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
Lobizona by Romina Garber Wednesday Books, May, 2020
"This is not your typical werewolf book. Think more Harry Potter meets Argentinian folklore meets the hope/terror of people coming to the US to start a better life. The world-building in this book is amazing because it's familiar yet so new at the same time." ~ Candace Conner, The Haunted Book Shop, Mobile, AL
Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
Liveright, May, 2020
"Genevieve Hudson brings to life a brutal yet spellbinding exploration of teenage masculinity, and the horrors that it is capable of setting loose. In her haunting debut novel - part coming-of-age, part Southern gothic, part queer lit - she highlights the fear and excitement, the love and the loss, that inevitably accompanies being a new face in a new place." ~ Gage Tarlton, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Philomel Books, May, 2020
"I still don't know if I have fully recovered from reading this novel, but I know that I needed to read it. It is both devastating yet compulsively readable; difficult to get through yet necessary. One in the ranks of The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and should be put into every American's hands." ~ Olivia Schaffer, The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA
A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos
Harper Paperbacks, May, 2020
"When you mix delicious food and hate to love romance in a book, you instantly have me hooked. Julien is a celebrated chef who is known for his good looks but bad attitude. Lumi can't stand Julien, but tastes his cooking because it looks so irresistible and she's overcome with intense emotions and has her wondering if she wants more. If you are looking for something fun, tasty, and will test your senses, you will enjoy this book." ~ Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, June, 2020
"This beautifully paced and thought-provoking novel is one to enjoy slowly, savoring as you consider the big questions this book poses: who are we when we shed the markers that once defined us, how do our pasts inform our choices and desires, and what does it mean to be a family. ~ Megan Bell, Underground Books, Carrollton, GA
The Unwilling by John Hart
St. Martin's Press, June, 2020
"With his signature beautiful writing style, Hart leads readers on a mystery that ends up not being the one you might not have thought it would be, and each twist and reveal brings up new questions to keep the reader engaged in a big way." ~ Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
Bookseller Chill with Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a six-week series beginning March 26 at 2 PM EST and continuing each Thursday, until April 30. Each session will last approximately 30 minutes and include concepts from Bryan's book: #Chill: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life (HarperCollins, 2019), followed by what Bryan calls simple, short "MicroChiller" meditations that will help us relax and restore during this time of great uncertainty. You can read Bryan's recent post at Forbes.com: The Psychology of Uncertainty: How to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety.
Libro.fm Programming to Support Your Online Store. Stephanie Ballien and Mark Pearson of Libro.fm provide helpful information about driving audiobook sales and growing your online presence with the aid of authors, influencers, Bookstore Link, and more.
The ABA's resource page is the absolute best source of information for booksellers and is constantly updated. Pay special attention to CEO Allison Hill's updates, now archived here. If you aren't an ABA member, we highly encourage you join (ask about their dues relief plan during the crisis). Below are links to specific areas of interest. Do check back for further updates!
Here's a gathering of ideas and links from across the internet that I believe could prove useful for booksellers:
Use an expense line item called COVID-19 in your operation and dump all extraordinary expenses in there--not just supplies, but also time (safety meetings). You may need it for relief programs from the government and it will help you and your financial support staff understand these unexpected costs down the road.
Continue to message your customers with COVID-19 sensitive promotions on all your newsletters and platforms. Keep them informed and act as a consoling and thoughtful community leader who understand the importance of safety, but wants to supply books during the quarantine, directing them to online sales platforms.
If you'd like to pursue essential business designation for your store within your community and state, we ask you to read this advice from the ABA and pursue grassroots efforts with your fellow booksellers to lobby for this designation if you choose. More info below:
Who do I reach out to regarding permission to carry on business?
Consistently stores reaching out on the state level have been turned down
Focus your efforts locally
We have seen access granted to bookstores by local government including city council, mayors, city attorneys, and local assemblymen
Contacting local government also encourages them to promote and support business in this time
What to do when making your request:
Avoid requesting to be considered essential on social media.
Emphasize public safety. Businesses remain closed to the public, only handling online orders with minimal staff maintaining safe distances
Keep in mind:
There is some question as to whether staying open in these ways might hurt your chances for loans or grants later. We have no information on this but it is possible showing a complete loss of income may give you a better chance at loans and grants. Something to consider though most likely your store, like others, will have evident losses to document regardless.
Fill out this form: Join other retailers to tell your senators a "No" vote that needlessly delays passage of small business relief legislation is not okay.
Spread the word: Share the above-mentioned letters to the Senate with your customers and network. Ask for their help lobbying on behalf of your bookstore, small businesses, and the best interest of the local and national economy. Some sample social media captions:
Your monthly operating expenses from March through September of last year.
Note:Some loans and grants may make you ineligible for others. For example, a disaster loan may make you ineligible for the proposed forgivable loans that are in the proposed senate relief legislation. Ask questions and check ABA's Coronavirus Resources for Booksellers page for updates as we attempt to find out more.
Posted By SIBA Staff,
Friday, March 27, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
What a strange time for booksellers: as customers have never been more eager to read, it's increasingly challenging to get books into their socially-distanced hands. Authors 'Round the South (ARTS) wants to help. ARTS has a wealth of engaging, reader-focused, bookseller-friendly content and we are working hard on ways to make it more accessible, useful, and shareable for your store. And oh yeah, it's all free.
We're most excited about our treasure-trove of SIBA member bookseller reviews and recommendations. Have you wondered exactly what happens to the reviews and recommendations your store submits via Edelweiss? In addition to being regularly featured in the SIBA newsletter and blog, SIBA's reader-focused site Authors 'Round the South (ARTS) also runs store reviews on or near the publication date of the book.
But wait...there's more!
The newest reviews appear on the ARTS home page and on the main Read This! page, but even better, every single review is tagged and sorted into the ARTS bookseller review database, making each review accessible not just at publication but for the future. At present, there are hundreds and hundreds of books (actually 985, and counting--by the time you read this we will be closing in on 1000!) in the review database. Each review links directly to the reviewer's store's online retail (if available) and regardless of whether a store has ecommerce, the review links to the reviewer store's website.
SIBA wants to make ARTS even more of a resource for our members and their customers. Your store is welcome and encouraged to make use of any and all existing and future ARTS content (you don't need to ask permission) in any way you think might be helpful. To that end:
We have expanded the number of reviews featured on the home page, and are updating it much more frequently. Our goal is to feature as many as we possibly can. Individual reviews can be linked to and shared.
The Read This! database is now featured directly on the home page as well as on the main Read This page. Every category can be linked to and/or shared directly via social media or email.
We make an effort to feature as many SIBA stores as possible, and as mentioned above, ARTS does not limit the featured reviews to stores with ecommerce.
In addition to bookseller recommendations on ARTS, SIBA also features the weekly Southern indie bestseller list (usually updated on Wednesday afternoons subject to when the ABA releases the information), and creates a list of titles special to Southern indies, with the current list also displayed on the home page. Each week, ARTS features a different member store with ecommerce on its "Special to Southern" list. We also create a "white-label" list with no SIBA or ARTS branding list available on sibaweb.com, and provide the code (automatically updated weekly at this same link) for stores to use on their own sites and link titles to their own ecommerce platform.
In the works:
The existing Read This! page on ARTS will be converted to a weekly update of recent reviews, plus a featured database category that can be easily shared via social media.
We're converting the PDF Southern bestseller lists flyers into a "white label" HTML format, similar to the "special to Southern" bestseller list for stores to share to their email lists and link to on their sites, and making that code available for stores to add their own ecommerce links if desired.
We're brainstorming ways to make all ARTS content even more useful, adaptable, and accessible to SIBA member stores. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let us know!
Like most retail during this difficult period, we've been pushed to our limits trying to find creative and undiscovered methods of reaching our customers and doing business. Unprecedented and unimaginably challenging times have brought new levels of anxiety. One small byproduct of this for us has been innovation.
Our goal is to support our customers at home while maintaining their sense of connection with being in our store...the ambiance, warmth, staff friendliness, and overall positive experience. We are seeing the "live local" mentality continue to gain momentum. People are concerned for their communities, scared for the loss of jobs, and more determined to keep their communities alive and thriving as much as they can.
We remind people of this point in nearly every post, every receipt, every bill they get, ads we produce, and television spots we run. We even have a hold message on our phone system that grabs attention with interesting science and history trivia, then relays facts about shopping locally.
We are amplifying the "support your community" message with banners along with curbside pick-up services and regular posts on Facebook and Instagram. Personal thank you notes are dropped into each curbside bag we hand to our customers. We will be doing virtual story time, along with book chats covering various genres, and videos with staff's favorite reads. Our book discussions and book clubs, led by Angie, are suspended for now, but we will resume when all this settles. Angie has been a strong force behind these book discussions and hopefully will continue them virtually.
Our social media people have been doggedly creative. Zander has done film and make-up professionally and he loves working with humor, visual techniques, and editing practices to give our posts an extra touch. Because much of our product is non-book, it gives us a little more license to work with levity. We got in some ride-on toys and we promptly made a post with me racing on this unicorn against another employee with derby music in the background. It was a big hit and brought laughter and smiles. We'll be doing more with juggling, kendamas, outdoor toys, posting our staff playing the new games.
We're now doing posts on our school supplies, to let parents know we are here to help lessen boredom and increase structure at home with workbooks. We also believe parents can enhance family connection and fun with games and puzzles. Our puzzle sales are triple what they've been in the past. We're contacting principals and schools to see what their needs are for families wanting structure and learning for their children. We've sent out images to them of workbooks and curriculum aids, and available discounts.
Our approach through all of this is to connect with the community and customer frequently and with a lightness which people need after a lot of dismal news. We are getting more likes and shares than we ever have with many of these posts. But, we're also promoting the message of staying safe, practicing physical distancing, all while pushing hard our curbside pick up service and web ordering.
We're looking forward to maximizing great tools that publishers are offering. This ordeal will also help us explore broader community posts where even more businesses unify together in spreading this crucial message of how small local businesses are what truly bring strength, diversity, personality, and vitality to our communities.
Surviving this will be a challenge and ultimately, we are hoping to come out with new business models , a larger customer base for our website, regular curbside pick up, newer fresher ways of doing social media, a community that more than before feels the importance of supporting their local businesses, realigned values, more cherished family time and hopefully...new leadership.
Just two weeks ago, the idea of a “virtual author event” was still a novel concept, an out-of-the-box idea. How quickly things have changed. I was in a Zoom meeting with SIBA on March 10 when Wanda Jewell suggested that bookstores might consider using the platform to host an online event. My store, The Snail on the Wall, had just gotten word that our next event on the calendar was canceled: a ticketed Conversation with Christina Lauren, aka authors Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who were scheduled to be on book tour for their newest romantic comedy, The Honey-Don’t List. On a whim, after hearing Wanda’s idea, I shot an e-mail to the publicist to ask if the authors would consider trying a virtual event. A day later, she replied with a resounding “yes!” And I panicked. My only experience with Zoom was attending a few ABA marketing meet-ups and SIBA meetings. In one recent meeting, I accidentally brushed my teeth in front of everyone after attempting to turn off my camera, but evidently hitting the wrong button. I was a Zoom novice about to become a host.
In a few days, I did a flurry of information gathering, trying to figure out the logistics of the meeting before promoting it. I upgraded to a $14.99/month Zoom Pro account so that I could have some added features (longer than 40 minutes for the meeting, multiple cohosts, etc.). I sat in on a club meeting hosted by Anne Bogel, who’s been hosting virtual gatherings on Zoom for years. I talked with a local friend who has moderated some of those meetings, who agreed to moderate the chat for our event. And I talked with Nicki Leone, who walked me through the finer points of Zoom and told me how to run a test meeting with the authors.
Still, I didn’t advertise the event. I couldn’t stop thinking about the unknowns and fears: Should I charge for tickets? Would I sell books if I didn’t? Would I be able to work the technology? Would Zoom and the Internet continue to sustain the weight of so many new users? Would guests show up? Would it seem weird to talk about rom-coms in the midst of a pandemic?
Finally, on the Thursday before the Sunday event, I put it into the world: A Conversation with Christina Lauren: The Virtual Version. I decided on a free ticketed event, using Eventbrite. That way, I could send a blanket e-mail to guests with the Zoom meeting code, and then follow up after the event with a link to purchase books. Making it free felt like the right choice for an experimental meeting with an inexperienced host.
The day before, I ran a test meeting with the two authors, who live in Utah and California, respectively. It gave us a chance to meet for the first time, talk through a format, and check sound. They agreed to log on 10 minutes before the event so I could admit them first and have the three of us ready for our audience at the 5:30 pm start time. I could turn their audio on early, and then admit everyone else from the waiting room all at once.
By Sunday, 55 guests had registered. That sounded like a lot of people to manage in a virtual meeting, but I felt ok about the plan. But 15 minutes before the event, the plan fell apart when I logged on and a few guests were already there. I could see those first three participants, but no one else—including my authors. I couldn’t find among the gathering crowd. I immediately called Nicki, who had agreed to show up and make sure all was well. Together, across the miles, we clicked, searched support, and scrambled to figure out what to do, as more guests filled the waiting room. I ended up letting guests in a little early and just being honest; I asked them to sit tight while I found my lost authors (one of whom was having trouble getting connected).
Once the conversation started a few minutes later, it rolled smoothly. After the authors opened by talking about themselves and the new book, I had some questions ready, which I needed because guests didn’t engage right away. But the more we talked, the audience got interested and started typing questions. The most interesting topic of our discussion was the idea of working remotely, which has been the norm for these co-authors who have written 25 novels in 7 years while living in different states. And then we talked mostly about romantic comedy and fan fiction, which everyone embraced as a welcome escape from the realities of right now.
I came away with a lot of positive feedback from my audience (some of whom are new to my store), a respectable number of book sales, and some important lessons learned for the future, which continues to look very much virtual. I’m happy to share, and I’m grateful to SIBA for the inspiration and idea—not to mention the help in executing it.
It helped to have a moderator/co-host, not only to help monitor the tech but also to keep track of questions on the chat so I could focus on listening to the authors and engaging in a real conversation with them, without too much distraction.
My moderator was able to answer participants’ questions in the chat, too, about buying books and more. A couple of times throughout the event, she reminded readers of the books by posting hyper-links to my store’s website, where all the books were available for purchase on one event page.
I had some slides ready to share featuring available titles (though I forgot to show them in the heat of the moment).
I was grateful for two authors instead of one, because it filled the time and the silence more easily and naturally.
I don’t think you can have too many questions prepared ahead of time. Zoom feels a lot less spontaneous and organic than a live event, where everyone is together and feeding off of one another. Prepare and be ready to fill the awkward silences.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is a trade association which represents hundreds of bookstores and thousands of booksellers in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky,
Virginia, and Mississippi. SIBA exists to empower, promote, and celebrate our core member bookstores in a spirit of partnership. "Core members" are independent, privately held, brick and mortar, commercially zoned bookstores with a
retail storefront, in our region.