Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Co-op Shop

Setting up a shop to sell only copies of your own books sounds like the ultimate expression of authorial ego, but in reality authors have been doing it online for ages. To open a brick-and-mortar version, as NASA dude Andrew Kessler has for his book, is an interesting marketing gimmick, but from what the article says the shop is only temporary.

I've often considered opening a small independent book store. I've worked as a bookseller, a book store manager and I've run several other businesses, so I've got the experience. I know exactly how I'd set it up and what elements and services could give me a decent shot at making it a success. Book stores are my #1 favorite place to shop, and I loved my time working as a bookseller, so being an owner wouldn't be a hardship. I'd probably get speeding tickets going to work every morning.

I've always stopped at thinking about it, though; I know I'd be extremely selective about the titles I stocked and what I chose to handsell. I'd also be a snob about features; big names and their cookie cutter bestsellers would go to the back of the store while great reads by little-knowns would get all the terrific real estate in the front. No coffee shop, no cold cases of two-day-old danish, and no laptops allowed. Instead I'd have nightly social readings (something like bring your own snacks, I'll brew the tea.) Free bedtime stories for kids. Book picnics in the park. Weekend retreats at the lake for readers and writers.

I would have such a great time with my own book store. Why aren't I doing this again?

Ah, I remember now. Opening and sustaining a new business also requires a pile of money, unwavering committment and devotion of 100% of one's time, and even then there are no guarantees it will survive more than a year after the doors open. That has to be the worst kind of heart break, too; watching a business you love and worked so hard to build go under. Then there is my work, which is not going to simply go poof while I run a business. While I love books, I know my real passion is to write them.

There is an interesting alternative to setting up your own brick-and-mortar book shop, however, as our blogpals Charlene Teglia, Alison Kent, Sasha White and some of their friends have done by joining forces to create Walk on the Wild Side Books. To quote Charlene: "It's not a publisher, it's a publishing hub for our independently published titles." I think this is a great way for writers who work in a specific genre or have crossover readerships to showcase their self-published titles, and by forming a co-op they can also help each other (and to read more about the evolution of the site, go here.)

If you were going to set up a book store (virtual or brick-and-mortar), what would you stock on your shelves?


  1. I've become friends with the owner/operator of my neighborhood indie book store. She sells mostly used and some new books, hosts readings, workshops, two book clubs and an open mic night. Every once in a while she has a Friday night crafts night. There is a lot of local community involvement. People here really care about the store, we buy there, even if it costs more, and yet... she is often just barely getting through a month.

    My bookstore? I'd specialize in genre (SF, Fantasy and the like), with some crafts. And magazines -- there is no decent source for magazines in my area at all. There would be a lot of new books in with the used. I think that building yourself a specialty niche is a good way to survive, and the nearest SF bookstore is miles and miles from here. Cafe? Maybe. Certainly I'd offer coffee, tea and something or other if I could. Laptops would always be welcome. As for the rest, I'd follow in the footsteps of my favorite local store and bring in as much community involvement and interest as I could. And it still might fail. But for awhile there, I'd have a great place for books.

  2. Wow, so many traditionally published authors now have a little self epub something on the side. I'd like to see that trend continue. It doesn't have to be either/or. It can be both/and.

  3. I've always dreamed about owning my own bookstore, similar to the one I used to haunt when I was in college. An old Victorian home turned store with shelf after shelf of used books, books stacked in corners, books overflowing from numerous mysterious boxes. No coffee, no music, no designer pastries. My god, there weren't even chairs in the place. If you wanted to sit and read, you sat on the floor and hoped no one needed to get past you. And the owner oversaw it all from his tiny office that used to be a coat closet, reading until a customer needed to pay. It wasn't a commercial venture - it was a holy place of book worship.

  4. I'd love to own a bookstore, like the one B.E. described in an old rambling house with room after room of books. Although, I'd offer comfy overstuffed chairs to curl up in and maybe a pot of coffee or hot water for tea.

    Sadly, the dream of opening a sustainable bookstore seems to be evaporating for everyone. With the high capital investment you'd need to make in inventory and the lack of volume you'd be able to turn to be able to offer books at deep discounts the way the big box stores do, not to mention the upsurge in e-book usage, a bookstore would have to be taken on as a labor of love rather than a money making enterprise. It would be one of those "if I won the billion dollar lottery..." scenarios.

  5. I'd have to have a bookstore cat. And some way to preview and sell ebooks. And since it's my fantasy store, a frequent reader rewards program for kids.

    And, of course, a writer-in-residence program which would give writers the chance to write and sell the books their fans still want to read. (Not mentioning any names, but Darkyn, Darkyn, Darkyn.)

  6. Aw, thanks for the shout-out for Walk on the Wild Side! And you had me going there for a minute thinking you really might open a shop, virtual or brick & mortar. Now I want to go on a book picnic.

    If I set up a bookstore, I think I'd want to stock genuinely helpful non-fiction. And cookbooks, because really, it horrifies me that so many Americans don't/can't cook. To go along with that, there would be cooking demonstrations.

  7. I think about opening a bakery/bookstore. LOL
    Offering readings, and writing classes, too.
    Funny how we all like bookstores, but other aspects of what we love all blend in.

    and like CHarlene said, Thanks for the Wild Side shout out!

  8. I'd probably have a little corner with comfy chairs, coffee and teas, fruits and pastries...and then I'd be as selective as you (or maybe more so) and stock it only with books I like. So it would be a complete failure and so I too stop at just thinking about it.

  9. Hubby and I have talked about it along the lines of "if we ever won the lottery" because then the money wouldn't matter. I would allow laptops though. Probably have a writing room in the back because writers and readers go together well.

    As to what I'd stock, that's a good question. Mostly genre with a few of my literary favorites (many of which are genre from a different time). I'd have a lot of SF and fantasy, YA titles again primarily on the speculative side. Biographies about interesting people in interesting times like Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and Nicholas and Alexandra along with historical, anthropological, and "how things work" kinds of non-fiction. I'd have guest authors, workshops especially targeting creativity and reading in young folks. Hmm, lots of things, none particularly profitable...see above about the lottery :).

  10. I come home and read this after an evening spent here:'s_Books and I don't want my own bookstore, I just want to live in Powell's.

    I'm pretty sure I'd starve to death before I got bored.

    My brain is still too book-overwhelmed, as usual after an infusion of Powell's, to even really *think* over a coherent answer.