Even before Covid-19 forced many bookstores to close, several faced the challenge of online shopping and the rising popularity of e-books vs. the print variety. Now that we all have been spending more time at home, working virtually, self-quarantining and all the rest, people are finding more time to read great books they simply could not get through before. (Have you read War and Peace yet?) Now, it turns out that certain independent bookstores are defying the odds and thriving with online sales, curbside pickup, and especially organizing Zoom events with bestselling authors as their speakers. Some of the most successful stores are owned by authors. I’d like to tell you about them.
Novelist Ann Patchett, along with her business partner, Karen Hayes, own Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. In spite of the competition, they built up a thriving business by attracting customers with Children’s Storytime, book clubs, author readings, a bookmobile and a first-editions subscription box, among other inducements. Throughout the pandemic, Ann Patchett kept spreading the word about her store and her books by posting photos on Instagram showing her in a ballgown or cocktail dress because, she says, “the alternative was staying in yoga pants for the rest of my life.” She also uses her account to offer compelling book recommendations.
At the moment the store is busy with online sales and curbside pickups and hope to reopen soon. Meanwhile, you might like to check out Ann’s latest book, The Dutch House, already a bestseller.
Remember the great novelist and screenwriter, Larry McMurtry who usually set his stories in the Old West or contemporary Texas? Sure you do. Who could forget the famous television miniseries that earned 18 Emmy award nominations – winning 7, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove. What you may not know is that he opened a bookstore with two partners in Georgetown, Washington, DC back in 1970, named BOOKED UP, which became one of the largest used bookstores in the United States, carrying 450,000 titles. Eventually, he decided to move the store to Archer, TX. He sold some of his inventory in an historic auction, but today his store still carries 200,000 titles of “Fine, Rare, and Scholarly” books. Besides Lonesome Dove, you probably recall other novels such as Horseman, Pass By, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment which were adapted into films earning some 26 Oscar nominations and 10 wins.
I wanted to include something special for children here as well. An international bestselling author of books for them is Jeff Kinney, who became famous for his Wimpy Kid stories. Next in the series, which will be book #15, is titled The Deep End Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and will be released in October.. For families who have been hunkered down at home with their children, this is something to look forward to, although reading the other Wimpy Kid books to them right now could be a most entertaining exercise. Jeff Kinney also owns a bookstore, AN UNLIKELY STORY, in Plainville, Massachusetts.
Finally, up in Brooklyn, author Emma Straub created the BOOKS ARE MAGIC. This store features many virtual events which you can check on their website (note several coming up this month). The owner-author has a new novel out, All Adults Here, which The Wall Street Journal describes as a “Perfect novel for summer reading.” And People Magazine called Emma Straub a “Master analyst of romantic relationships … witty and wise tales.” Other popular titles include Modern Lovers, The Vacationers and Laura’s Life in Pictures. These bestselling books are now sold in 15 countries.
This is just a sampling of the many independent bookstores owned and operated by authors. During these trying times (and in the future), I hope we all can support our local bookstores, no matter the ownership, of course.