The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I received an email telling me that I was going on a “Pre-Pub” trip to meet some important indie booksellers. Denver, Boston, Seattle, LA. What is a pre-pub, you might ask? I hardly know. I was sure these things didn’t even exist, or if you are like my husband you will squint at me strangely, think that I am making this up and actually going to spend next week at the Comfort Inn down the road so I don’t have to care for our toddler.
Because, c’mon, this is a pretty improbable thing. Here we all are worrying the publishing industry, and yet the very savvy publicity people at Putnam have decided to send a very un-savvy first-book-of-short-stories-writer (short stories!?!) off on a little cross country adventure, with drivers waiting at airports, nice hotels, and restaurant dinners booked. You must think I am delusional. Yes, shake your head and tell me again that this kind of stuff just doesn’t happen in today’s publishing world.
But, by some incredible miracle, this is all about indie bookstores. Indie bookstores are making my writing dreams come true.
I noticed that there was something going on a while back when I got an email from my editor, Amy Einhorn. This email used exclamation point, and lots of them. Amy Einhorn does not generally use exclamation points. She told me that my collection, You Know When the Men Are Gone, had been chosen as a Signed First Edition Book Club of the Month selection by Elaine Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage. Awesome, I thought. But Book Passage is a Bay Area book store, how many people could belong to this book club? A little research later, I found out that the crystal-ball-viewers at Book Passage have an uncanny ability to pick books that will be prize winners, from the Pulitzer to the National Book Award. So when Book Passage speaks, a lot of other bookstores and readers listen. OK, now I am VERY excited too.
Then there was the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Conference in mid-October. I was supposed to have dinner with some of the Putnam sales reps and their indie book store accounts. And the extraordinarily busy Amy Einhorn flew out from New York to join us. Oh my goodness, indies, obviously you are a TREMENDOUS deal.
That night, we all met at a lovely tapas restaurant. I was so nervous I took too many sips of my wine (white, in case I spilled it all over myself). I had looked up each person we were meeting and each new Google search frightened me even more. Someone had Jonathan Franzen in her store recently? Someone else had hung out with Anthony Bourdain, Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Michael Cunningham? They had hosted rock stars and presidents, they raised money for charities, they created programs for children.
But they didn’t grill me, they didn’t test if I had read my Russians or knew my Proust—they were nice. Half way through dinner, I realized I was having so much fun that I forgot to be nervous. I was talking books with a table full of people who knew literature inside and out, who had met America’s finest authors and chatted and joked with them the way they were with me.
When we were getting up to say goodbye, I realized why Putnam was cherishing these connections, spending money on strengthening them at a time when other publishers seemed to be tightening their purse strings and book bags, sending me out in hopes that I would make an impression. These strangers that I had just shared garlic fries and steak bites with already felt like friends. Which is why we all love independent book stores, isn’t it? That feeling of welcome when we push open the door, the personal touches, the conversation and eye contact that these true book lovers bring to their stores every day. They press books into the palms of their faithful readers, saying things like, “I know you will just adore this book.” And we trust them, we read their recommendations, we tell our friends.
And we authors, well, we are so grateful for all that they do.
Here are the links to some of the amazing indie bookstores who were so gracious to me:
Book Passages http://www.bookpassage.com
Capitola Book Café www.capitolabookcafe.com
Books Inc. http://www.booksinc.net/
Copperfield’s Books http://copperfieldsbooks.com/
A Great Good Place for Books http://www.greatgoodplace.indiebound.com/
Rakestraw Books http://www.rakestrawbooks.com/