My experience with independent retailers started in the comics world. As a young self-publisher, I took my photocopied mini-comics and zines to stores like See Hear, St. Mark’s Comics, and Jim Hanley’s Universe. They would often buy the books outright at a 50% split or do it on a consignment basis. Those stores were totally welcoming to an upstart like myself, and even had special places on their racks for the kind of stuff I was doing. It meant so much to know that these stores cared enough to support young creative types with stories to tell. And of course the fact that those stores supported my work made me that much more curious about what other comics they carried. As a reader, I was turned on to many new artists and books by such independent-minded stores.
Later, when I self-published A Few Perfect Hours, I was welcomed by stores like JigSaw (now sadly closed) and Book Court, which not only agreed to sell the books but even arranged an event, where I showed a PowerPoint presentation of some stories from the book, read the stories aloud, and had a signing.
And now with my new graphic novel, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, even though I’m being published by a “major” publisher, Pantheon is completely dedicated to supporting independent retailers. On my book tour, I had great events at Book People in Austin, Octavia Books in New Orleans, the Book Cellar in Chicago, and Brookline Booksmith in Boston.
And I’ve had a number of events in New York — all taking place in independent bookshops: Idlewild Books, McNally Jackson, Book Court, and right here at Powerhouse Arena. Not to mention the new comics retailer Bergen Street Comics, which is modeled very much on the mold of a bookstore rather than that of the traditional dark and stinky comic book store.
One thing I’ve really come to appreciate on this tour through the country’s top independent retailers is how responsive they are to their local community. And how real communities actually form around the stores. The fact that so many stores nowadays feature cafes and hold really interesting readings and events really helps. For the most part, you don’t get that sense in Barnes & Noble’s, Borders, and — obviously — Amazon. (For instance, because of some corporate decision, A.D. is only available in the “History of Louisiana” section in Barnes & Noble’s — who even knew there was a “History of Louisiana” section?! — and not with the other graphic novels. And the Border’s in midtown doesn’t have my book at all, because they only seem to stock superhero trades.
And it seems to me at least that the economic model of the indie bookstore is working, with new local stores opening up all over the place, like Unnameable Books and Greenlight Books, both in my neighborhood — while the big chain stores seem to be slipping fast.
Most of all, I feel like each of the independent stores I’ve been to are reflections of the quirkiness of the owner and the store employees. From the minute you step inside, you get the sense how much the people who run these places just love books.