MICHELLE LEONARD: AUTHOR AND BOOKSELLER AT QUAIL RIDGE BOOKS

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Whenever I travel, there are a couple of places I check out as soon as I’ve checked in: The closest coffee shop, a restaurant that the locals love, and an independent bookstore. Two years ago, my son and I desperately wandered Sausalito until we found Book Passage, and then I bought four novels and hauled them all back to North Carolina on the plane. There’s something about an excellent indie bookstore that sucks me in—and not just because I used to work at one (Durham’s The Regulator).

Not only do indies do an incredible amount to support authors—they’re also a tremendous reflection of the community in which they’re located. In recognition of this fact—and of April 28th, Independent Bookstore Day—this month I’m launching a new feature on the blog: Interviews with independent booksellers. We’re kicking the series off with Michelle Leonard, author and bookseller at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books.

Welcome to the blog, Michelle! So excited to have you back. A math and science nerd (good on ya!), MG/YA author in BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME, and blogger at The Winged Pen, currently you’re a bookseller at the fabulous Raleigh independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books. Can you share a little bit about what a day in the life of an indie bookseller looks like—your favorite parts and greatest challenges?

Thanks for inviting me, Emily! Well, I have to say that no two days are the same in a bookseller’s life. I help customers find the books they want, hand-sell my favorites, answer questions, pet our canine customers, fawn over babies, respond to emails, answer telephones, call customers, help decide what upcoming books the store should order, work to make sure diverse authors are well-represented in our collection, read books for our toddler story time when needed, write staff picks, help with events, write blurbs for newsletters, make social media posts, chat with authors who stop by, receive books from the warehouse, package up books for schools, design displays… It’s all so fun, and a bit exhausting!

The greatest challenge is fitting all that into each day and focusing on the most important part of my job––the customers! But I love helping my community connect with books, and my favorite part is watching a smile spread across a customer’s face when I find the perfect book. Especially grandparents! They remember when kids didn’t rely on devices for entertainment and their only window into the outside world was through books. Grandparents, maybe more than anyone else, want their grandchildren to love books and understand how important they are in building well-rounded, happy, knowledgeable, empathetic people. Send me all the grandparents!

In this era of online megaliths such as Amazon, it can be challenging for independent booksellers to thrive—but indies offer so much more than a huge online bookseller, massive though the latter’s reach may be. As an author and former independent bookseller at Durham’s The Regulator, I’ve found that independent bookstores are an incredible resource for writers at every stage of our careers. Please tell us why indies matter so much, and the important role that they play in the literary community.

Independent bookstores are literally the literary lifeblood of our communities. Booksellers read and stay on top of what’s current and lovely. Talking with customers about books thrills us! If you’ve written a book we adore, we will not be able to shut up. We’ll be writing about it in our newsletters and pushing it into customers’ hands every chance we get. We are real, live human matchmakers who care about books, authors, and customers. An online retailer cannot do that for you.

Bookstores also offer a wide range of literary events to appeal to every possible interest and need. One of the most important things we do is supporting local schools by arranging visits by inspiring authors and supplying books for school book fairs to fund PTA projects. We also participate in local fundraisers for many community organizations throughout the year.

Let’s say you’re an author who’s just starting out. What are some important steps you can take to connect with your local indie bookseller? And what shouldn’t you do? 

  • Shop at your local bookstore. Encourage others to shop at local bookstores too. Talk about your favorite ones both in person and by tagging them on social media!
  • Make friends with booksellers by stopping in to buy and talk with them about great books, both local and in your travels.
  • If you have a new book coming out, contact nearby indie bookstores. Ask them to host an event, but please understand that events are expensive. If you’ve already suggested your friends, family, and fans preorder from Amazon, the bookstore might lose money by hosting you. Operating a bookstore is expensive, and they cannot host events or carry your book unless they can make money by doing so.
  • It’s very exciting when your book’s available for preorder, but consider suggesting that friends, family, and fans order from their local bookstore or yours. You can locate local bookstores through Indiebound. Consider contacting local bookstores first and share their preorder links in the areas where you have family, friends, and fans instead of Amazon’s. Ask others to do the same.
  • Even better, start a preorder campaign that requires purchase from an independent bookstore. Independent bookstore pre-sales count just as much as those from Amazon, but preorders at an independent bookstore mean they will probably stock your book, maybe read it themselves, and recommend it to customers and schools. Revenue from books purchased at a local bookstore goes directly to communities through providing jobs and tax revenue.
  • Provide purchase links on your author website to your local bookstore. Offer to sign and personalize copies through them. Most bookstores will ship, so you can get autographed copies to friends all over the country!
  • If you do stop by, try to set up an appointment and understand that booksellers are busy! Yes, we love to meet you, but the time we have to spend with you may be limited because we’ve got to sell books and help customers!
  • On Twitter, pin a tweet with a purchase link for your book through your indie!
  • When your author friends have books coming out, encourage them to support their local indie too. If you want your followers to buy your friends’ books, share the purchase link for your local indie.

I’m a deep believer in the fact that independent booksellers can make a major difference in an author’s career by hand-selling and promoting the books they love. Have you seen this play out personally, and can you give us some examples?

I know first-hand that many authors made it on the NY Times Bestsellers list by cultivating close relationships and working on preorders through indies. Nancy Olson, our beloved founder of Quail Ridge Books, was known for working directly with many Southern authors, promoting their books and giving them generous attention and guidance. We at Quail Ridge Books continue to honor her legacy in that way, working closely with our local authors and cheering them on as they publish wonderful books we want readers to know about.

It’s vital for authors to connect with their local independent bookstores—but of course, without readers, we’re all just sitting around talking to ourselves. 😉 How can readers help local indies to keep their doors open?

This is a very important question. There’s news of bookstores closing everyday due to competition from Amazon. It would be incredibly sad for all our bookstores to disappear. For information about the importance of local businesses to our community, read this.

  • The best way to support your local bookstore is to shop there! Meet the booksellers. They want to help you find books for your family.
  • Talk about your bookstore with friends and family. Share your bookstore’s posts on social media.
  • Don’t use your local book store as a showroom. Sure, you might be able to get your books for a few dollars less online. But consider the value of a local bookstore before you send your money to a corporation who has no interest in you, authors, or your community.
  • If your bookstore doesn’t carry the book you need, consider asking them to order it for you before going to Amazon. Plus, ordering through your local bookstore will likely encourage them to stock the book, which supports your favorite authors.
  • When traveling, considering stopping in at the local indie at your destination. It’s a great way to learn about the culture of the area you are visiting and support their community. Plus, independent bookstores are often quirky and fun, each having their own flavor!

What didn’t I ask that I should’ve? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

I bet there are a few people wondering, “What should I do if I don’t have a local bookstore?”

Consider adopting one nearby. We have many customers who live hours away but stop in monthly for some literary hospitality. Most independent bookstores are happy to ship books to you at a competitive rate. (At Quail Ridge Books, we charge $3.95 for the first book and $0.50 for additional books.) Local bookstores can often provide autographed copies from local and visiting authors, and some will wrap and ship gifts to friends and family. Many bookstores have subscription services, which provide great books shipped directly to you each month.

BIO

MICHELLE LEONARD has a MS in Materials Engineering and helped design the world’s first commercial blue LEDs. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. Her current interests are books and writing. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT, about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is part of the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Michelle is a member of SCBWI Carolinas, blogs about writing and reading books written for teens and children at The Winged Pen, and works at Quail Ridge Books. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Whenever I travel, there are a couple of places I check out as soon as I’ve checked in: The closest coffee shop, a restaurant that the locals love, and an independent bookstore. Two years ago, my son and I desperately wandered Sausalito until we found Book Passage, and then I bought four novels and hauled them all back to North Carolina on the plane. There’s something about an excellent indie bookstore that sucks me in—and not just because I used to work at one (Durham’s The Regulator).

Not only do indies do an incredible amount to support authors—they’re also a tremendous reflection of the community in which they’re located. In recognition of this fact—and of April 28th, Independent Bookstore Day—this month I’m launching a new feature on the blog: Interviews with independent booksellers. We’re kicking the series off with Michelle Leonard, author and bookseller at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books.

Welcome to the blog, Michelle! So excited to have you back. A math and science nerd (good on ya!), MG/YA author in BRAVE NEW GIRLS: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME, and blogger at The Winged Pen, currently you’re a bookseller at the fabulous Raleigh independent bookstore, Quail Ridge Books. Can you share a little bit about what a day in the life of an indie bookseller looks like—your favorite parts and greatest challenges?

Thanks for inviting me, Emily! Well, I have to say that no two days are the same in a bookseller’s life. I help customers find the books they want, hand-sell my favorites, answer questions, pet our canine customers, fawn over babies, respond to emails, answer telephones, call customers, help decide what upcoming books the store should order, work to make sure diverse authors are well-represented in our collection, read books for our toddler story time when needed, write staff picks, help with events, write blurbs for newsletters, make social media posts, chat with authors who stop by, receive books from the warehouse, package up books for schools, design displays… It’s all so fun, and a bit exhausting!

The greatest challenge is fitting all that into each day and focusing on the most important part of my job––the customers! But I love helping my community connect with books, and my favorite part is watching a smile spread across a customer’s face when I find the perfect book. Especially grandparents! They remember when kids didn’t rely on devices for entertainment and their only window into the outside world was through books. Grandparents, maybe more than anyone else, want their grandchildren to love books and understand how important they are in building well-rounded, happy, knowledgeable, empathetic people. Send me all the grandparents!

In this era of online megaliths such as Amazon, it can be challenging for independent booksellers to thrive—but indies offer so much more than a huge online bookseller, massive though the latter’s reach may be. As an author and former independent bookseller at Durham’s The Regulator, I’ve found that independent bookstores are an incredible resource for writers at every stage of our careers. Please tell us why indies matter so much, and the important role that they play in the literary community.

Independent bookstores are literally the literary lifeblood of our communities. Booksellers read and stay on top of what’s current and lovely. Talking with customers about books thrills us! If you’ve written a book we adore, we will not be able to shut up. We’ll be writing about it in our newsletters and pushing it into customers’ hands every chance we get. We are real, live human matchmakers who care about books, authors, and customers. An online retailer cannot do that for you.

Bookstores also offer a wide range of literary events to appeal to every possible interest and need. One of the most important things we do is supporting local schools by arranging visits by inspiring authors and supplying books for school book fairs to fund PTA projects. We also participate in local fundraisers for many community organizations throughout the year.

Let’s say you’re an author who’s just starting out. What are some important steps you can take to connect with your local indie bookseller? And what shouldn’t you do? 

  • Shop at your local bookstore. Encourage others to shop at local bookstores too. Talk about your favorite ones both in person and by tagging them on social media!
  • Make friends with booksellers by stopping in to buy and talk with them about great books, both local and in your travels.
  • If you have a new book coming out, contact nearby indie bookstores. Ask them to host an event, but please understand that events are expensive. If you’ve already suggested your friends, family, and fans preorder from Amazon, the bookstore might lose money by hosting you. Operating a bookstore is expensive, and they cannot host events or carry your book unless they can make money by doing so.
  • It’s very exciting when your book’s available for preorder, but consider suggesting that friends, family, and fans order from their local bookstore or yours. You can locate local bookstores through Indiebound. Consider contacting local bookstores first and share their preorder links in the areas where you have family, friends, and fans instead of Amazon’s. Ask others to do the same.
  • Even better, start a preorder campaign that requires purchase from an independent bookstore. Independent bookstore pre-sales count just as much as those from Amazon, but preorders at an independent bookstore mean they will probably stock your book, maybe read it themselves, and recommend it to customers and schools. Revenue from books purchased at a local bookstore goes directly to communities through providing jobs and tax revenue.
  • Provide purchase links on your author website to your local bookstore. Offer to sign and personalize copies through them. Most bookstores will ship, so you can get autographed copies to friends all over the country!
  • If you do stop by, try to set up an appointment and understand that booksellers are busy! Yes, we love to meet you, but the time we have to spend with you may be limited because we’ve got to sell books and help customers!
  • On Twitter, pin a tweet with a purchase link for your book through your indie!
  • When your author friends have books coming out, encourage them to support their local indie too. If you want your followers to buy your friends’ books’, share the purchase link for your local indie.

I’m a deep believer in the fact that independent booksellers can make a major difference in an author’s career by hand-selling and promoting the books they love. Have you seen this play out personally, and can you give us some examples?

I know first-hand that many authors made it on the NY Times Bestsellers list by cultivating close relationships and working on preorders through indies. Nancy Olson, our beloved founder of Quail Ridge Books, was known for working directly with many Southern authors, promoting their books and giving them generous attention and guidance. We at Quail Ridge Books continue to honor her legacy in that way, working closely with our local authors and cheering them on as they publish wonderful books we want readers to know about.

It’s vital for authors to connect with their local independent bookstores—but of course, without readers, we’re all just sitting around talking to ourselves. 😉 How can readers help local indies to keep their doors open?

This is a very important question. There’s news of bookstores closing everyday due to competition from Amazon. It would be incredibly sad for all our bookstores to disappear. For information about the importance of local businesses to our community, read this.

  • The best way to support your local bookstore is to shop there! Meet the booksellers. They want to help you find books for your family.
  • Talk about your bookstore with friends and family. Share your bookstore’s posts on social media.
  • Don’t use your local book store as a showroom. Sure, you might be able to get your books for a few dollars less online. But consider the value of a local bookstore before you send your money to a corporation who has no interest in you, authors, or your community.
  • If your bookstore doesn’t carry the book you need, consider asking them to order it for you before going to Amazon. Plus, ordering through your local bookstore will likely encourage them to stock the book, which supports your favorite authors.
  • When traveling, considering stopping in at the local indie at your destination. It’s a great way to learn about the culture of the area you are visiting and support their community. Plus, independent bookstores are often quirky and fun, each having their own flavor!

What didn’t I ask that I should’ve? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

I bet there are a few people wondering, “What should I do if I don’t have a local bookstore?”

Consider adopting one nearby. We have many customers who live hours away but stop in monthly for some literary hospitality. Most independent bookstores are happy to ship books to you at a competitive rate. (At Quail Ridge Books, we charge $3.95 for the first book and $0.50 for additional books.) Local bookstores can often provide autographed copies from local and visiting authors, and some will wrap and ship gifts to friends and family. Many bookstores have subscription services, which provide great books shipped directly to you each month.

BIO

MICHELLE LEONARD has a MS in Materials Engineering and helped design the world’s first commercial blue LEDs. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, three inspiring daughters, and a border collie who hates numbers. Her current interests are books and writing. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT, about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is part of the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Michelle is a member of SCBWI Carolinas, blogs about writing and reading books written for teens and children at The Winged Pen, and works at Quail Ridge Books. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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