There's no competing with Amazon. You know that, right? Independent bookstores aren't even in the same realm; we don't even breathe the same air. We will never come out on top in that fight. It's not ours to fight in the first place. We can't really even compete against the Barnes and Nobles and Books-A-Millions of the world, though that fight is becoming more fair, the playing field more level.
Instead, we of the independent bookstore press on, staking our claim on customer service, individual tastes, and cozy atmospheres. It is all about the individuality, the self-expression, the unique ability to remember what you read last and what you'll want to read next.
This is hard work, in case you weren't aware. (You probably were. Anyone who has to deal with the public on a regular basis would be.) It is now my job to cater to the few thousand people who live in my town and choose to shop locally. It's important to know their names, their tastes. It's important, and I'm trying.
But I also want to expand The Bookshelf's horizons a bit.
I've been blogging since 2008, and I have no desire to make money from it. None. I don't have that kind of time, energy, or work ethic. I blog because I like to write, and I need an outlet, and I happen to enjoy the small community I've found here. I can't really get into affiliate links or sidebar advertising or sponsored posts, because I don't think my blog or writing style lends itself to that. (Seriously, what would I advertise for? Books? I own a bookstore.)
Which brings me to my main point.
I have been writing my thoughts down on the Internet since 2008. Some of you have read along as I got married, adjusted to life with another human being, endured church hurts, and sat through somewhat mundane desk jobs. You cheered me on when I quit said desk job and began working at a small bookstore in Tallahassee; you encouraged me when that store closed, and this door, miraculously, opened.
Now here we are, six years later, and you've watched me move to a small Southern town and take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship. You have left comments and sent emails; some of you have sent letters and become true friends. My blog following has never been big, but it has been so meaningful. You have helped me get to this point.
My business isn't like a lot I see online. I don't have an Etsy shop; my services aren't available through a website. Sure, our store sells books online, but like I said earlier -- there's really no competing with Amazon. But I've been thinking a lot lately about how you all could partner in this business, how you could see what the store is doing, how life is going, how this bookstore-owner gig really works.
So my business partner and I came up with a plan.
First, a book-a-month club. And no, I don't expect all of you to sign up. But I want my long-distance friends to know there's a fun -- and yes, financial -- way you can support the store. Lots of independent bookstores offer this service; think StitchFix for books. Basically, a customer -- local or long-distance -- will fill out a form and sign up for a monthly subscription to The Bookshelf. Each month, the customer will receive a new book based on his or her preferences, hand-selected by Bookshelf staff (me).
I've been doing online book reviews for years, and no, I've never used Amazon affiliate links. I don't even have a GoodReads account. (I would have no idea where to begin.) But I always get such lovely feedback when I do those posts, and I get the same feedback from the recommendations I make in the shop each day. Why not bring that kind of customer service to my Internet friends? And I really do think it would make the most lovely gift for an expectant mother or her little one.
But I get it; a monthly subscription for new books may seem frivolous to you, or it just might not make sense given your budget and your lifestyle.
Which is why we're also launching "From the Front Porch,"a podcast all about books, small business, and life in the South. (That's literally the tagline.) The podcast may make it big in our little Georgia town, but I kind of doubt it. The podcast is truly for you. It's a way for you to hear about this journey in entrepreneurship, about life leading a bookstore in a Southern tourist town. My hope is to host author interviews, offer book reviews, have chats with my staff -- all from the comfort of my little front porch.
If we lived near one another, I hope you know you'd be invited over to dinner. And we'd sip lemonade and take long walks, and we'd have the most lovely time.
But the reality is there is distance among Internet friends. It can't be helped. And sure, there are meet-ups and blogger conferences, but for most of us, that's just not practical. But a podcast?
Hey, that we can do.
Consider this my invitation to join me on my front porch. The podcast will launch June 1, but until then, I'm rather desperate to know: What would you like to hear? All of this is so new to me; it feels big and daunting and challenging, but I think it could be something really special. I asked last week on Twitter, but I thought I'd ask here: What types of stories would you like to hear? Who would you love for me to interview? What questions do you have about Southern life, about our quirky customers and our daily tasks? Do you need recommendations for your middle reader? What conversations could we start about books and entrepreneurship and life?
So that's it. That's what's happening in my corner of the world. I can't compete with Amazon. Heck, I can't even really compete with other larger independent stores. (I don't really want to.) But I can enlist this wonderful army of readers and friends to do what you do best: encourage, uplift, and get me excited for this wonderful adventure I am now lucky enough to call my day job.