New series asks indie booksellers: What’s Selling?

With the news that another indie bookstore is closing — Peterborough’s Titles Bookstore — a reader’s heart breaks. It’s not just the loss of yet another bookstore, but a long term conversation between booksellers, readers, publishers and writers that, in this case, extended almost twenty-five years. (Until the end of May 2012.)

When I was a publicist, I was taught to respect and revere the independent bookseller. There are accounts and there are relationships. Accounts push product. Relationships fuel our industry.

To be clear, every bookstore closure is the loss of an integral relationship. We all suffer.

And if it’s true that the average reader needs to hear about a book seven-eleven times before picking it up, we need this level of care for always, not just more than ever.

Indie booksellers, put plainly, are a reader’s/writer’s/publisher’s “man on the ground”.

They use to perform the same function for the media.

Did you know that before BookNet Canada started gathering sales data, and bookstores started volunteering sales data, the average bestseller list was curated via phone calls and emails? Editors would touch base with booksellers to ask, “What’s selling?” Not the truest  data, but let’s focus on the conversation, because it’s a nice one to think about.

The Globe and Mail: “Where’s the number for [insert indie bookseller here] . . . Never mind! I got it!” *ring* *ring*
Bookseller: “Hello?”
The Globe and Mail: “‘sup? What’s sellin’?”
Bookseller: “Hey! I’ve been waiting for your call, ’cause, you know, [insert season or reason here] must be in the air, because we just cannot keep [insert title here] on the shelves. It’s really quite remarkable! Selling like hotcakes, like crocheted doilies at a church bazaar, like Slushies in Hell—”
The Globe and Mail: “Got it.”

So. I’m placing the call.

Starting Tuesday, May 1 at 2 p.m. ET, I’ll have a weekly chat on Twitter with an indie bookseller to ask: “What’s selling?”

Other questions will include some or all of the following:

“What’s a comparable title?”
“Do you have any events coming up you’d like the kids to know about?”
“What’s good supplementary reading for Fifty Shades of Grey?”
“I’m heading into the desert on a horse with no name. Quick, what book should I bring?”

We’re using the hashtag #indiebooksellers. Join the conversation!

The first indie up is Words Worth Books in Waterloo.
Visit them online here.
Walk into their store and buy something here.
Follow them on Twitter here: @bookswordsworth

As always, you can find me at @bookmadam and @seenreading. If you’re an indie bookstore on Twitter and would like to chat, contact me.

See you Tuesday! #indiebooksellers

Seen Reading’s Missed Connections

I’ve started a project called Will It Stick? To learn more about it, and past/present contenders for my first $1,000,000, read this introductory post.

To recap, each round of Will It Stick? gives me SIX posts to draft out an idea. At the end of six posts, we sit back and ask, Will It Stick? A “No” results in me archiving the idea for future consideration. A “Yes” results in me putting the idea into more serious development, here, or elsewhere with a partner.

Some ideas will present themselves all but fully-formed, only to reveal a shocking omission that presents an insurmountable challenge. (Defeatist.)

Other ideas will appear as a stream-of-consciousness ramble, out of which one tiny element will reveal itself as the answer to all our hopes and dreams. (Optimist.)

Most ideas will flatline until revived, possibly by someone other than me. (Frustrated Optimist.)

The Idea: Seen Reading’s Missed Connections

The first candidate in this inaugural round of Will It Stick? is something I’d like to call “Seen Reading’s Missed Connections,” something that combines two things that turn my crank as both Voyeur and Madam: an online tally of what people are reading and where + flirty excuses to talk to people about the books they’re reading.

If you’re familiar with the idea of the “Missed Connection,” born in the back pages of free weekly newspapers around the world, the premise is simple. It looks something like this.

You. Ezra’s Pound. Sitting on patio. Red scarf. Me. On bike. Asked where I could find the nearest ATM.

But what if the same message included a few more details?

You. Ezra’s Pound. Sitting on patio. Red scarf. Reading The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder. Me. On bike. Asked where I could find the nearest ATM. (Love Snyder’s short stories. Have you read Hair Hat?)

The Rough Draft:

Create an online hub where visitors can create a profile (to include reading interests) and post their sightings/missed connections. If someone responds, they get an alert. They can also opt to let others contact them based on their reading interests. Conversations begin. Maybe a book club is formed. Maybe a few crazy kids find love in the stacks. Publishers have a new way to track how and when their books are being read. (Less creepy data-mining than happy, useful encounters.) An author learns their book was “seen,” and it makes their day.

The Challenges/Opportunities:

How to organize the site?
What does it look like?
Is it a cheap and cheerful Craig’s List-like interface?
How to make it global?
How to moderate the site?
How to monetize the site?
Should publishers and booksellers be allowed to play? If so, how?

That’s where the idea starts. I have five more posts before we ask . . . Will It Stick?

Chirp in with your thoughts!

Next post: Branding. Once an image is attached to an idea, how much does it influence your opinion? I’ll toss up some pictures to see which ones draw you in, and which ones send you running for the hills.

Seen Reading brings the heat to Pongapalooza

May 8th, 2012 is the first annual Pongapalooza event, a ping pong tournament at SPiN Toronto in support of First Book Canada, an organization that brings awareness to low literacy rates in Canada and gets new books to children in need.

I’ve been asked to participate as an honorary team captain for Pongapalooza. Or, as it’s become affectionately known to me, Pongadongadingdong, because I never spell it right the first time.

First Book Canada stats to blow your mind:

  • 90 million books have been donated to date;
  • 35,000 books donated each day;
  • More than 29 million children across Canada and the United States live in low-income households. Most of these children have no age-appropriate books at home, and the classrooms and programs they attend are woefully under-resourced. Approximately two-thirds of these schools and programs cannot afford to buy books at retail prices.

While I’m thrilled to participate in Pongapingdongdongarama, I won’t lie, I’m somewhat relieved that I won’t actually be playing. It’s not because I don’t have a wicked wrist—I do. I played racquetball off a painted brick ball at the local “Y” as a child, so there’s nothing you can’t toss at me that I can’t toss back. (I toppled my water just as I wrote that and may have fried my laptop.) And, yes, it’s true, I did once break a girl’s nose with a shuttlecock off my badminton overhead shot. But . . . yesss . . . it’s plausible that I’ve been reprimanded a few times — maybe more — for foul language when my ball hits the tin on the squash court.* It’s probably for the best that I simply scream encouragement from the sidelines.

*While the above is true, so is the fact that I’ve won some version of “The Good Sport Award” in all things sporting and leisurely. We’re going to have a great time! You should come watch!

I mean, check out the gallery of honorary captains. We’re a hot lot! Get your spectator tickets and check us out. They’re only $25! Buy them here.

Eden Mills Writers’ Festival

Title: Eden Mills Writers’ Festival
Location: Eden Mills
Description: The Eden Mills Writers’ Festival was founded in 1989 and has taken place annually since then. Although it started out as the fulfillment of Governor General Award winner Leon Rooke’s personal vision, the Festival has matured and expanded over the years becoming a nationally acclaimed and widely respected literary event that still maintains a small “footprint.”

Julie is excited to be part of this much beloved writers’ and readers’ festival/celebration.

Learn more here.
Date: September 16, 2012

Will It Stick?

Here are some my favourite, famous/infamous past Will It Stick? projects.


DJ Book Madam started out as nothing more than a desire to keep my fellow publishing cohorts company every Friday morning during the summer season by streaming thematic playlists each Friday morning. I posted the channel to Twitter and Facebook, and soon others jumped on the bandwagon to request songs using the hashtag #djbookmadam. Before long, the average “show” ran anywhere from 1-2 hours.

Frequency: weekly
Lifetime: many months
Interest level: high
Niche group: music lovers
Biggest challenge: maintenance (only so many hours in the day)

If Pets Had Author Photos

I like to take pictures of my cat. On occasion, he strikes a pose as if sitting for an author photo, something about the way he cocks his head or places his paws. Other times, it was something about the lighting or scene that might remind me of The Obscured Ageless Author Photo, or The “I Was Up Too Late at an Appearance but Promised to Sit for an Interview with a Local Newspaper” Photo. Or, The Hands Under Chin Author Photo. Or, The Only Author Photo Said Author Will Ever, Ever, Ever Use because It Can’t Get Any Better Than This Photo.

Frequency: one-time batch post of six images
Lifetime: one-time batch post of six images
Interest level: very high
Niche group: animal lovers
Biggest challenge: new contributors

Writers Reading Recipes

Food writing is a craft unto itself. Food is a craft unto itself. Recipes can read like poetry. Writers like to characterize text. Add ‘em up, and you have Writers Reading Recipes. The results were charming, hilarious and always mouth-watering.

Contributors to Writers Reading Recipes included:

Brian Francis
Kristen Den Hartog
Alison Pick
Trevor Cole
Iain Reid
Teri Vlassopoulos
Sarah Leavitt
Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
Kim Moritsugu
Darcie Friesen Hossack

Frequency: weekly
Lifetime: six weeks
Interest level: very high
Niche group: foodies and writers
Biggest challenge: new contributors

Reliable Experts

Reliable Experts was a short-lived but deeply-loved short essay series in which authors talked about topics they’d unwittingly become experts in as the result of having done research for a book. It was up to the reader to determine if the information was factually reliable or otherwise. It stemmed from an interview I saw when Matt Damon appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show around the premiere of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Oprah congratulated Damon on transforming himself into an accomplished pianist for the film, to which he responded that he’d only learned one piece of music for a scene.

Contributions to Reliable Experts included:

Claire Cameron on line painting (The Line Painter)
Carolyn Black on disavowing expertise (The Odious Child)
Julie Booker on gummy bear sex (Up, Up, Up)

Frequency: weekly
Lifetime: three weeks
Interest level: medium
Niche group: armchair academics
Biggest challenge: new contributors

The Pivot Reading Series

Title: The Pivot Reading Series
Location: The Press Club 850 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Description: The Pivot Reading Series presents the writers breathing life into Canadian literary culture. Established and emerging, time-tested and fresh; Pivot is what’s happening in literature, right now.

Julie will be reading with George Murray, Meagan Strimas, and Gillian Wigmore.

This also happens to be the final Pivot for host Elisabeth de Mariaffi who is moving to St. John’s to join in romantic bliss with one of the above readers. Sadly, said reader is not me. Pivot will go on, but let’s check back in on Julie in a few. (This will be a great night!)

Books for sale at the venue. Also bring some loose bills for the hat-passing, a very nice gesture in lieu of feeding or petting the animals . . . erm, readers.

Learn more here.

Start Time: 08:00 pm
Date: June 27, 2012
End Time: 10:00 pm


Title: Pongapalooza
Location: SPiN Toronto, Toronto
Description: On May 8th, 2012 the first annual Pongapalooza event, a ping pong tournament at SPiN Toronto in support of First Book Canada, will help bring awareness to low literacy rates in Canada and raise funds to provide children in need access to brand new books. The ball is rarely on the table for children from low-income families in our society and we believe we can help change that through this unique fundraising event.

Start Time: 06:00 pm
Date: May 8, 2012
End Time: 10:00 pm

Julie is getting some great coaching tips from these guys:

In Conversation at Blue Heron Books

Title: In Conversation at Blue Heron Books
Location: Uxbridge
Description: Julie will take part in a panel on memoir writing and creative non-fiction, entitled “You Think You Know Me, But You Have No Idea” with James FitzGerald and Andrew Westoll.

Learn more here.
Start Time: 07:00 pm
Date: May 2, 2012
End Time: 09:00 pm

Seen Reading Book Launch

Title: Seen Reading Book Launch
Location: The Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto
Description: Doors open 7:00 p.m. Readings at 7:30 p.m.
Julie will be appearing along with Freehand authors Alex Leslie and Ian Williams.
Start Time: 07:00 pm
Date: April 30, 2012
End Time: 10:00 pm

ImagiNation 2012: Writers’ Festival

Title: ImagiNation 2012: Writers’ Festival
Location: Morrin Centre 44, chaussée des Écossais, Québec
Description: Reading and discussion with Miguel Syjuco

Learn more about ImagiNation 2012: Writers’ Festival here.
Start Time: 07:30 pm
Date: April 14, 2012
End Time: 09:30 pm