Annie B. Jones [00:00:00] I’m not kidding. I want to have a 10-year “we did it” birthday party. We worked really hard for 10 years and this is a milestone and so I hope we get to have a bagel party.
Anne Bogel [00:00:17] Hey readers, I’m Anne Bogel and this is What Should I Read Next? Welcome to the show that’s dedicated to answering the question that plagues every reader, What Should I Read Next?
[00:00:36] Today we have a special episode. We’re taking you behind the scenes of three independent bookstores we know and love, catching up with bookstore owners we’ve hosted before here on the podcast. With all the changes in the bookstore industry over the past few years, we thought it would be a great time to take a look at what’s happening in the world of indie bookstores lately.
First to join me is Holland Saltsman, owner of The Novel Neighbor in St. Louis, Missouri. Holland’s been on the show quite a few times, including our Holiday Gifting episodes or as one of What Should I Read Next? early guests way back in Episode 40: Our first year, called Spouses of Readers Anonymous.
We will have links to all our bookstore owners past appearances in today’s show notes at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com. So don’t worry about jotting them down. I’m also catching up with Abby Glen, who you heard in Episode 328: Reading is a Lifestyle, when we got to hear about Shelves, her online and pop-up bookstore based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
And closing out our bookseller party is Annie B. Jones of The Bookshelf in Thomasville Georgia who first came on in Episode 44: Like speed dating, but with authors, and then in Episode 132: The books we can’t wait to read this summer.
[00:01:39] I am always happy for the opportunity to talk books and business with any of these ladies. So having all three join me today is a real treat. We have fascinating conversations about what’s been happening in their bookshops since we last spoke, how their roles in their local communities have evolved, and what’s new and notable in their stores.
Plus, of course, you know we talk about what’s particularly popular in their stores these days, what they’re reading and loving, and which books they’d shout from the rooftops if they could. These are great conversations and I can’t wait for you to listen. Let’s get to it.
[00:02:09] Readers, this week I’m celebrating the anniversary of my book Don’t Overthink It, my propitiously timed pandemic release about making easier decisions, stopping mental overwhelm, and bringing more joy to our lives. We’re marking the occasion over on Instagram by sharing photos of the small things that bring us joy. If you’ve read Don’t Overthink It, you know for me those things include good pens, dark chocolate, and the $4 seasonal bouquets at Trader Joe’s.
Head over to my Instagram @Annebogel to check that out, play along, and get inspired by other readers’ small indulgences that deliver an outsize dose of happiness. If you haven’t yet read the book, I hope you’ll take this third birthday opportunity to grab a copy. You can even order from one of today’s indie bookseller guests. Thanks as always for reading and sharing my work, and thanks for everything you’ve done to help Don’t Overthink It find its audience these past three years.
[00:03:01] Holland, welcome back to the show.
Holland Saltsman [00:03:04] Anne, thanks so much. It’s great to talk with you.
Anne Bogel [00:03:07] Again!
Holland Saltsman [00:03:07] Again!
Anne Bogel [00:03:07] You have such a history here and I’m so glad for that.
Holland Saltsman [00:03:10] Me too. We still have people coming into the store that have heard me on What Should I Read Next?. So it’s always a treat to kind of talk with them and show them where your books are. And I love it when I’m here but we’re also starting to get more people coming in because of TikTok with my younger staff. So I always like to flex myself when someone comes in to actually see me because of you. So we’ll keep it real.
Anne Bogel [00:03:33] I’m so glad you said that because that’s something I wanted to ask you about. Now, when you and I have had coffee, not recorded—I’m sorry, listeners, I’m sure that would have been fun to listen in for—but you’ve told me about how the younger generation, and now I definitely feel like the old lady that I aspire to be someday. But Holland you’ve told me how some of your younger hires have really been savvy with social media and that’s really made a big difference than when you weren’t expecting for The Novel Neighbor.
Holland Saltsman [00:03:59] Absolutely. During the pandemic, I mean everything… I don’t think we’ve talked on air or being recorded. We’ve talked other times. You know, since the pandemic. So, you know, I hated the word pivot, but that’s exactly what it was, and we moved around and we were fortunate enough to have some online capability, which was clunky, but you know, we ended up rebuilding the whole website.
But during that time, a woman named Kassie came in and was moving back home, had some social media sites and Bookstagram type of experience. And I was like, “Sure,” you know, like most of my hiring processes, “It sounds good.” I go with my gut. You walked in. And it has changed the trajectory in a lot of ways.
And so she started a TikTok channel or we might have had one that was defunct. And the very first TikTok she did, I was out of town and I just started seeing sales of this one book and I was like, “What is happening?” So I go over… And I’ve given her kind of all open breath. I didn’t say I had to see it. I just trusted.
And she was telling the story about somebody she met and how it was kind of this like racy situation that she might go hang out with this woman in summer. And I’m like, “Is this what TikTok is? You just put all your stuff out there? Like I was dying. And then she holds up Honey Girl and says, “And this is the story of Honey Girl. Pick it up.” It was brilliant. And I was like, “Oh, I get it now.” So that was truly the first post-sold books for us.
And since then she and we call her Ski, Stephanie Skis, who’s on my staff, have created some incredible content. And then we’ve got other staff that are comfortable doing some TikTok, and then they’re slowly getting me on it. They got me to do [00:05:34 inaudible].
Oh my God, I’m so nervous because they seem so natural and comfortable. I am so much more comfortable behind, you know, just the microphone talking with you. But I did my wrap-up of Best Books in 2022 and I introduced myself as an indie bookstore owner, and we started getting questions about opening an indie bookstore.
So Kassie is working with me to do a series of how to open, our why, or how you know. It all was handled based on questions that people in TikTok are asking. So we’ve recorded two of those. And we’re gonna keep doing those as long as there’s questions and I’m hopefully getting a little more comfortable.
I read the, I might mention it four times, you’ve talked about it with me, The Creative Act by Rick Rubin. I got a chance to read that before it came out. And we ended up doing a workshop with this local organization called Webster Arts that was interactive, and people had a creative piece to it. And I’ve probably sold, you know, 30, 40 copies of that because I truly have a note that says “Everyone should read this book. Period.” Because I felt [00:06:29].
Anne Bogel [00:06:30] Oh, and you said we’ve talked about The Creative Act, but we haven’t. All you’ve said is, “Anne, I love this book.” But I want to hear about it. Tell me about it.
Holland Saltsman [00:06:38] So Rick Rubin is a music producer that most people seem to know his name. He started Def Jam Records out of his NYU dorm room with a couple other people. He was very involved in kind of when music and hip-hop was starting. He’s worked with everybody from Johnny Cash to the Beastie Boys to Avett Brothers. He sort of lives out in Malibu. He was just on, I think, Anderson Cooper, like 60 minutes, and he’s got this really long white beard, he’s barefoot, and he’s just really present.
He talked about how people wanted him to really write this book about all these great musicians and all this, you know, because people will swear that he changed the trajectory of their career, that he really helped them make a shift.
I’ve listened to him now, I think, on four podcasts as he’s been talking about this book. And he didn’t want to do that. What he was talking about is how to be creative and it ended up being how to be. It’s a very sort of mindfulness book and it’s divided into 78 sort of snippets, I don’t know if you want to call them wisdom bits, so you can dip in and out of it.
And it’s just a reminder that we are all our own creative acts. So he’s not just talking about a musician and not necessarily a painter, you know, you and everything you’re producing are your creative acts. And so how do you want to present those to the world and where do you get stuck? And if you’re getting stuck, how can you go through some of the things that he’s shared with musicians to get yourself kind of through this creative process? And it can be applied to parenting, to a recipe, and really in your every day. It’s just some incredible reminders or some shift in thinking on how to be.
Anne Bogel [00:08:17] That sounds fascinating. Holland, what else are you really excited about right now that you’d be eager to be able to press into readers’ hands when they are in the store?
Holland Saltsman [00:08:24] So there’s a couple that has come out. I just read the Daughters of Nantucket.
Anne Bogel [00:08:29] Oh, I don’t know what that one yet.
Holland Saltsman [00:08:30] It’s good. It’s coming out in March. And unfortunately, some of these I’m gonna talk about are that kind of those future arcs just because that’s where I’ve been kind of putting my focus right now is just the future reading, trying to, as I’m sure you are, figuring out the big summer releases and kind of what’s coming up.
It was really a good historical fiction about a time, you know, a Nantucket’s great fire in 1846. That in the beginning it felt a little heavy-handed, but it’s this wailing village that ended up sort of becoming this very female-forward. Lots of relationships they were unpacking. And just the visual descriptions and the writing was actually really good. I was a big fan of that.
And then a really fun one called Burn the Negative is coming up. I don’t think that one’s coming out until July, but I think it’s going to be fun. Have you heard of that one?
Anne Bogel [00:09:18] No, tell me more.
Holland Saltsman [00:09:19] It reminded me a lot of Night Film. Did you ever read Night Film?
Anne Bogel [00:09:23] I did.
Holland Saltsman [00:09:24] So what I loved about Night Film was it had sort of all that interactive part in the book where you could read case files as the main character talked about, you know, going to the police station. You got to read some of those things. And I just thought that was a really smart thing.
And Burn the Negative is similar. You get absolutely access because it’s sort of this meta that a young woman is being asked to come do an article in LA about this slasher film, that’s a repeat based on a slasher film that had been like 20, 30 years ago, and she had actually starred in it and everyone who was involved in the film had died.
So she doesn’t know that’s what she’s coming to cover. Like, there’s all this sort of manipulation going on. But the minute she gets to LA, somebody jumps off a bridge. And she’s like, “Oh, it’s starting again.” And you’re just like, “What?”
Horror is really big in the store right now. Romance and horror, I can’t explain it. Like everything is sort of ebbs and flows. But right now that is probably our largest growing area besides romance right now. So this one I think is actually right on the cusp of kind of thriller horror, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun for people to read, I think. [00:10:32] We know you’re dealing with death and destruction.
Anne Bogel [00:10:33] That’s so interesting. So that was the thing you didn’t see coming. Okay, what else did you never see coming back when you first opened a bookstore?
Holland Saltsman [00:10:40] I think a lot of what came out of the pandemic, like our mystery boxes. You know, when we had to close the doors and we weren’t able to have people to come in and shop, you’d have someone so call and say, “I need to get something from my nine year old grandson. He’s into dinosaurs, soccer, and graphic novels, and I have about 40 bucks to spend on that.” We’re like, “Okay, we’ll put something together.”
And that just kept happening and we’re like, “Oh, this could be a thing.” So that has probably… I should have the statistics in front of me, but it’s ridiculous. Of the hundreds and hundreds of mystery boxes we do now and some people will just be like, “Send me staff favorites. This is for me.”
Or “I’ve got this neighbor who’s 70 and retiring and enjoys Scotland and bourbon and something, and maybe cooking.” You know, who knows! Or sci-fi fantasy. And we’re like, “We got you. For 75 bucks we can pull that together.”
So that’s probably been one of the most fun things as well as popular, which then becomes financially, you know, something that we want to keep doing and spreading the word about because people order them… We’ve sent them now to… I think we have five different countries as well as certainly nationally here, and then people will come pick them up locally.
But really it’s huge facing outward. We have people ordering stuff all the time. I mean, some people will connect us to their story graph lists and what they’ve changed. They’ll tell us what their astrological sign… I mean, we will get so much information that is kind of like, “Okay, got it.”
Anne Bogel [00:12:15] It’s so fun. And you have to tell me about Grown-Up book fairs.
Holland Saltsman [00:12:25] Oh, gosh, [a]that’s just sort of popped up in the last year. Again, a creation of a couple of my staff who were like, “This is a thing. People were talking about they want to be adults going to a Scholastic Book Fair, and having all the fun stuff.”
And at first I was like, Well, isn’t our store like that? Like you come in and you’ve got all the books and all this. But like, no, they want to go somewhere fun, they want to have sort of curated books. And since they’re adults, I bet they’re gonna want to drink. So Skis and Kassie kind of went out and developed this partnership with a local brewery, as well as this place called Sugar, which makes these crazy delicious ice cream sandwiches.
And they did the first one around Halloween. And so they had some very scary theme-y books and swag at this place. And then they decided to charge $10 to get in. So you’re just paying $10 just to come and hang out with us for the night. And then had a time slots because of the room wasn’t huge. And the $10 went to our nonprofit, The Noble Neighbor. And we sold out I think 350 tickets that very first one.
Anne Bogel [00:13:16] Well, I mean, who wouldn’t want to come to that?
Holland Saltsman [00:13:17] I know. But you don’t know. You think, then all of a sudden, you’re like, “Oh, here’s $3,500 for our nonprofit who now can bring authors into underserved schools. So before we even open the doors, this was phenomenal. And then everybody had a ball. You know, the brewery job that they’ve never had so many women in the bar at one time.
Anne Bogel [00:13:37] All it takes is books.
Holland Saltsman [00:13:38] Right. Books and booze and ice cream. It was so huge. And then they came back and we’re like, “Let’s do this around the holidays.” And I was like, “We can’t that’s our busiest time of year. We can’t be taking a lot of our stock off site and staff and time.” And they were like, “Yes, we can.” I was like, “Okay.” I like to think I’m the boss, I’m not really the boss around here.
And we did it over two nights. And again, it was huge and great and fun and people had a ball. So then we just did it one last time for Valentine’s Day. So that was absolutely… It blew it out of the water again, with theme-y stuff.
Now they’re talking about they want to take it on the road because they want it either go but sort of planted in other cities or if there’s maybe an area that doesn’t have like a huge bookstore or something. And I was like, I’m saying no to doing that in 2023. They could research it and find a place. But 2024 I’ll let them actually go and do this. And then I’m like, “How are we getting the books there? How are we…?” Anyway. So I was like, “We’ll figure that out this year.” But yeah.
Anne Bogel [00:14:39] Holland, a lot of readers wonder how you decide what to stock in the store.
Holland Saltsman [00:14:44] The reality is we’re doing frontlist orders. We’re buying for the summer season right now so we’ve been reading a little bit for summer season. Kind of reading ahead. And I meet with publishers and they kind of sell me on maybe what I didn’t buy and we just have big conversations about what might work in the store.
But also I’m headed to Winter Institute next week in Seattle, which is the American Booksellers Association, which is kind of our parent company for independent bookstores. And at the Winter Institute, there is opportunities for professional development, whether for managers, owners, entry-level booksellers, everything from marketing to succession planning, to working with nonprofits or creating your own and all these great things.
But also there’s publisher dinners with authors. And it’s a great fun time that you get to go sit next to one of the ones… I’m going to Penguin Random House and Abrams. Abrams I always make sure I get invited to because they have such a fun line of books. So not only fiction but entertaining books. It’s just always a treat to be able to sit with an author.
And they’re there to talk about their books, but you just get to know them. So that’s a lot of fun. You sit in a lunch sometimes and every 10 to 20 minutes publishers come by and pitch you on four books. So it is a lot of information gathering. There’s a lot of picking up of books, you know, some great professional, you get to see other people in the field. But it’s very helpful in trying to at least narrow down this huge field of all the books that are available.
Anne Bogel [00:16:09] Holland, do booksellers get in a reading slump sometimes?
Holland Saltsman [00:16:14] Anne, yes. I texted Anne actually recently and I was like, “I love nothing I’m reading. Please, help me. What are you reading?” And she was very helpful. And I think we’ve done it back and forth to each other over the years. But I do.
Anne Bogel [00:16:30] I love to hear your reading always.
Holland Saltsman [00:16:32] Oh, and I love to hear what you are. Sometimes I’m just like, “You got to tell me something.” Because I think you know what I like now to just… Sometimes I just gotta get out of a slump. So I did. I was in a bit of a one and I read two things recently. I read the new Christina Lauren. It goes along with The Soulmate Equation. So did you read that?
Anne Bogel [00:16:51] The Soulmate Equation?
Holland Saltsman [00:16:52] Yeah.
Anne Bogel [00:16:52] Yes, but I haven’t read the new one yet. Waiting on my Kindle.
Holland Saltsman [00:16:56] Oh, my God, it was really fun. I just sort of have to remind myself that I have to go for fun and easy and smart. And Fanny who’s the romance writer in the first book, it’s her story next, and it was just a treat to read. You don’t have to read the first one. But that kind of got me over it.
And then I could go pick up something else like The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts by Palmer that I just thought was beautiful and epic. But I probably couldn’t have picked that up during my reading slump because I just needed to read. And then I’ll listen to them. I mean, I’m still all over Libro.fm with audiobooks. I’m listening to lots of racy warnings here, the Big Swiss. Have you read this, or do you know much about it?
Anne Bogel [00:17:39] No, I don’t know this book.
Holland Saltsman [00:17:40] Big Swiss, oh, gosh. It’s like you can’t listen to it with kids around. I don’t even know how many warnings I need to put on it. But it is a woman who is transcribing a therapist’s notes between he and his clients. And he’s a sex therapist in this very small town where this woman basically runs… It’s sort of like one of these hippy-dippy. Everybody’s like in their second third career of selling molasses and organic and living on farms and things like that.
So she kind of runs into these people in town that she knows their voices from transcribing their sessions with a sex therapist. It’s insane and so much fun to listen to because it’s gotten multi-narrators.
Anne Bogel [00:18:20] I don’t even know what to say to that, Holland. But I’m glad you’re finding something entertaining.
Holland Saltsman [00:18:25] It’s not for everybody. What about you? What’s gotten you out of a slump before? Or does it depend?
Anne Bogel [00:18:33] I often find that what I need is either a change of pace, just a totally different genre than I had been looking in. Sometimes I need just a little bit of courage to pick up the book that’s been intimidating me because it might be like big or feel very serious but I really expect I’m gonna like it. And then often I’ll get 20 pages and I’ll be like, “Oh, what was I scared of? This is great.”
Sometimes I need a good recommendation from somebody who knows what I like. I think it just depends. It depends. But it’s reassuring for our listeners to hear you say as a bookseller like, of course, this happens to everyone. Totally normal, also totally overcomable.
Holland, is there a book that feels just quintessential Novel Neighbor[b] to you?
Holland Saltsman [00:19:15] Three, four years ago I would have been able to name three of them. At that point, I think our bestselling book was T[c]equila Mockingbird, not To Kill a Mockingbird, but T[d]equila Mockingbird. And it’s all these fun drinks that go along with cocktails. It would be the One-in-a-Million Boy, which I had pressed you and it just became my favorite book since we opened. I just was like, everybody… I feel comfortable giving this book to everybody.
And some of the kids’ series that we’ve carried throughout time that all of us kind of get behind which like the story thieves. So I would have sort of been in that genre. But now we have A-team staff, Anne, and so it’s crazy. The diversity on the shelves, the reading shelves of everybody in what people are kind of reading.
You know, I started to pick up a lot more nonfiction and romance. I mean, I would say some people now identify us with such romances because of author visits we’ve done and that section is growing. Our romance book club has like 60 people on the regular. They have to split them in two rooms. And we’ve got six other book clubs.
And then The House in the Cerulean Sea, which I mentioned earlier by TJ Klune. Certainly, the whole staff loved that book. So I tried to think of something but that’s rare that we’re all on the same page about a book, which keeps it really interesting. I don’t know, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of seeing what other people are reading. And then every once in a while two people do love a same book and then they fight about who gets to put it on their favorite shelf.
Anne Bogel [00:20:53] Holland, what’s on the horizon for you in The Novel Neighbor that you’re especially excited about?
Holland Saltsman [00:20:57] I hate to predict anything with the way that the world has gone in really exciting ways. But there’s a couple of big-name authors that we should be hosting. Katee Roberts is one. If you’ve read any of her racy, spicy-
Anne Bogel [00:21:12] No.
Holland Saltsman [00:21:13] She had to postpone… It’s a huge series and she’s super popular. But she was supposed to come for her most recent book, and just the travel wasn’t able to work out. So she’s now coming in August. But there’s two other people that if we get, they’re sort of like dream gets for my staff, so they won’t let me talk about it yet.
And then there’s something that I’ve been asked to participate in that if this happens, I’m going to be calling you immediately because I’m going to need big-time help. And I don’t mean it to sound like this, but it might just change… Yeah, it’s very exciting. I can’t sit still. I’m so excited. It just… I can’t even. And then The Novel Neighbor just got named as the best business in Webster Groves by our chamber of commerce. So we’ll be doing a little bit of celebrating around that.
Anne Bogel [00:22:04] Congratulations.
Holland Saltsman [00:22:06] Thank you.
Anne Bogel [00:22:06] As well you should. Holland, thanks so much for popping back on. It was great to talk to you and catch up.
Holland Saltsman [00:22:11] Thank you so much. I will hang out with you anytime, Anne Bogel.
Anne Bogel [00:22:15] Abby, welcome back.
Abby Glen [00:22:18] Thank you for having me, Anne. It’s so nice to see you and talk with you again.
Anne Bogel [00:22:22] Oh, the pleasure is mine. Now of the booksellers we’re talking with today, you and I connected the most recently, and that was in April of 2022. But I imagine a year can feel like a lifetime in the life of a bookseller. How has Shelves evolved since we last spoke?
Abby Glen [00:22:37] So I think when we last spoke we were coming up on Independent Bookstore Day 2022. We were participating in a Boo[e]k Crawl the first one that they were doing in our area. That went really well. We did that all month long in April of last year. We were rolling out our new apparel design in April in Indie Bookstore Day.
But to be quite honest with you, I had moved to a new home, so the Shelves headquarters had moved with me because I run the business out of my house and I partner with businesses that have the brick-and-mortar presence to do the pop-ups. So I had all of that.
Anne Bogel [00:23:12] And we just timeout to say like bookstores are owned by real people. And when you have a disruption in your personal life, that means it affects the business. And that’s how it goes.
Abby Glen [00:23:22] Actually, you just summed it up, like especially for my business model because we’re online and popup. So I don’t have like this physical location that people can come in every day and shop with me like your regular traditional indie bookstores. And I’m actually very fine with that.
I actually don’t want to brick and mortar right now because my life is incredibly good where it is. To be quite honest with you, I spent the entire summer of 2022, July and August, I didn’t do any pop-ups and I don’t regret it. I like completely sat down, I relaxed.
But to be honest with you, my life was already kind of shifting, but I had no idea it was going in the direction that it was going. But I was doing more ministry work for this. I focused on that during the summer. And then I picked back up with the pop-ups in the fall.
Anne Bogel [00:24:11] Abby, tell me about what your fall popups looks like this year.
Abby Glen [00:24:15] Um, so last year, we did the conference. That was our second conference ever. We did that – when was that? End of September beginning of October. That was a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators the North Carolina hub. And it was great.
That was opportunity to meet children’s book authors and writers and illustrators. They are on site bookstore, and we got to carry the books of the authors that were leaving workshops and illustrators that were leaving workshops at the conference. That was a really cool experience. Definitely something I would do again.
And then we just went back to our normal popups and into the Coffee Company, which is just a locally-owned coffee roastery here in Charlotte. And we work with them very closely. We’ve been working with them for almost four years come this July, this summer. So that was really it.
I tried to keep it light, again, mostly because things in my personal life has shifted in a really good way. So what I was trying to make sure was that I wasn’t getting stressed out with Shelves, and I didn’t. I really kind of closed the year out on a high note, as far as I’m concerned, because I was like, Oh, you know, things are going the way they’re going. They’re good. I’m happy, I’m content. But life is good. Let me just smooth sail on out of 2022.” And that’s exactly what I did.
Anne Bogel [00:25:32] What is your favorite part of the job right now?
Abby Glen [00:25:35] Just telling people to like make sure you read good books, you know, books that you desire to read. But just also making sure you’re taking the time not to get caught up in everything and a lot of the noise. Because I feel like, even in our industry, from a bookseller side, and I felt like the readers could be picking up on this too, there’s been a lot of noise in our industry because of everything that got crazy in 2020 with George Floyd murder, Black Lives Matter protests. So our industry was impacted by that because people turn to books for leisure, but they also turned to books for activism.
So I think that things have gotten really loud and noisy. And I feel like a lot of booksellers were wondering, where do we go from here? Because, you know, we want to do this, we want to do that but it’s like, Lord, where are we going? So I feel like some of our readers got caught up in that, our customers, because people were like, Well, what should I read? What should I be reading? Should I be reading nonfiction? Should I be reading fiction? Am I going to read fiction? Am I going to be reading about, you know, diversity?
I felt like some people were questioning like, just again, their decision to enjoy the art of reading. That’s what I felt like. It was like, should I be making a statement with the book I’m reading? Or if we’re booksellers, what should I be selling? It got real noisy for a bit.
And I think that for me I’m trying to show everybody my colleagues as well as my customers, like, it’s some of us out here that realized that the noise was getting too loud. And I took a step back and I’m just kind of like, don’t forget your why and why you started.
And that’s what I’m telling my customers. Like, just don’t forget to read. That’s really where I’m at. Don’t forget to read. Read things that brings you pleasure. Read things that will educate you. Read things that will keep you informed. But don’t get caught up trying to turn your reading life into what everybody’s telling you your reading life should look like because everybody has their motives and reasons. You won’t be able to please everybody. Even the bookstores I’m seeing that like they’re making honest mistakes and they’re being criticized. I mean, these are bookstores or pillars in the community.
You know, some of them I’ve seeing, Oh, man, I’m sorry, we put the wrong book in the window. And I’m just like, “Y’all, we’re running a business. We’re small businesses. We just are trying to stay afloat and serve our community. And I just think it’s all the noise that spilled over from 2020. And the pandemic stuff. The pandemic also put us in a tizzy. And I just think we’re all trying to come up for air.
I think you got to get back to: why do I enjoy reading? Why am I even reading what I’m reading? Am I reading this because somebody told me I should be reading this and or am I reading this because I really feel like this could add value to my life? This could either relax me or this can inform me. But I just don’t think people should get… I don’t know, don’t fall for the lip service.
Because I felt like there were a lot of people who really want change in their own life and they want to do better but they were just, I don’t know, just digesting what everybody was telling them. Like, read this, read this, read this. And it’s like, yeah, but you can read stuff all day, but you’re not taking what you need to take away from it. I’d rather be like, Hey, these are your options. And when you get a chance, read this. And people you know, you get around to and get around to it. We got time. We got time. We got time.
Anne Bogel [00:29:13] So your favorite part of the job is telling people what to read. I don’t mean that in a bossy way at all. I mean, helping connect the right reader with the right book. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about right now. Right now we’re going to talk about what you love. Tell me about a few books that you would shout from the rooftops if you could. Actually, you know what, let’s call this the rooftop Abby. What do you love? What are you really excited about?
Abby Glen [00:29:34] Well, right now I’m actually reading a young adult novel. I don’t even remember the last time I read YA. I’m reading The Davenports by Krystal Marquis. It was actually one of our book picks for our young adult reading. It’s a lifestyle subscription for February. I had an advanced reader copy.
And one of my members who she always wants to know like, what’s all the books you’ve selected this month for us? Because they only get one of the ones I select. She was telling me that she had put The Davenports on her list even though that wasn’t a book she got from me. So I started reading it. Again, I don’t even remember the last time I read YA. But it’s actually a really good book. I’m actually going to reach out to see if I can get the author to join us at our monthly reading as a lifestyle hangout in March. So I’m reading that.
Something else though that I think… Again, now I’m going to share some recommendations from the subscription that my members have loved, loved, loved. There’s another historical fiction novel that I selected in December. The cover of the book I’m just going to tell people up front is ugly. It’s not appealing. It is not a book, y’all… I’m not trying to be mean, but the cover of the book is not appealing. If you’re somebody that judges a book by its cover, you’ll be like, “Hey, yo, what is… this is ugly.” But it’s really good.
It’s historical mystery, and it’s called Death at the Falls by Rosemary Simpson. Again, not a pretty cover, but a very, very good book.
Then another book that I actually thought I would hear more about when I selected it, but The Bandit Queens by Parini, I think I’m gonna pronounce her last name wrong, Shroff. That was our contemporary pick. I also had that as our advanced reader copy. And what’s crazy is that I had it for several months.
My neighbor, she likes mystery, and I gave it to her. But the name of it in the synopsis I’ve never got like that out of my head. I was like, yeah, when that book officially comes out, I’m definitely going to take a look at that for the subscription. I gave this to her several months ago in 2022. So I ended up selecting it for the subscription for January and my members I was talking to them on the fifth of this month, and they loved it. They loved it.
The premise of it is just like this woman, I think people think she killed her husband. Again, I know it’s not true. My understanding is it’s not a true thing—she did not tell her spouse. And the main characters Indian. So it’s almost this whole thing about like cultural differences and how women in India are in marriages, and what that looks like for them. And my members loved it.
So I reached out to my neighbor, I said, “Did you get the read that book I gave to you?” She said, “No, not yet.” I said, “Make sure you read it because my subscription members really liked it.” So The Bandit Queens, that’s another good one.
Those are three different types of books. Again, the historical fiction, The Davenport, that’s young adult, the Death at the Falls is historical, but it’s mystery. And then The Bandit Queens, that was our contemporary pick for January. That’s what I’m getting all the buzz about right now is those books have been something I’ve heard my members personally say, “It’s really good.” But The Davenport’s I’m reading and I’m enjoying it a whole lot. And like a whole lot. I’m really enjoying it. It’s about wealthy black family in Chicago.
It’s funny because our young adults subscription with the exception of one young lady who is in high school, everybody in our young adults description is in our adult subscription. They’re all adult women with the exception of one young lady. And the reason why I know that she’s a kid, like a high schooler is because her mom signed her up for the subscription. And so yeah, her mom we got to talk via email. So I’m like, “Oh, she’s literally our only young adult in the young adult subscription. Everybody else is a grown woman. That’s how the cookie crumbles.
Anne Bogel [00:33:28] A good book is a good book.
Abby Glen [00:33:30] That’s good.
Anne Bogel [00:33:31] Abby, thanks so much for coming on and telling us what’s happening with Shelves these days.
Abby Glen [00:33:35] Thank you, Anne. Thank you for having me. We’re still here, y’all. I don’t know how long we’re gonna be around because it just all types of stuff happening out here. But while we’re here, I’m trying my best to serve, I’m trying to do what every bookseller I would imagine is doing. We’re trying to make sure we’re meeting the needs of those in our community. And that’s what Shelves is still doing in 2023. We’re trying to make sure that we’re covering and taking care of our supporters first.
[00:34:05] Your bookstore is doing their best. And I tell people, y’all have no idea how complicated bookselling can get because we are literally, you know, having to some extent, I mean, for lack of a better word, submit to the authority of what the publishers are doing. You know, we don’t get a say over what books are released, we don’t get a say over prices, we don’t get a say over discounts.
What we are doing is doing our best to select books that will fit the demographic of the communities that we serve. That’s what a bookstore is to serve their community. And anybody you see in bookselling, I promise you they’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it for the love of reading. They’re doing it for the love of reading.
Anne Bogel [00:34:47] And we’re so glad they are and that you are. Thanks, Abby.
[00:34:52] Annie, welcome back to the show. Thank you so much for having me, Anne. I’m thrilled to be here.
Anne Bogel [00:34:57] Oh, it’s a pleasure. I’m so happy to connect again. Y’all have such a history with What Should I Read Next?. I knew that we talked in the early days. I had to wrack my brain, Annie. We met at SIBA in Savannah, Georgia. You introduced yourself to me at like a cocktail hour.
Annie B. Jones [00:35:12] A bold move for me.
Anne Bogel [00:35:14] And apparently you came on the show a month later.
Annie B. Jones [00:35:16] Yeah. Do you know what year that was?
Anne Bogel [00:35:19] 2016 in our like eighth or ninth month of What Should I Read Next?, which is now in year eight and-
Annie B. Jones [00:35:24] Amazing.
Anne Bogel [00:35:25] In 2016, how long had you been running The Bookshelf?
Annie B. Jones [00:35:30] Three years, because this year is my 10th year of running The Bookshelf, if you can believe it.
Anne Bogel [00:35:36] That’s a big deal. Annie.
Annie B. Jones [00:35:38] It is a big deal. I hope we’re gonna have a party.
Anne Bogel [00:35:42] I hope so too. Something I’d really love to talk about with you is that you have not been shy about the financial realities of small business ownership. This is something you talk a lot about on your podcast and on Instagram. And you also haven’t shied away from talking about the economic and really emotional roller coaster that is the bookstore business. And in part, something you’re clear about is that is small business. And I would love to hear you say more about that.
Annie B. Jones [00:36:07] Yeah, absolutely. I want people to know. And I think I’m so transparent about it, first of all, because I don’t really know any other way to be. And second of all because I want potential small business owners, bookstore owners, entrepreneurs to know a little bit about what they’re getting into.
They may not know everything about what they’re getting into. But if we can talk about the financial and economic realities of small business ownership, I think it better prepares us to be creative, to be proactive. So sometimes it feels a little bit vulnerability hangover to say on the internet or on the podcast, you know, how big of a burden taxes are or how much I took out for a business loan. But then it also makes the winds even greater when I pay the tax bill, or when I pay off the small business loan.
So it’s a way to be able to honor celebration and it’s also a way to prepare, I hope future small business owners so that they know, okay, this is the reality, but I can do it. It’s possible to do it.
Anne Bogel [00:37:08] So you already mentioned taxes, I know you’ve talked online about credit card fees. What is something you do in your day-to-day that you think most readers would be really surprised is part of your job as a bookstore owner?
Annie B. Jones [00:37:20] I think I may have even said this back when I was on the show in 2016 or 2018. I just had no idea how much of small business ownership was bill pay. You think that you’re going to, especially like here we are at year 10, you think that maybe eventually that’s something you’ll delegate because that’s kind of one of the goals of small business ownership is that you might reach a point where some things are delegated and put on somebody else’s plate.
But bill pay I think is important for a business owner, for a bookstore owner to do because it helps me keep the finger on the pulse of cash flow, it helps me know where we’re spending money, what we’re spending money on, what we need to bring in, when we need to increase and boost marketing efforts, etc.
So I just didn’t realize that here at year 10 I would still be spending at least one full day a week paying bills. I just I’m grateful to have learned so much in the last 10 years. But small business ownership and bookstore ownership is not just hand-selling books on the floor, which I love to do. But that’s just not the reality of what owning The Bookshelf looks like.
Anne Bogel [00:38:27] So who are some of the people you’re paying that we never think about? Because it took a long time before I realized, Oh, like my bookstore has to pay the light bill. That is a real thing.
Annie B. Jones [00:38:36] Yes, yes. We have to pay utilities, we have to pay sales tax, we have to pay occupation tax, we have to pay city and county school tax. I have an accountant. I have a business coach. I have a virtual assistant. These are things that I even in 2016 or 2018 didn’t know existed.
I didn’t know I could have a business coach. I didn’t know I could have a virtual assistant. I didn’t know that that would make sense for my business. And instead, those are the things that have saved my life over the last five years. Especially the last three years running a business through the pandemic, I couldn’t do it by myself. A business coach was necessary, a virtual assistant was necessary.
Anne Bogel [00:39:16] On the flip side, what’s part of your job that is such a light that you can’t believe you get paid to do this?
Annie B. Jones [00:39:22] I can’t believe I get paid to read books, right? Like what an absolute dream come true! For every bill you have to pay, you get an Advanced Reader Copy[f]. Do you know what I mean? Like I get to read books before they’re published. 12-year-old Annie could never have imagined such an abundance of riches.
Or someone asked me the other day, Do you like being at The Bookshelf when packages are being opened, like when a shipment of books comes in or a shipment of gift product comes in? Yes, it’s like Christmas. I love nothing more than being on the floor for those moments. And I still absolutely adore reading the kids, doing storytime, hand-selling books to the people I know and love because now 10 years in, I can say that I know and love my Thomasville customers. And there’s nothing quite like having a conversation about books on the floor of your bookstore.
Anne Bogel [00:40:16] Is it fair to say you were still proving yourself back in 2016?
Annie B. Jones [00:40:19] Yes, yes. Do we ever stop? Do I ever stop proving myself? Yes, absolutely. In 2016, I was still… Thomasville is a very beautiful community of people who have like lived there forever. So I really believe 10 years is a pretty great marker to be able to say, Hey, I came here, I took over a legacy store. I didn’t run it into the ground. Here I am 10 years later. I honestly feel like until the 10-year mark I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Does that sound bad? I feel like I can breathe now.
Anne Bogel [00:40:59] That sounds like the reality of your business.
Annie B. Jones [00:41:01] Yeah, absolutely.
Anne Bogel [00:41:02] And that’s what we want to hear about. What is the bread and butter of your business right now and has that changed since 2016? I know it’s changed so much. That feels like a ridiculous question. But…
Annie B. Jones [00:41:12] No, I think in 2016, we were still a brick-and-mortar bookstore, primarily selling to in-store customers. And I think that made sense. I was only three years into the job. But we were making efforts towards being a little bit larger than that and thinking maybe beyond the boundaries of the city of Thomasville.
And I’m so glad we were thinking about that back in 2016 because in 2020 our customer base completely switched and completely flipped from being 80% in-store to now 80% online. So now we’re evening back out. It’s 2023, we’re evening back out. And I think the bread and butter of The Bookshelf is threefold: It’s Shelf Subscriptions, it’s reader retreats, and it’s From the Front Porch Podcast. And all of that falls under The Bookshelf, the brick-and-mortar place that you see in Thomasville.
Anne Bogel [00:42:08] I want to talk about Shelf Subscriptions. But first, our team member Brigid just got back from the reader retreat. That has to be top of mind for you. Paint us a picture. What was that like?
Annie B. Jones [00:42:17] Yes. It poured rain, first of all. It was super stressful.
Anne Bogel [00:42:22] That was my experience in Thomasville, Georgia, but only for a one-hour afternoon monsoon.
Annie B. Jones [00:42:27] Man! Which is typical for summer. We saw the forecast coming but it was a rain like I haven’t seen in this city in years. Not years, but months. It had been a long time. So it rained.
However, reader retreats are basically designed to be like summer camp for readers, summer camp for introverts. I hated summer camp so I wanted to like redeem that enterprise. And we welcomed 20 to 25 women and men from all over the country. I mean, all over the country. It is astonishing to me.
California, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, all come to Thomasville, which as you know is in the middle of nothing. And they come and read good books, have good food, have good conversations, make new friends. It’s a dream come true. I mean, I say dream come true but it’s honestly nothing I ever could have pictured or imagined. It just has become kind of its own really beautiful, magical thing that spun up out of our imaginations and now is reality.
Anne Bogel [00:43:35] What was the highlight of your weekend this time?
Annie B. Jones [00:43:37] I think it’s the best live podcast we’ve ever done. So we always start reader retreats with a happy hour and end that in-store pensive plate dinner, which is like this beautiful, magical dinner party inside The Bookshelf, which I always think is a highlight for folks. But we close it our kind of big final event is a live podcast recording, and we do an episode From the Front Porch.
I always love those conversations. Frequently my guest is Hunter McClendon who’s this Bookstagramer but he’s a real true friend to me. He was born and raised in Thomasville. And we just had a great conversation about books we wish our favorite authors would write. And it was just delightful and fun and-
Anne Bogel [00:44:19] That sounds wonderful.
Annie B. Jones [00:44:20] It was fabulous. It was just like talking to a good friend and then there happened to be other people in the room.
Anne Bogel [00:44:26] And we’ll get to listen to that when it goes live later this spring or summer.
Annie B. Jones [00:44:29] That’s right.
Anne Bogel [00:44:29] Wonderful. I can’t wait to listen. So something I love about your store is that it’s really built into the business model that reading is personal. Like when you have a Shelf Subscription you choose who to follow of your staff based on their taste. But today, Annie, I want to know, how would you describe your taste.
Annie B. Jones [00:44:47] My tastes lean toward literary fiction often with female characters at their center, but always well-written, character-driven, with an emphasis on storytelling themes of faith, doubt, family. I like reading about relationships and complicated people. That’s how I would describe my reading tastes.
Anne Bogel [00:45:13] What is selling well in the store right now, whether people just happen to be ordering it, or because you are pushing books into people’s hands, that is totally your jam?
Annie B. Jones [00:45:23] My favorite book that we are selling a lot of right now is Stealing by Margaret Verble, which I think… I mean, it’s pretty early as we’re recording this, but it feels like one of my favorite books of 2023. I was invested in the main character, I loved the storytelling, it opened my eyes to something I needed my eyes to be open towards, and I have loved hand selling it to readers and talking about it to readers in store. So to me that’s a title that we’re selling a lot of, and I’m thrilled that we’re selling a lot of it.
Anne Bogel [00:45:57] A lot of readers in bookstore patrons wonder if someone in a role such as yours still gets to read for enjoyment or are you stuck reading books because you have to, like all the new releases and promos. What can you tell us about that?
Annie B. Jones [00:46:12] Certainly reading is part of my job now. I think what people can forget is that work can still be joyful. So I read a lot for my job, but I also really like my job. I do try to make time for backlist[g] titles, for… This year I’m reading Wendell Berry. Last year I read a lot of Toni Morrison. This year I’m reading Wendell Berry.
So I try to read things that I am not just reading because The Bookshelf is making me or the podcast is making me. Like I’m reading for my own enjoyment, for my own learning, for my own pleasure. But reading for work has not diminished the joy of it for me. I still love to read. I still look forward to it every afternoon. I love having a good book in my hands. Reading being a part of my work has not diminished that enjoyment.
Anne Bogel [00:47:04] Okay, you hinted at being built into your rhythm. Would you say more about that?
Annie B. Jones [00:47:07] I every day try to leave work at three o’clock and come home and read. And that is like sacred time. My husband, Jordan, calls it Annie time. Like it is my time. Jordan’s not home yet. I’m not going to cook dinner. Maybe I’m not even going to exercise yet. I’m not going to go for a walk. I’m going to sit and I’m going to read or I’m going to take a walk and listen to an audiobook. That does feel like part of my daily rhythm.
And then weaving these authors in who I have not read before but really wanted to read. So a couple of years ago with Jane Austen, last year was Toni Morrison, this year, it’s Wendell Berry. Incorporating that into my almost quarterly or seasonal reading life. So I’m not necessarily reading Wendell Berry every day, but I’m reading a book of his every quarter. And that has become a part of my rhythm that I’ve really liked.
And then I’m also reading a classic every year, which is for The Bookshelf. I’m not sure if I would be doing that were it not for our Conquer A Classic program. But it has been one of my most life-giving practices where I’m reading a classic book in small snippets. It almost feels like a spiritual practice to like slow down. I’m by nature a fast reader. And so to slow down and to read something in small doses has been really good for me.
Anne Bogel [00:48:20] Annie, what’s on the horizon for The Bookshelf that you’re excited about? If you have any plans you can tell us about.
Annie B. Jones [00:48:27] I’m really excited to host reader retreats this year without perhaps a pandemic looming over them. Do you know what I mean?
Anne Bogel [00:48:35] Oh, we know. We know.
Annie B. Jones [00:48:38] We hold all plans loosely now. But we just hosted our first reader retreat of the year. We have two more that we are scheduling and really looking forward to.
And then I’m not kidding, I want to have a 10-year “we did it” birthday party. I want to have a “we paid off the small business loan, we worked really hard for 10 years and this is a milestone” party. So I hope we get to have a bagel party in the summer of 2023 to celebrate a working life milestone.
Anne Bogel [00:49:10] That feels right to me. Annie, thanks for stopping by again. It was a pleasure.
Annie B. Jones [00:49:14] Thanks, Anne.
Anne Bogel [00:49:20] Readers, I hope you enjoyed our conversations today. I’d love to know what title you’ve added to your TBR or hear about what’s happening at your neighborhood indie. Share those thoughts in the comments over on our show notes page, where we’ve also included links to all the books and bookstores mentioned today. Find that at whatshouldireadnextpodcast.com.
If you love today’s episode, you will definitely want to listen to my original conversations with Holland, Abby, and Annie. Links to those episodes are in our show notes. Be sure you’re subscribed to our show in your favorite podcast app because we will be back later this season with even more conversations with booksellers we love.
Thanks to the people who make this show happen. What Should I Read Next? is created each week by Will Bogel, Holly Wielkoszewski, and Studio D Podcast Production. Our Community Manager is Sara Aeder. Readers, that’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for listening. And as Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Ah! how good it is to be among people who are reading.” Happy reading, everyone.
[a]I think this must be Holland talking again starting here?
[b]This should be Novel Neighbor
[c]I think this should be “Tequila”
[e]I’m going to guess this should be Book, not Boot
[f]Advanced Reader Copy should always be capitalized
[g]”Backlist”, not backless