By Alaina Leary
If you’re anything like me, you shop at your local indie bookstores regularly. You watch their events calendar and write down author talks you plan to attend, you buy all your book-related gifts from an independent, and you’ve all but begged your loved ones for gift cards to whichever is your favorite. You already know how to support independent bookstores and you do. At least you did, and now with many of them closed due to public health concerns, you’re left wondering: what does it mean to support an independent bookstore when their physical location is closed?
I learned this lesson on a smaller scale when one of my favorite local indies, Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston, temporarily closed after a fire in 2018. During Trident’s closure, I purchased more books through their online store than I normally would (since I like to spread the love and buy from all the Boston area indies).
As soon as Trident reopened, my wife and I made a date to get lunch at the store’s cafe and do some TBR shopping. “Don’t forget to check in after the storm has passed,” Rebecca Wells, a bookseller at Porter Square Books, told We Need Diverse Books. It’s important to support bookstores now and after they’re able to reopen.
If you’re looking to support independent bookstores right now, whether they’re in your local area or not, here are a few ways you can start:
Buy through their online stores
Many independent bookstores still have their online stores open, where you can buy books and more. If you don’t have an indie local to you, use IndieBound to search for bookstores you can support, or you can check out this crowdsourced list from Publishers Lunch about which stores are delivering orders. Amanda from One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia, also recommends thinking beyond just ordering books.
“Better yet, buy gift cards—that allows immediate cash flow without the added labor of getting books to you right away. Preorders are also great for this,” Amanda told We Need Diverse Books. If there’s a book you’re excited about that’s coming out in September or October, consider preordering it from an independent bookstore; your order won’t need to be fulfilled for months but will financially support the store.
You can shop online through many indie bookstore’s websites directly or you can use Bookshop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores. If you’re buying books and other items online, be sure to check individual bookstore websites first so you understand how long it may take items to ship and when you can expect them to arrive.
Participate in virtual events
Supporting an independent bookstore doesn’t have to mean spending money. While financial support is great, not everyone has the privilege of a bottomless budget for books.
Many bookstores are hosting virtual events in lieu of in-store events, including author readings, workshops, book clubs, and more. It’s a great opportunity to attend events you might not otherwise be able to, such as those hosted by indies across the country from where you live.
“The most important thing people can do to support independent bookstores during COVID19 is to remember we exist,” BrocheAroe Fabian, owner of River Dog Book Co., told WNDB. “You can participate in our virtual events. You can remember we’re here, help others remember too, and help us grow our networks so when it’s time to reopen, we’ll be stronger than ever.”
Engage with bookstores on social media
This is another great way to show your support without spending any money! Follow independent bookstores on social media and sign up for their newsletters.
“Recommend that others shop at their local indie as well—even just one book, one time,” said Wells. You can do this on social media or while you’re video chatting or talking on the phone with your friends and family.
Explain to people that Amazon is currently deprioritizing book delivery, but that if they’re looking to buy books, an independent bookstore is a great option. Orders from indie bookstores are likely to be even faster than from Amazon right now.
A little bit of support goes a long way, especially since so many people are taking to social media and online platforms to feel a sense of community and normalcy in uncertain times. Following bookstores on social media and through their newsletter is also a great way to make sure you stay informed about when they’re reopening, virtual events they’re hosting, and any other changes.
Follow and participate in #AskABookseller
Booksellers on Twitter use the hashtag #AskABookseller to answer questions, and right now is no exception. If you’re wondering the best way to support your fave indie or have questions about book recommendations, head over to Twitter and use the hashtag!
“Do you have a question about what’s happening with bookstores right now? How to help? What it means for you as a reader, author, publisher?” said Nicole Brinkley, manager at Oblong Books, who recommends people use #AskABookseller if they have those questions.
Many people rely on staff recommendations or talking to booksellers to find out what’s new and what might be interesting to them. Since you can’t visit a bookstore right now, start following booksellers on social media and ask for recommendations online. “If you’re not sure who to ask when you’re looking for a book rec, just toss in that hashtag and booksellers will come to your rescue,” Brinkley explained.
Buy eBooks and audiobooks
Physical books aren’t your only option for reading material. You can use Libro.fm to buy audiobooks from independent bookstores and Kobo for eBooks. Whether you were already a fan of audiobooks or eBooks or decided to try them out for the first time, this is an excellent way to support an independent bookstore—and it doesn’t even require physical labor on their part!
Donate to Binc Foundation
The Book Industry Charitable Foundation helps booksellers impacted by financial emergencies; Binc Foundation is currently helping booksellers affected by COVID-19. If you’re able to, consider donating to the foundation to support booksellers during this difficult time.
“This is a critical time for booksellers as business slows, schools close, and they are canceling months’ worth of events,” said Binc Foundation development director Kathy Bartson. “Booksellers need to know that Binc will be here for them so they can weather these scary circumstances and come out on the other side.”
Be vocal about your support
Engaging with your fave indies on social media is one thing, but what about taking action? Even something as simple as posting what you’re currently reading and where you bought the book can be helpful.
Tagging independent bookstores in your Instagram Story, sharing virtual events on Facebook and Twitter, and revisiting bookstores events you’ve loved by sharing photos are all great ways to show your support.
Maybe you’ve been virtually getting together with friends to play online games or throw Netflix watch parties; what if you suggested a book club or attending a virtual bookstore event together? To celebrate my birthday on March 18, my wife and I went on a mini book-buying date and purchased books from several local independent bookstores’ online stores.
I know I can’t wait until the first time I can walk into one of my local indies in person again and touch the books on the shelves, picking out the perfect one to read for 15 minutes before buying it. Until then, I’ll be supporting any way I can.
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Alaina Leary (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.