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Monday
Aug272007

New Bookstore, a Blog and a Community

Shelf Awareness: Tuesday, August  21, 2007

As more independent bookstores consider the blog option, they face certain questions. I tossed a few of these at Russ Marshalek, marketing/PR director (and resident blog-meister) for Wordsmiths Books, Decatur, Ga.

The original goals for the Wordsmiths blog were twofold and evolved from the early planning stages for the bookshop. "As Zach [Steele, the store's owner] and I were sorting our way through the process, basically with an idea, a dream, we thought, 'Why not write about it?' The book industry is, for some strange reason, clouded in a mysterious, foggy haze, and so the goal was to bring some light on exactly what goes into opening a bookstore. Also, we wanted to build ground floor, grass-roots attention to the store before there was a store. We wanted to build a community that would have both input and interest in what we were doing."

Marshalek offered two reasons for booksellers to consider a store blog:

"1) If someone who had never been to your store called you (or emailed you) and asked why they should shop your store rather than buying a book at Barnes & Noble or even Wal-Mart, what would you tell them? No, no, not the four-letter expletive, I mean what makes your store YOUR store? What makes you get up in the morning and do the often thankless job of bookselling? Okay, that answer? That's your blog. That's your direction. Every bookstore is unique, and all that uniqueness makes for an interesting read. Whether it's fascinating to you writing it or not is really secondary. The things we view as mundane can be, to others, the most interesting stuff in the world.

"2) The fun stuff of the industry really ends up going un-blogged. You won't want to, as a bookstore, hit 'publish' on those scathing book reviews, nor will you want to spill the beans about how mad you are at so-and-so bookshop owner or so-and-so author. Seriously, there's no hazard as long as you remember your audience."

Although Marshalek and Steele are the primary bloggers at Wordsmiths, "our operations manager, Dea Anne, blogs, as does our webmaster, Mike, and Zach's wife, Alice. Alice's blogs are actually some of the best stuff on there. We have an awesome staff. Everyone's so unique and lively. I think the 'fights' over books that go on on the sales floor are some of the most fun things possible, and they do need to be taken blog-side. It's honestly just been a matter of having the time to create log-ins and show everyone around the blog's interface."

Finding time to blog is bound to be a challenge for booksellers, but Marshalek says "it's part of my job to make sure the blog stays in shape. It's a huge part of what's helped define us. Event photos, book reviews, all this stuff goes up, and it all brings attention to what we do. It's also helped to create a community of book lovers here in the south that just keeps growing by the day. I always enjoy it, though, when I hear from a publisher outside of the region that they've read the blog--the southeast in general, and Georgia in particular, is neglected by a lot of publishers as 'not being literary,' but it really is--and the more connected those book lovers in the region are to one another, the more of a unified voice is presented, and the more attention's drawn."

The final bit of advice from Marshalek can be summed up quite simply: The only thing we have to fear from technology is fear of technology itself. "I come from a music journalism/marketing background, and music's an industry that has been forced to evolve or die. I tend not to be at all sympathetic to what I perceive as the book industry's fear of technology. I hear stories of bookshop owners who have thrown massive fits at the suggestion of possibly using the Internet to conduct business and I cringe. Having a strong web presence is an easy way to both spread out your customer base and narrow down your marketing to specific targets.
 
"If I told you there was a way that you could reach an unlimited number of book buyers who've never even been in your store, from all around the world, for basically no money, you'd jump at the idea. Do it. But do it properly."

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