Local Atlanta Booksellers and Me

Here are Jackie, Karen, and Ellen (with young fox Olivia), three women who had taken writing classes together for years, and who decided two years ago to open a bookstore in Woodstock, Georgia, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta. FoxTale Bookshoppe.

They are still learning their way (aren't we all?), and they are doing lots right. For my signing on Friday, we put out heads together, and FoxTale offered a writing workshop for kids who signed up and purchased all three Aurora County novels in paperback. This ensured a capacity crowd for the workshop, and decent sales for FoxTale.

Of course, as often happens with children's book writers, there is The Comparison to the crowd generated by those who write for adults. For me, the comparison is almost always with a southern writer.

Ellen told me, "We had Rick Bragg in here last year, and we had set up speakers outside so all could hear him -- and Rick wouldn't hear of that -- 'bring 'em all in here!' he said -- we must have broken all kinds of fire codes that day."

This is similar to the story Andy and Carrie Graves told me when I visited Happy Bookseller (RIP, I miss you) in Columbia, SC with LITTLE BIRD in 2005: "Oh! You should have been here yesterday when Paula Dean was signing! We had 400 in a ticketed line around the block!"

What did I say to that? "Well... I don't think you'll have 400 here today." And we laughed. We always laugh.

Okay. I may never be an author for whom booksellers need to offer tickets and signing lines, but I'm steady. I'm dependable. My fan mail is lovely. My books are on dozens (literally) of state award lists of best books for children, been multi-awarded, and well-reviewed. I work hard to support them, and to do the best job I can to offer a solid, heartfelt story for young readers. I put one foot in front of the other and see what happens next. I love what I do and know I'm lucky to be able to do it.

The day after my FoxTale signing, I had a signing at my local indie, Little Shop of Stories, in Decatur, GA. I never gather a big crowd here. I maintain that you have to DO something to draw a crowd -- bring in 4th graders, take me to fourth graders, have a teacher event or ... something, in order to sell books. I had mostly wanted to visit, to lure owner Diane away from her desk for a cup of coffee and conversation.. just a connection of some sort. We've known each other since the shop opened and have said let's get together more times than I can count, but it's been hard for both of us to carve out a time.

I arrived at Little Shop to find dozens of new author Terra McVoy's first book in the window (more on this in a moment), and a beautiful sandwich board outside announcing Rick Riordan's visit next month (a ticketed event for sure... in fact, the store won't hold all of Rick's fans, so the event takes place at the nearby community center).

No sandwich board announcing Deborah Wiles coming to Little Shop. No sign in the window announcing that I would be there that day. And no Diane -- but I knew that would be the case before I got there, as we had talked the day before. Best laid plans...

So who was waiting for me?

One sweet little family. Mom, Dad, two kids and a friend, all of whom are staunch Little Shop supporters. They came out to meet a new-to-them writer.

The good news is that I left Little Shop feeling better than I had when I walked in. Terra Elan McVoy (who manages the store) is bubbling with that new-author buzz that I love to see, and I bought her new book, Pure, remembered that it's not all about me, and took tons of photos (I have misplaced the SD card, but will find it and post photos of Terra and her new book when I do).

I got to spend more time than I ever have before with Dave, co-owner of Little Shop, and I discovered how much I like him. Dave treated my mini-event with great respect. He introduced me to my gaggle of five people, he sat with us while I talked about the little town I grew up in summers in Mississippi, and he opened a bit of stock for me to sign afterward. Every one of those books will be hand sold for summer reading over the next few weeks.

We sold four books to the little family, and writer friend Deb Miller had a book waiting for me to sign (thanks, Deb). I hung out a bit and just chatted -- and Terra said, "Thank you so much for doing this for us." Well... thank you, Terra. And thank you, little family, for coming out.

What I hear from every bookseller so far is that times are indeed tough, belts are tightened, and weathering this year is crucial. I hear that the big, ticketed, events are pulling booksellers through. They don't really need me, do they? Or do we need one another more than ever?

I'm going to be asking these questions as I wend my way through Mississippi -- which is where I am right now. I'll start a new post to let you know how the Shoestring fits in Mississippi, and why, originally, I planned this trip (and then folded the Shoestring signings into it, with HMH's help).