Category Archives: Books

INDIES: How Independent Publishers & Bookstores are Surviving & Thriving in Today’s Market

This was a panel put on as part of Bookbuilders of Boston‘s Spring Workshops. It was hosted at Emerson College. Well worth attending; the cheese plate was delicious.

Our panelists were: 

The affable Ned Lomigora, a sales rep at Zeeen, an online promotional platform for authors that especially works with Indies. He specializes in analytics and digital media. He’s also a presenter and contributor for WordPress Boston.

The illustrious Dale Szceblowski, the General Manager at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, one of the hubs of the literary scene in the Boston area. He’s been in the book-buying and book-selling business for 30 years. Vice President of the New England Booksellers Association.

And the perspicacious Judith Rosen, a Senior Bookselling Editor and the New England correspondent at Publishers Weekly for 15 years. Previously she has worked in marketing and publicity for trade publishers, Wordsworth Books, and wrote a regular column for the Boston Herald.

Obviously, they all had differing points of view from their positions in the market:

Running an independent bookstore, Dale sells books and works with authors mostly from traditional publishing. Much of his sales are physical books as opposed to e-books.

Ned works largely with independent authors and small presses to market books to their audiences online through social media and analytics. Presumably, many of the sales resulting from the promotion of Indie authors will be e-books.

Judith is in between, writing about the business from her experiences working as an independent bookseller, promoter, and traditional press publisher but now as an outsider observing trends through a “journalist-neutral” lens.

The panelists were quite respectful of each other despite Dale and Ned being almost diametrically opposed on either side of the business.

Here are some highlights:

Note: Some quotes may have been edited or truncated in the transcribing.



Dale: “The advantage to owning an independent bookstore as opposed to a chain is that we’re able to constantly respond to the local market/local audience.”

“With Borders gone and Barnes and Noble floundering, it’s become a mini-renaissance for independent bookstores. [Porter Square Books] is largely successful because we see ourselves as community based.”

Judith: “Rent has been a difficult factor [in bookstore closings], in fact that’s what doomed Borders.”

Borders had long term leases with steep rents on many of their properties. Their margins couldn’t make up the difference. 



Judith: “Authors need a platform. An author is much better starting with a tight narrow audience and gradually widening it out.”

Ned: “In order for the average author to succeed you have to do things yourself. The hardest thing is to find the right audience for the book. It’s more art than science. Narrow down the focus. Figure out who the ideal audience is. Then you build. It’s more profitable to own 50% of a small market than only 5% of a large one.”

Dale: “I’m amazed with the different ways for people to find out about books now. People are coming from everywhere. We seem to get preorders 6 months in advance of publication. It used to be only one or two.”

Ned: “One person with personal knowledge is better than 100 strangers to get someone to read something.”


Book events:

Dale: “Events are how we introduce readers to writers, but we put on all kinds of events.” Sometimes, they’re even called on to sell books at individual’s book launches at their homes.

“We happen to be one of two stores selected by Neil Gaiman to take pre-orders of signed books. It showed the power of social media to drum up business for booksellers as well as authors.”

Main reason PSq Book was chosen? “His wife Amanda Palmer likes the egg-rolls at our affiliated cafe located in store.” You can still pre-order signed copies from Porter Square Books.

Sales resulting from book events? “15 years ago, if 30% of the audience bought the book the event was considered a success, nowadays it’s closer to 15%.” These days: Larger audiences and fewer sales.


Bookstore of the Future: 

Judith: “My friend told me she would not open a physical bookstore again until it was clear what the Bookstore of the Future would look like.”

What’s the Bookstore of the Future? “The origin of the term came from “Store of the Future” from the National College Association when they started streamlining what an academic bookstore would be by removing all trade books that weren’t in the curriculum. Still exceptions like the COOP of Harvard University, but mostly it’s now this way across the country.

“To independent sellers “Bookstore of the Future” means getting around the problems that come with competing with e-books, Amazon, and “show-rooming.”

I’ve heard this term thrown around occasionally. What is show-rooming?

Show-rooming is when people come in to browse titles and then buy their books elsewhere like at Amazon. Some people say publishers should pay booksellers for show-rooming since the publishers will still get the sale.”



Ned: “Anyone can publish a book these days; It doesn’t mean it will sell. There isn’t a systematic way to use technology to help you promote and sell your book [but] the technology exists already we just have to harness it. Look at the industries that have already used this technology successfully and see how they do it. We should be able to do it in publishing.”



Dale: “80% of Amazon’s sales are still physical books and products. Our focus is on connecting physical books with readers.”

Porter Square Books has an online and ebook presence but it only makes up about 1% of sales. From this I can surmise that people shopping at physical bookstores still buy paper books.

“Very high resistance to e-books among baby boomer generation and older.”


KOBO vs. Kindle:

KOBO e-reader is an e-reader to compete with Amazon Kindle and allow consumers to purchase e-books that support their neighborhood bookstores.

Judith: “Porter Square Books did well and sold over 100 KOBO over the holiday season 2012. Amazon shipped over 750,000 Kindles across the US during the same time period. Even if the 15,000 Indie bookstores did as well it would not be close to the same amount of sales.”


Highly interesting and informative panel. I met several other writers and publishing pals in the audience.


2013 is Going to be a Good Year

2012 was a mixed bag of some good and some devastating bad, but I believe the universe will do us a good turn and 2013 will be great. Here are some of my goals for the year of Lucky 13.


Go to the gym more. This is the traditional resolution for a reason. IT IS NECESSARY AFTER THE HOLIDAYS. Especially when you work in an office and there are cookies EVERYWHERE.

Learn how to use new technology. I got a space device touchscreen e-reader for Christmas. I asked for it so that I could read manuscripts without killing trees for my internship, but right now there are babies better at touch screens than me.

Save Money. Stick to my budget. Increase  my biweekly deposit into my savings. Every time I resist the siren song of take out, “spend” the money it would have cost by putting it into savings.

Take risks. Yeah, I like having at least a day a week that I do nothing and talk to no one. I’m still happiest reading by myself, but its time to be bold. Go for every opportunity life presents. Drink, Celebrate life, Be merry.


Day job. Be on time. Work as hard as possible. Prove myself. Go home.

Internship. Check in. Keep going if possible, grab another if I can.

Writing/Reading World Goals:

Query CURSEBREAKER. I’ve been holding back for a long time and I’ve been in limbo with this project. Although the extra revising time was good for it, I’m ready for the next step even if it’s rejection.

Write. Write at least two short stories to query the sci fi/fantasy lit mag circuit with. In the next few months I want to plan out my next novel. Ideally it will be finished by 2014, with a final push in November.

SCBWI, ReaderCon, Boston Book Fest. Go to as many conferences and book events as financially possible and make more friends in the community. First stop: the SCBWI conference in New York in February.

Critique Groups. I’m lucky enough to be part of two professional quality crit groups at the moment. Every-Other-Sunday and The Boston Speculative Fiction Writing Group. I want to be a valuable member to both and continue to give quality feedback to these talented writers.

The Challenge:

Read 50 books. I’ve seen a lot of these challenges on Goodreads, and while I bought a lot of books in 2012 I didn’t always make the time to read them. My personal challenge will be to read at least 50 books in 2013 of any genre. I will try to advertise my progress as this one means a lot to me. I’ve got to keep up on all the great titles coming out this year.

I want to revisit this in June (halfway through), so that I remember to keep on track. Its going to be an ambitious new year. Happy New Year. May good things come your way.

Book Rec for Traditional Publishing

My friend, fellow YA writer and book blogger Ellie, won a giveaway on Marissa Meyer’s blog recently and shared the bounty with me.

I had heard of the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market before, but assumed I didn’t want a copy before I was ready to sell. I was so so wrong as it is great inspiration fodder. I read through much of it at the gym that night and poured over the lists. I can already tell it’s an invaluable resource, so I ordered my own hard copy, despite my vow to wait. I have very little discipline.

The book includes inspirational interviews with NYT bestselling authors on their process, ways to keep your submissions organized, and a comprehensive list of literary agents, editors, and magazines that except and repped and unrepped submissions. Great for freelancers.

This is also the Children’s Writers edition, so you don’t have to spend time filtering out the people who don’t accept YA, MG, or PB manuscripts. This information is available online, but it’s so much more convenient to have it already compiled for me as I start doing my research. I also enjoy having hard copies of lists around. Helps me concentrate.

I spent a good deal of yesterday flipping through while being nervous about the hurricane. Below is my Sandy Survival kit complete with book cuddling cat.

See? Sabby loves it too.

Now I’m off to go freak out about my NaNo project and contemplate how late I’m going to need to stay at work for the next few days because of Sandy…

Author Panel: Rees Brennan, Black, and Bray

“I hate it when you wake up after a party and everyone’s dead.”

–Sarah Rees Brennan

I went to Burlington with the Boston Science Fiction and Fantasy Meet-up Group for an author panel last Friday. Glad I decided to get in on that action.

The writers of the night were Libba Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Holly Black.

Once the authors arrived there was a lot of excitement from the crowd and banter from the stars of the night. Sarah did an interpretive dance of the plot of Libba’s Diviners.

Libba: “I don’t remember writing any of this. Can’t wait to see how it ends.”

We started with each author reading a short excerpt from their books. Diviners is about a flapper girl from the 1920’s with the special ability to get vibrations from objects. The prose was very flavorful and I love the Prohibition-era historic setting.

Sarah read from her novel Unspoken, which all of my friends have now read, so I think that one is next on my reading list. “I have to be standing for this because of reasons,” she said, as she began her reading. Libba spit out her Fiji water when Sarah began stripping.

I am intrigued.

It happened to be Sarah’s birthday, which might explain the delightful energy she had going on.

Next up was Holly Black. Since the closing book of Black’s Curseworkers trilogy Black Heart, has been out for six months, she gave us the special treat of reading from her current work in progress.

She read a chilling scene from the opening of Coldest Girl in the Cold Town that had everyone paused and quiet in their seats and on the floor.

It was also a treat to see that “real authors” are just like us unpublished slobs. Her WIP was printed out on computer paper! It was probably hand noted!

We somehow got on the topic of hot brothers, a topic that is prevalent in teenlit right now. On Sarah’s The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy: “It’s about hot brothers who fight with swords.” There are also debonair brothers in the Curseworker’s series and The Diviners.

I suppose there are only so many sibling combinations you can do, but Sarah was right. Between “Supernatural” and “The Vampire Diaries,” hot brothers are a thing.

I’m not complaining.

Audience Question and Answer Time:

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

[On reconciling your ability to execute your ideas with the image you have in your head] “The hardest thing is living with disappointment.” –Libba Bray

“The hardest thing is plot. Trying to get to this thing and the first draft is not that.” –Holly Black

What would you tell your younger self?

“I would tell myself to dream bigger.” –Holly Black

“Be the heroine of your own life.” –Sarah Rees Brennan

What inspired your characters?

Holly: “I love a liar more than anyone else. I love a conman.”

Sarah: “The world tells girls to settle down… I wanted to write someone indomitable.”

Writing Advice?

Libba shared the personal story of why she started writing. “Story had that kind of power to ground me and keep me tethered here.”

“Read widely.” –Sarah Rees Brennan

Nanowrimo tip: “Go forward, keep writing. Don’t look back.” –Holly Black

Be careful with comparisons when pitching: “It’s like Twilight. But with badgers!” –Libba Bray.

I got to speak with each of the authors in turn after their entertaining discussion. I bought copies of The Diviners and Unspoken as my intros to these lovely authors and got some extra special swag in exchange.

I was also thrilled to meet Holly Black, whose work I’ve admired for a while. She signed my copies of White Cat and Red Glove, one of which had evidence of being well loved from when my mother’s dog savaged it.

It was a very successful night.

Books Recs for Strong Girls

A school librarian I know has two 8th grade girls looking for female protagonists akin to the kick-assery of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

I asked my friends for YA recs with strong heroines. This is what I have so far.

Shrinking Violet – Danielle Joseph
Tokyo Heist – Diana Renn
The Good Braider – Terry Farish
Nowhere Girl - AJ Paquette

Bloody Jack – LA Meyer
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – Avi
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Scarlet – AC Gaughen
Climbing the Stairs - Padma Venkatraman
Catherine called Birdy – Karen Cushman
Love in the Haight - Susan Carlton

Song of the Lioness – Tamora Pierce
Graceling Realm – Kristin Cashore
The Chaos Walking Trilogy – Patrick Ness
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Valiant – Holly Black
Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve
The Court of the Air – Stephen Hunt
Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
Croak – Gina Damico
Diamond Age – Neil Stevenson
Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
The Mortal Trilogy – Cassandra Clare
Sabriel – Garth Nix
The Book Thief – Marcus Zusack
The Goose Girl – Shannon Hale
Coraline – Neil Gaiman
Un Lun Dun – China Mieville
The Blue Sword – Robin McKinley
Ash – Malinda Lo
Wise Child – Monica Furlong
So you Want to be a Wizard – Diana Duane
Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
Cinder – Marissa Meyer
Something Strange and Deadly – Susan Dennard
Legend – Marie Lu
Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
The Iron Fey – Julie Kagawa

Disagree or have any titles to add? Older books from your childhood or new books you love? Please comment below so we can give them a great list!

Boston GLOW: Fight Like a Girl

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending the “Fight Like a Girl” panel. The event was put on by Boston Glow, an organization that fosters opportunities for women of all ages to become empowered community leaders and active world citizens. Their latest endeavor is a scholarship contest encouraging young women to come up with local creative initiatives.

“Fight Like a Girl” was a panel of authors, many of whom debuted in 2012, discussing what it means to be a strong girl in young adult and middle grade fiction.

Strong women and girls in literature and the media is something I often talk about with friends, colleagues, and people with ears. It’s what I’m most passionate about as a writer. I’ve been holding off on posting on the topic because there are so many things I want to say, so let these authors say it for me.

AC Gaughen, author of Scarlet, was our moderator that evening. The discussion covered strong females, diversity in fiction, and even some tips on craft for the writers that were in attendance.

Middle Grade Authors, 5-7PM

Notable remarks:

The theme of the middle grade novels featured was decisions.

“[These characters] come to a point where they have to come to a decision. ‘Am I going to fight for the life that I want?’” –Jennifer C. Carson

“There are several different answers to any one question… There have been strong characters of every gender, culture, and era. Break the boundaries.” –Padma Venkatraman

“These books are fictional but the emotions ring true.” –Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Differences are okay. “It’s okay to be the kid who reads.” –Ellen Booraem

Lynda Hunt is launching Booktrain, a program to get books into the hands of foster kids. If you would like to make donations or know any social workers who’d like to get involved, go here.

Ellen Booraem, Small Persons with Wings
Erin Dionne, Confessions of an Accidental Band Geek
Lynda Mullaly Hunt, One for the Murphys
Jennifer C. Carson, Hapenny Magick
Padma Venkatraman, Climbing the Stairs & Island’s End

Young Adult, 7-9PM

The theme of our YA selections was outsiders. Young women on the outskirts of their own society or a new culture and how facing it played a role in finding their strength.

Notable remarks:

AC: What are your strengths and challenges as a writer?

“My favorite part is finding a puzzle and watching their journey to find their way out of the puzzle.” –Terry Farish

“It’s a long process of learning how to be selective.” Diana Renn said she does kitchen sink writing and has to train herself not to do too much at once.

Gina Damico said her strength was in being over the top, but sometimes she has to tone it down. “This is no time for light humor, there’s a body on the ground!”

AC: What are teen’s reactions to your stories?

“That you can embrace your own interests and find strength in them.” –Diana Renn

“You can make a mistake, even a really big mistake and it will be okay.” –Susan Carlton

“You can identify even with a vastly different story.” –A.J. Paquette

AC: What does it mean to be a strong girl? How do you write these characters?

“Imagine better for yourself. Imagine stronger for yourself.” –Terry Farish

“Don’t be afraid to give your characters hardship. Life is hard.” –A.J. Paquette

“These are the things that make us into the character at the end of the book.” –A.C. Gaughen

“Walk the line between strength and weakness.” -Gina Damico

During Q and A, I brought out the big guns, since it was a question we had been brushing up against all night.

I know this is probably not a short answer but how do you get the courage to write outside your own culture?

“Research as best you can, then research more.” Diana Renn, on writing Toyko Heist which takes place in the US and Japan.

“In every way that I could, I tried to bring accuracy in.” –A.J. Paquette, Nowhere Girl set in Thailand.

“How dare I write this narrative of a woman from the Sudan in the first person? How dare I? I had no choice. I had to write it. I just wrote it and worried about the consequences afterwards.” –Terry Farish, The Good Braider. 

Terry Farish, The Good Braider
Dianna Renn, Tokyo Heist
A.J. Paquette, Nowhere Girl
Susan Carlton, Love in the Haight
Gina Damico, Croak

In conclusion, I totally killed my book budget for the month supporting these great authors. Strong girls in the media and in the world is a mission I believe in and I get the benefit of reading some excellent stories.

Music and Poetry, Truth and Romance: The BPL

The Boston Public Library

As part of my company’s goings on, we had a lunch tour of the McKim building (1895) of the Boston Public Library. Our tour guide was the lovely Ms. Nancy Stutzman. You could tell she loved the library and that she loved talking about the library everyday. We, being book people, were all over it.


My impression of the tour was that it would be of the library and it’s services (which I also would have been interested in), but we didn’t even go near the addition that was built in the 1970’s. Instead I got a beautiful history of books and architecture that makes me want to live there all over again. It was gorgeous. I was nerding all over the place.

I want to work there so I can go inside and explore all the locked rooms and nooks and crannies. Not get glares from the guard for touching locked door handles.

The McKim building is the one with all the beautiful marble. Marble everywhere. The main staircase was donated by the Massachusetts infantry in remembrance of the fallen’s service in the Civil War.


Map Room and High Tea

They serve high tea on the weekdays for $22.50 per person, plus 18% gratuity. Maybe a little pricy for my current economic status, but I would love to bring my mom.

There is also the Map Room Café, which I have been meaning to go to. You can get lunch and sit in the Map Room with its gorgeous vaulted ceilings or bring it out to the courtyard. It’s only open from 9-5pm but there’s a possibility of making private dinner reservations.

The Courtyard

Our first anecdote was about how the drunk female Bacchus (Bacchante) scandalized patrons in the 1900’s. She’s featured holding her baby in an awkward position while dancing around drunk. Gives the courtyard more of a party feel, don’t you think?


There are lunchtime concerts every Friday in the courtyard at 12:30pm.

The Rare Book Room

The Rare Book Room is on the 3rd floor and you have to take a gorgeous old golden elevator to get there. The third floor is all peeling walls; it has a very artsy feel to it. But no air conditioning. If you look at the picture below, they still use card catalogs for the materials up there. The seats are numbered and the librarian will bring the material you want right over to you.


The rare book room is kept in perfect condition in comparison to the rest of the third floor. It was John Adams’ presidential library, and was the 2nd largest collection of books owned by a private citizen in the colonies. One of the only collections of philosophy and religion at the time.

One of the interesting things about this collection is that it contains a ton of John Adams’ own writings in the margins of his books. I could never stand noting on my books in college, but Adams had no such qualms. It’s great insight into his mind, as they were personal notes venting his opinion on the material.

The rare book man said that even 1000 years later, you can still see the pores of the animal skin used to bind books. It still breathes. Great story idea there. Also reminds me of the Book in “Hocus Pocus”.

Also featured in the rare book room, was an exhibit on Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. I have always had a fondness for EBB. Maybe it’s the name. The exhibit featured a bronze cast of the couple’s hands, locks of hair, and early printings of their poetry and love letters.

They put a very rare item on display every few months. Right now it’s a copy of the first folio of William Shakespeare. The binding was redone in the nineteenth century, but the date of the book was 1623!

The Sargent Gallery

John Singer Sargent was commissioned by McKim (the architect) to decorate a hall on the third floor. He was primarily a portrait artist so his murals here and his work at the Museum of Fine Arts were the first he did on such a large scale. The paintings depict the history of Judeo-Christian religion, starting with Paganism to Judaism to Christianity.

He died in 1919 before he could begin painting The Sermon on the Mount, so one wall has been left white and incomplete in his honor. Interestingly, he embedded leather into his murals to create texture and a three-dimensional feel. Really interesting to look at if you’re into art.


There are quite a few galleries, not all of them open, and all are palatial. If you ever wanted to pretend you were royalty all you have to do is walk around in awe. I have this fantastic urge to rent a ball gown and pretend I’m Cinderella.

The dark green marble was brought in from Belgium. Mirror images of the marble were made by slicing it in half. There was also a gallery that was a deep rich red color made entirely of marble.




So, I am thinking about my life choices and how I could spend my life at the BPL. I highly recommend the tour if you’re in town.

Tours meet in the McKim Building Lobby

  • Mon 230
  • Tues, Thurs 6pm
  • Wed, Fri, Sat 11am