Community involvement by brick-and-mortar bookstores is something that I’m always pushing for, so I figured I might as well actually offer a concrete example of this for once, and not just parrot some high-minded ideal.
Neil Gaiman is an author. Depending on who you ask he’s a great author. I’m a fan of his, although I’ll admit I haven’t read any of his books since American Gods. He’s also an active supporter of the literature, libraries, writers, bookstores, and the book industry in general. He’s a big proponent of libraries: in 2009 he was named the Honorary Chair of National Library Week by the American Library Association, he has spoken at library conferences, and you can even buy a poster of him from the ALA. He is heavily involved in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a group dedicated to fighting censorship and, as they put it “[protecting] the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.” What I’m trying to get across is that he doesn’t just write his books, promote his books, and leave it at that, he gets himself intimately involved in all aspects of the book community. This is something that I think all writers, bookstore owners, librarians, and readers, should take to heart.
One idea for community involvement he came up with last October, and one which I think bookstore owners, especially those who sell kids books, should consider getting involved with is All Hallow’s Read. The basic idea behind All Hallow’s Read (Or AHR as I’ll call it, since I’m kind of lazy when it comes to typing), and it really is basic is, “on Hallowe’en or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books.” That’s it. It’s not a high concept kind of thing, it’s just a simple way to get people involved in reading, promote a love of reading, and get involved in the community. Here’s his original blog post where he describes the inception of the idea.
Now, I’ll admit, the main idea behind AHR is giving away books. This isn’t necessarily something that a bookstore (“store” being the operative part of the word) might get behind, but there are lots of ways that a store can participate in AHR. Giving away stuff to promote your store isn’t a new idea just look at Free Comic Book Day, a Saturday in May when comic book stores will give away copies of certain comic books. I know that the comic shop near me is always jammed full of people on that day, far more than any normal Saturday throughout the year. And once people are in the store they’ll buy stuff.
The giving away part of AHR doesn’t really have to be what concerns the retailer, though. The books that are being given away have to come from somewhere, right? I mean, candy retailers don’t lament that candy is given away for free on Hallowe’en. After all, they get to sell the candy to those who give it away. So why not, set up a display dedicated to the idea of AHR? Have a table of scary books for a bunch of different tastes, reading levels, and maturity levels. Make sure your staff know about AHR and can offer recommendations on the books, have an event on Hallowe’en weekend. It might inspire someone who was just browsing to buy a book they hadn’t been planning to read themselves just so that they can give it away to a child they know, or a friend who they think might appreciate a good scary book. Maybe have a few sheets of the AHR stickers that are available to print out near the display or the cash register so that your customers can label the books for easy AHR giving?
I’m not a big fan of horror. Zombies freak me out, I don’t like gore, and I’m too impatient for suspense, but I’ve acquired a few horror novels over the years and I have some friends who I’m sure wouldn’t mind being given something new to read this week, so I’m going to participate. And who knows, maybe if I go into a local bookstore this week and one has a good display of horror books I’ll buy one or two just to give them away.
Community involvement by bookstores is awesome both for the community and for the bookstore, but promotion can be difficult, so why not participate in a huge even that was the brainchild of, and is still being really heavily promoted by, a world-famous author? I know this is kind of last minute for this year, but based on how much Neil Gaiman has been promoting it this year, I think it’s going to become an annual thing, so maybe it’s something to keep in mind for next All Hallow’s Read.