Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Booksellers for a Day: Authors head out to indies

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Authors for Indies

By Becky Toyne

When an indie bookstore goes out of business (it happens often-ish nowadays, as I’m sure you know), the event will be met with outrage, reverence, a media blitz and a final rush of customers coming to pay their respects. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone, sang Ms. Mitchell, and true to myopic human form, time and again we wait until a bookstore (or anyplace, really) is in its death throes to think to ourselves: oh yeah, I love that place, I should totally go there more often.

Oops! Too little, too late.

On Saturday, May 2, in the eminently practical spirit of celebrating a life above mourning a death, Canadian Authors for Indies will unite booksellers across the country with the authors, readers and book buyers in their communities. Authors will become booksellers for the day, with a goal to increase customer traffic, raise awareness of the importance of independent bookstores and to showcase local writers. To which I would add: to have a really nice time, and possibly also fulfill that “wouldn’t it be lovely to work in a little bookshop” fantasy entertained by so many bibliophiles.

Canadian Authors for Indies started life in BC, when novelist Janie Chang was inspired by a similar event in the US, Indies First, to set the wheels in motion for something similar here. Chang created a website and reached out to (who else) a local bookseller, who also happened to be co-president of the BC Booksellers Association, to help her spread the word to BC bookstores. As bookstores and authors signed on (including a high-profile advocate in Ann-Marie MacDonald before the event launch), the initiative grew into a national day of celebration in the country’s independent temples of reading. This is a grassroots event, which Chang says is “so volunteer-run it’s not funny.” But the donations of time, contacts and expertise from within the publishing industry have paid dividends in the form of community support. As I write this, 600 authors are preparing to be “booksellers for a day” in 120 independent bookstores across Canada.

Though a national event, Authors for Indies is focused on the local. Forty-nine stores are participating in Ontario, and the author lineups at all of them are heavily weighted towards familiar faces. Sarah Ramsey, who is coordinating Authors for Indies at three Book City stores in Toronto, said the majority of her bookseller-authors on May 2 will be “friends and longstanding customers,” noting that Book City was one of the first places to carry Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans on consignment before he got a publishing deal. Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge joked that she’s sold books at so many events for Fallis he’s almost become her “bookstore husband.” It’s not surprising then that the Canada Reads champ has agreed to put in a shift at three different bookstores on May 2: two Book Cities and Blue Heron Books.

The keep-it-local theme means that bookstores with big-name authors in their neighbourhoods lucked out in terms of their lineup options, so in addition to Book City, hat tips must go to Another Story and Type Books in Toronto and to The Bookshelf in Guelph, whose rookie booksellers will include Naomi Klein, Andrew Pyper and Thomas King, respectively, with bonus moxie props to Hannelore Headley Old & Fine Books in St. Catharines for cheat-bagging Joseph Boyden via Skype.

Taking a leaf out of similar events Comic Book Day and Record Store Day, many bookstores have expanded their programming beyond the central authors-as-booksellers idea. At Type Books on Queen West the first 100 customers through the door will get a free Kate Beaton/Jillian Tamaki comic from Drawn & Quarterly; customers at kids’-book mecca Mabel’s Fables on Mount Pleasant can be entered into a prize draw to win $200 worth of books; and, outside the GTA, at Epic Books in Hamilton, Gary Barwin will be writing a story with the help of customers and passersby. Also in keeping with the community theme, expect to find snacks and treats from other local businesses at many participating bookstores.

But the sexiest swag on offer on May 2 will be none of the above. Personal recommendations – the “hand-sell” that is the indie bookstore’s unique stock in trade – will be the best thing readers can bag. Booksellers talk to customers every day to match recommendations to individual reading tastes. The authors I talked to about their participation in Authors for Indies spoke enthusiastically of the books they expect to be recommending to customers (Alison Pick, Ian Weir, Trevor Cole, Michael Crummey, Angie Abdou: these booksellers for a day are very much about supporting their Canadian writing community). Toronto author Guy Gavriel Kay went so far as to wrangle his many author friends to share their recommendations in this great promotional video for the event.

As the participating authors celebrate their peers and eagerly press their favourite reads into customers’ hands, celebrating bookstores on Authors for Indies Day is a reminder of the important role bookstores play in the publishing ecosystem, and, by extension, in the local and national literary culture. Independent bookstores are cultural spaces, community hubs, supporters of Canadian writers and publishers, and places to discover the unexpected. Authors for Indies Day is a chance to go to your favourite neighbourhood bookstore and chat with your favourite people who write about their favourite people to read. Most crucially, it’s also a chance to celebrate the life of your local indie bookstore while it’s still in fine health, and to know what you've got while it's still going strong.

For a list of authors and bookstores participating in Canadian Authors for Indies Day, visit

Becky Toyne is a freelance books columnist, editor and literary event publicist. She is the "Should I Read It?" columnist for Day 6 on CBC Radio One, and her writing about books, publishing and Toronto's literary scene has appeared in the Globe & Mail, National Post and Open Book: Toronto. Becky is a regular host and interviewer at literary events including Word on the Street, the International Festival of Authors, and the Toronto Literary Salon, and a freelance publicist for the Writers' Trust of Canada. Find her online at or follow her @MsRebeccs.

You can find past columns by Becky Toyne in the Open Book Archives.

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