A very grassroots Christmas story
For the past two months, I've been on a very Santa Claus-esque mission. I've been going around from one independent bookstore to the next trying to share a message of hope. In my case, the hope comes in the form of my new book, "The Christmas Deptartment", and instead of milk and cookies I am looking for precious shelf space.
Why would I choose to go around bookstores instead of simply publishing online with Amazon or Barnes and Noble? For one, I wanted "The Christmas Department" to not only be a great, illustrated, story, but a thoughtful stocking stuffer as well. Two, I wanted to follow the "local is better" moral of the book.
"The Christmas Department" tells the story of Jonah Phipps, a young man whose hometown of Wish Landing is in a slump. This does not however, stop his bosses from handing down an ultimatum: boost sales in their department store by December 25th or face closure. Can Jonah complete such an impossible task? What if a family of quirky "elves" arrived with a certain set of skills?
Without giving away the ending, I can tell you that the only way Jonah can save himself is if he saves his town. I wrote this message into the book because I believe it to be true - the health of the individual depends on the health of the community. Therefore, publishing "The Christmas Department" online would be hypocritical. Independent bookstores are one of the last havens an up-and-coming author has to discuss his work with the people who will hopefully be impacted by it.
Living in Manhattan, I'm lucky enough to still have a number of independent bookstores in walking distance. So, two months ago, I went around to just about every one of those stores in the course of a single day, sharing the message of "The Christmas Deptartment"…and a sample packet. By that evening, my feet were killing me, and I knew I undersold myself at least three times, but I was happy.
I felt a big change from how I felt that morning. In the morning, I knew I had two generations of salesmen on either side of my family, but I thought it skipped me. To sell anything takes a great amount of confidence. To pour out what is basically your heart in book form to almost twenty strangers takes more than that; it takes wearing passion on your sleeve. Once I opened up, the storeowners opened up.
You want to know what the secret is to harnessing your passion? You have to ask, "What's the alternative?". In my case the alternative was admitting that I was so afraid of rejection that I'd relegate a year's worth of hard work on a book that would spend a lifetime in a dusty cardboard box. After putting the situation in those stark terms, it was easy to see which scenario was riskier.
I learned something else that day too, the art of speaking to people in person (even if a few claimed to be "busy"). Would it have been faster, and less physically straining, to call or email each store? Yes and no. My wording would have come out clearer, but my passion would have been masked, and—as I said before—people want passion. The tone of an email can be misconstrued. A lone author looking worn, nervous, but enthusiastic, is harder to dismiss.
When I took my first subway ride of the day around 6:30pm, I looked around at my fellow travelers. No one was smiling, so I did, and I thought, "I might not be perfect, as a salesman or a person, but I stepped outside my comfort zone to realise a dream." And, in that moment, I believe I earned a sense of pride.
A few days later, I followed up with the bookstores, and mostly received great news. That's why, as of December 1st, "The Christmas Department" is appearing in: McNally Jackson, St Agnes Bookstore, and St Marks Bookstore, to name a few. If you, your store, or your communal space, are interested in ordering copies of the book, I invite you to follow this link to my distributor, Adams Book Press: http://www.adamsbook.com
A "Christmas Department" Kickstarter campaign is also in effect as I write this. Along with a copy of the book, you can receive personalised, handmade, gift items, a long with my many thanks. Whether you take part or not, I invite you to check out the comedic video below (my dog makes a very distinguished cameo).
Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!