Sherman Alexie's Idea to Turn Authors into Booksellers for a Day

Nov 29, 2013

Head to an independent bookstore on Saturday, and you might find a local author working behind the counter.

One thousand authors at some 400 bookstores will be participating in a one-day national program called “Indies First”, which aims to draw shoppers to independent bookstores on Small Business Saturday.

Seattle author Sherman Alexie came up with the idea for the event coordinated by the American Booksellers Association. Alexie said the idea came about after he bailed on an appearance at Queen Anne Bookstore.

"I had agreed to be there for their grand reopening, and I completely spaced it off. So my Catholic guilt overcompensated, and I said, 'Why don’t I come to spend the whole day there?'" Alexie said.

And so the National Book Award winner came to be the bookstore’s guest seller for a day, to customers’ delight.

"He ended up literally taking customers to our bookshelves and pulling books off, and talking about his favorites," said Queen Anne Bookstore owner Janis Segress.

And it appears Alexie’s presence paid off. Segress said Alexie-made sales on that April day were 37 percent higher than the store’s average. 

The author realized he was onto something. In September, he put a call out to authors, asking them to do what they’re already doing, in a sense.

"We’re constantly talking about other people’s books—in person, on our website, at readings,” he said.

Alexie nudged authors to become booksellers for a day and help small businesses. But the author says he isn’t against e-retailers. He points out the event is called “Indies First,” not “Indies Only.”

Two dozen bookstores throughout Washington state will be hosting author booksellers, including Maria Semple, Jess Walter and Jim Lynch. Bookstores in Venice and London have also signed on.

Alexie himself will make appearances at five different bookstores (Elliott Bay Book Company, University Book Store, Queen Anne Book Company, Secret Garden Books and Third Place Books).

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Here are just a few of Sherman Alexie's recommendations for people on your holiday list:

For fans of "Fifty Shades of Gray": Anais Nin

For teenage fans of the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" books: Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes"

For an Ian Frazier-George Packer-David Halberstam fan—or, in Alexie's words, "a dude”: Neil Gaiman's "Anansi Boys"

For the lover of big coffee table books who also likes sports: "Athlete" by Howard Schatz

For fans of Alexie's own writing ("The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"): John Green, E. Lockhart

For fans of Alexie's comic realism: Stewart O'Nan, Chuck Kinder, Lorrie Moore

For fans of Alexie’s who want to read other Native American authors: James Welch, Louise Erdrich