Young Bookseller Focus: Lindsey McGuirk

This is the fifth in an occasional series of interviews of young, smart booksellers who are both the present and the future of bookselling--and whose enthusiasm and presence are encouraging many older folks in the industry who feared they might be a dying breed. Our intrepid reporter is George Carroll, an independent publishers rep and principal of Redsides Publishing Services.

Lindsey McGuirk, 33, worked for a big-box bookstore for a couple of years. When she landed a job at an independent bookstore, she considered herself a "real" bookseller. She was at Algonquin Books for a bit and is now at Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., where she handles online marketing and runs the self-publishing program for the store's Espresso Book Machine.

It's a bit intimidating interviewing you since you do an interview column for Northwest Booklovers. What question do you not want me to ask?

So much pressure! I mean, what if, subconsciously, the question I don't want you to ask is actually the question I do want you to ask? So I tell you not to ask me, hoping that you'll ask me? I'd prefer it if you just don't ask.

I always thought it would be fun to work for Chuck and Dee Robinson. They're socially conscious, politically involved, community minded and go on long vacations from the store and leave you alone. Can you get me a job?

I feel very fortunate to have bosses like Chuck and Dee. They have provided me with so many opportunities to learn about the book world and have introduced me to countless people in it. They've given me a lot of freedom and encouragement to take my ideas and roll with them, which I am so grateful for. And I've learned a very important lesson from them: Just because someone is older than you doesn't mean they can't party harder than you, and for that, I thank them.

Can I get you a job? Depends. Can you dance?

What's the percentage of self-published books v. publishers' backlist that you create on the Espresso Book Machine?

About 12% of EBM business is publisher backlist and Google Books. Most of the Google Books that we print for customers are genealogies that date back to the early 1900s, which is pretty freakin' cool. We also have our own imprint, Chuckanut Editions, and we've published 13 books under that, with two more in the works. The bulk of our printing definitely comes from self-publishing authors. At this point, we have 83 authors who have printed their books with us. Many of them have multiple titles.

Any particular regular self-published author?

We've had a lot of people print a relative's book with us, such as a parent who wrote a book, but never let it see the light of day. We recently started printing a book for a couple whose daughter died last October at the age of 18. They're using proceeds from sales of the book to create a scholarship in her honor, which is absolutely beautiful.

What do you think the future of EBM is for an author versus just posting as an e-book?

It would be foolish for an author who wants to reach as many readers as possible to go strictly e-book. Yeah, a ton of people are reading them, but a ton of people are sticking with physical books or reading both the e-book and physical book. Considering how cheap and convenient EBM is, print five books. If they sell, print another five.

What are some things you do to market online?

I send out our weekly e-newsletter, which has about 9,000 subscribers. We include events that are coming up in the next week and a half, plus tidbits of what's happening around the community. The newsletter is a quick and cheap way to let people know what we're doing at the store.  

I have a blast with online marketing! We are, of course, on Facebook and Twitter, which is so much fun. We have some hilarious customers, and I love when they comment on things we post. Having these sorts of online venues allows us to have conversations with customers that we may not have face-to-face. It also gets customers talking with each other, which I absolutely love! I take care of the blog, which I really enjoy. We will sometimes have guest posts by visiting authors and other folks on staff will occasionally contribute.  

What's the most effective way of reaching your customers?

Talking to them. Plain and simple. We may be able to reach people hundreds of different ways, but it's when they see we're actual people with quirky personalities that they become loyal shoppers. The other day a coworker and I were having a completely ridiculous conversation and a customer came up to us and said, "You guys sure do laugh a lot around here. It's great!"

Village Books is involved in the local community: there's a farmer's market outside the back door on Wednesdays and you just participated in the Steampunk Festival, a 5k run/walk for literacy and the big event, the Ski-to-Sea.

Yeah, we're a staple in the community. Aren't all indie bookstores, though? Ski-to-Sea was a great time! It's an annual 100-mile relay that happens the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Each team is made up of eight people who work their way through seven legs: cross country skiing, downhill skiing or snowboard, running, road biking, canoeing (two people for this leg), mountain biking, then kayaking. This year, the amazing rally-er, Paul Hanson, organized a team for Village Books, aptly named the "Speed Readers." We had a few mishaps (do you know how easy it is to flip a canoe?), but it was still a huge success.

The last question is from Danielle Borsch, our previous Young Bookseller interviewee: As the online marketing person, which platform--blog, e-blast, Facebook, Twitter, etc.--has made you feel the most connected to readers/customers and why?

Twitter is a great way to reach out to people, but it can feel like being at a party where you have to throw elbows just to get through the door. There's also a lot of eavesdropping on Twitter and it feels pretty anonymous. Facebook feels more like a dinner party where we can all sit down and enjoy a meal and a few glasses of wine together. Facebook feels the most connected to me.


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