A Quest for Local Bookstores

I recently went on a Great Plains adventure for my sister’s wedding, which was gorgeous and perfect and full of whimsy and dancing. Traveling to Nebraska, I found myself looking out the window with disdain. There really is, close to nothing, in that part of the country. We passed few gas stations, fewer still sites to see and things to do.

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You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a cozy local bookstore nestled between a gyro restaurant and an art store in downtown Lincoln. It was called A Novel Idea, and run by a generous and kind woman named Cinnamon.

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No, this is not off of Pinterest. I took this myself.

It was one of the most delightful bookstores I have ever been in. They had two fat cats roaming around the bookshelves. Newspaper clippings on the walls revealed these cats were rescued by the owner and loved by all customers. Along with this, the most literary savvy staircase I have ever witnessed can be found in this spot.

The staff was lovely. When I asked staff member Eowyn Ivey what book she would recommend I read before I die, she responded with 5 different novels I never would have picked up myself. I ended up with 2 of the 5, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk and a magical realism novel titled The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. “Give The House of the Spirits a good hour when you read it,” she said. And I will.

I left that bookstore remembering what websites such as Amazon are missing: the smell of the pages as soon as you walk into a bookstore, the feel of the fuzzy cats on your legs as you search the shelves, and the camaraderie of knowing you are among your own people. People that love books, maybe more, than you do (but surely not). People that will show you the worlds they have found and loved. I’ve longed for this feeling since I left my college literature classes where we would talk about books and worlds everyday.

The nostalgic feeling of that bookstore stuck with me until my last day in Nebraska. I remembered the loved comments about a bookstore called Prairie Lights in Iowa from the 2013 In-Print guest authors at Ball State University, I can’t for the life of me remember who said it. Maybe Elena Passarello or Eugene Cross. On my way back home (which, for me, is Indiana) from Nebraska, I swung by to see what all the fuss is about.

Prairie Lights has some serious curb appeal. Two dark wood doors against a silver building with an awning that says, “Hello, we have so much knowledge in here your brain might explode.” I mean, just look at it.

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HEY THERE SCHOLARS. Don’t mind the trash can photo-bomb.

The people at this bookstore were not as hands on. This may have been because, I’m fairly certain, that weekend had been move-in weekend for incoming freshmen. I worked in a text/bookstore for a year, I wouldn’t want to approach any more nervous and frustrated students either. The important thing is, they were there when I needed them.

And I did need them.

After a while of browsing the crowded novels, I had a question itching in the back of my mind. I thought this seemed like a bookstore that would house Roxane Gay‘s new novel Bad Feminist. I had to ask or forever regret it. “I think we’re out,” a man with a ponytail told me over Dumbledore glasses. Disappointment crept across my face as the employee slapped a few fingers on the keyboard. “Wait, hold on,” he said.

I turned my attention to the mystery books on sale, not letting myself hope. I had been itching to get my hands on a copy, 2014-08-20 19.09.14but knew of few bookstores that had it. I know it is available online, but I wanted it in my hands at that very moment in the most selfish of ways.

“Here you go. Fresh out of the box,” the man said from behind me. My excitement could not be contained. My delight echoed throughout the store, or that’s how it happened in my head.

I purchased one other book here titled Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells, which has probably the most beautiful cover I have ever seen. I know this post is picture heavy, but just one more, I promise it is worth it.

We hear stories all the time about bookstores closing down, big chains breaking, and an all around difficulty of the publishing industry due to things like Amazon and Kindles. I get it, books are are hard industry, they always have been. But with places like these laying in wait for book lovers like me, and probably you, to stumble upon, I don’t believe that electronic books could ever replace good old paper and ink. Or at least I am hoping beyond hope.

It’s the people and the paper and the cats and the rustle of turning pages.

It’s the personal touches and contact.

It’s the palpable love for words.

That make these experiences irreplaceable.

Guiding Authors through Social Media at Midwest Writers Workshop

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This was day one, and a very excited me.

Midwest Writers Workshop took place July 24-26, 2014. I had the privilege of being a Social Media Intern. This means I helped authors understand how to effectively utilize their online presence to actively participate in conversations about writing, publishing, and of course, how to build their platform without being pushy and awful about their work (AKA the “BUY MY BOOK” disease).

I have never been to any other conference but this one, but many Tweets from the conference agree. No other conference is as friendly and intimate as Midwest Writers.

My days were extremely full. There were so many authors looking for help building their platform, specifically through social media. A majority of them came to me asking, “What is Twitter?” Between countless sips of coffee, I would try to show them the ropes in the world of retweeting, hashtaging, favoriting, and following. One cunning client told me a hashtag (#) used to be called an octothorpe, and it has become my new favorite word.Octothrope

But it wasn’t all Twitter. I taught authors how to create lists on Facebook. How to operate WordPress and Blogspot. How to use their time effectively on Twitter with Tweetdeck. How to create websites or a blog and what to write about when they have a blog. I showed authors social media they had never heard of, like AboutMe. I advised authors how to manage themselves on social media, and what to talk about.

I met mystery writers, and legal thriller writers, christian writers, and memoir writers. Every one of them had a story to tell, and each one of them wanted to tell other people about these stories. I gave them as many tips as I could, but there truly is only one answer to this question. You must care.

You must care about the writing world, and this means caring about other writers just like yourself who are trying to make it. Be influential. People will realize you are more than just another writer, you are a supporter of other writers. This is worth more than any story could ever be. Be connected with the writing universe, and they cannot help but connect with you back because you CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING.

Social media is used incorrectly too often, as I told many of my clients. So now I will tell you.

Many people see social media as a way for people to pay attention to them, and I used to be one of them. “Look at me, I look so pretty today.” “Look at me, I’m hurting other classmates/friends with my words on social media to disguise my own pain.” “Look at me, I have so many followers/friends on this screen.” “Look at me, LOOK AT ME.” “Look at me!”

Social media should be a place to showcase the positive about yourself AND OTHERS. Mostly others.”Look at me” should instead be, “Look at you”, or “Look at this.”

If you need to be convinced further, check out the term Literary Citizenship. Literary Citizenship speaks specifically about using social media, and your entire life, in order to promote writing and authors you love, but really it can apply to anything you want. Supporting things that interest you and people that make the world better will make others interested in you. There is no better way to get others interested in you than being kind, relevant, and helpful.

But really, Midwest Writers is the best conference on the planet. Next time you are itching for some writing inspiration/advice/feedback, check out this conference. It will be worth your while.

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All the interns! From left to right: Linda Taylor (our beautiful supervisor/superhero), Morgan Aprill, Heather DiGiacomo, Me, Sarah Hollowell, Jackson Eflin, Brittany Means, Haley Muench, and Becca Wolfey

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