Bill Petrocelli

Want to Write a Book? Go Where They Sell Them

If you want to buy a book, you go to the place where they sell them. There’s no surprise there.

But the same is true if you want to write a book. There is no place like a contemporary, independent bookstore to provide authors with everything they need – from inspiration to reader feedback; from writing advice to the ins and outs of publication. Bookstores are evolving from places that just have books on shelves to lively, community meeting spots that can help spark writing careers.

There are many famous writers like Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, and Khaled Hosseini who freely admit that they got a major boost in their writing careers from the early support of independent booksellers. Publishers usually admit the same thing: the interaction that new, promising authors get an independent bookstore can make all the difference.

But the influence of independent stores goes deeper than that. In many cases they provide the spark for a career that is not yet launched – the atmosphere in which the store influences books that are not yet written. I offer myself as exhibit A. My novel The Circle of Thirteen would probably never have gotten off the ground if it hadn’t been for the insights about writing that I received and the personal connections I made at our bookstore Book Passage in Northern California. Like many of our customers, I’ve sat through hours of authors talking about their books, answering questions, and sharing their writing techniques. I’ve sat through discussion groups about books, listened to readers talk about what they like and dislike, and saw the interaction between staff and customers. After a while, you begin to absorb what you’ve heard and incorporate it into your own writing.

And if the store sponsors a writers’ conference or similar event, the interaction becomes even greater. Published authors are usually extraordinarily generous in sharing their ideas with newbie writers. Writers like Sheldon Siegel and Cara Black started their mystery writing careers at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, and they have returned to the Conference each year to pass along what they’ve learned to the next generation of writers.

Since I’m the co-owner of Book Passage, admittedly I’m in a little bit different position. But I’ve seen enough authors jump-start their writing careers at our store and other bookstores to know that the phenomenon is not unique with me. I met my agent at the Mystery Writers Conference at the bookstore, as well as the acquiring editor for my book. I met two of the editors that worked on my book the same way. I made these connections and many other contacts in the store, and I don’t know of any other way I could have done it.

It’s time, I would contend, for the reading public to recognize independent bookstores for what they have evolved into in recent years. They’re no longer just a place where you can buy books. They’ve become catalysts for social interaction around the world of literature.