Thursday 3 March 2022

Four Ways in Which Writers Can Support Independent Bookshops

And why I, as a first-time published author, will be promoting my book at them

Photo by Deborah Jaffe

What have Irish poet Seamus Heaney and African-American novelist Toni Morrison got in common? Their books are amongst many I have bought at independent bookshops over the years.

Newly arrived in Britain more than two decades ago, I remember the excitement of venturing into an indie bookshop on West End Lane, in then chic-becoming West Hampstead. West End Lane Books is still there, its green exterior welcoming book lovers, both local and beyond.

Since then my love affair with these offbeat, unique and occasionally architecturally whimsical buildings has intensified. Some boast neatly arranged shelves. Others are jungles of higgledy-piggledy nooks and crannies. They all, however, offer a friendly hand to the visitor, inviting us to get lost in a volume’s open pages for hours.

It wasn’t long after I’d fallen for independent bookshops’ charm that the first threat appeared on the horizon. Behemoth Amazon arrived in the bookselling world and changed its business model overnight.

I confess that at the time I was as guilty as the next person of moving my custom online and using Amazon as my go-to for cheap music and literature purchases. Yet, at the same time I still frequented independent bookshops. It’s just that I did it less often.

Perhaps it’s because of more maturity on my part or the effects of an eighteen-month-long pandemic and its knock-on effect on socialising, but I have lately felt the urge to visit more indie bookshops. To amble in and ask the staff how they’re faring, how the business is doing and how the current situation is affecting them. As a newly published author whose book, Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner, is being marketed and sold in all major retailers including Waterstones, WH Smith and, yes, you guessed it, online, on Amazon, I want to focus more on indie bookstores and its eclectic clientele.

An independent sector in such a crowded and commercially-driven world like bookselling is a precious resource to hold dear. Not every author has the backing of a big publishing house. That’s why I’ve come up with four ways (amongst many more. Please, feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments box) in which we, writers and readers, can help keep indie bookshops afloat.

1-    If you move into an area where you’re planning to stay long, have a look online and check where your local indie bookshop is. Many are difficult to find. High rents and overheads mean that sometimes bookstores have to share the space with other venue users. Hoxton Books sits on a busy thoroughfare in trendy Hoxton, but unless you know where to look, you’ll miss it. Have a walk around. Who knows? It might even inspire your next post, or even book.

2-    Find out if they support other causes. Many independent bookshops link up with other creatives and support them in various ways. I’ve been to nights of poetry and music, where the money collected is split evenly between venue and performers. Again, have a butcher’s* online. That tenner you coughed up for the new edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Sujata Bhatt’s Augatora? It goes towards supporting the free performance you’ll attend next time.

3-    Join a book club. Many independent bookshops run them. Part of me feels funny in suggesting this one because when it comes to reading, I’m a lone wolf. But at the same time I understand the importance of analysing certain literary works with a group of like-minded readers, even if they don’t all agree.

4-    Bookshops nowadays double up as cafés, a trend that would have had fictional character Bernard Black (of Black Books notoriety) in a fit. But they do. If you can spare some time (and money) enjoying the homemade cakes on offer and drinking the freshly brewed coffee, you will still be supporting independent bookshops’ survival.

Independent bookstores are more than retailers. Many are community hubs, beating hearts of a neighbourhood, town or village, challenges to readers of all ages to broaden their horizons. Let’s hope these hives of creative power are still kicking around in years to come. Let’s get behind them.

*Cockney rhyming slang: “look”, from “butcher’s hook”


  1. I'm fortunate to have a small independent book store in my rural area. I don't want them to go out of business, so I really should shop there more often than I do.

    Joining a book club was one of the best things I ever did since it made me step out of my comfort zone and read books I might never have considered otherwise.

    I bought your book at Amazon (for Kindle) and enjoyed reading it very much. :)

  2. Excellent points. I go to West End Lane books myself, so it's great to see you tout it on your blog! West Hampstead recently gained a second independent bookstore on West End Lane, closer to Tesco. I have concerns about whether the local market can support two bookstores within such a short distance from each other, but let's hope so! (I still prefer the older shop.)

    1. I was at West End Lane Books recently, marketing my book. It was such a lovely trip down memory lane because I used to work at 240 West End Lane in an independent travel agency. :-)

  3. Sadly, there are no independent bookstores near me except for one craft store that has some used books. So I buy more from Amazon. When I lived near Savannah, I did more shopping in independent bookstores as the city had two great ones. During the pandemic shutdown, I brought a number ofl books from "The Book Lady", she even delivered them! I am going to have to read your book! Right now, there are just too many books on my tbr pile, but yours is one of them

  4. Good post! Thanks for sharing your tips. I could spend hours at independent bookstores.

  5. Hi Mario - I agree it is essential to be there for independent book stores ... I must get a copy of your book. We have a very good 2nd hand bookshop here and a Waterstones - but there might be another tucked away upstairs of a non-inspiring upper layer of the shopping centre. Now I've an excuse to make myself investigate - no other reason to go up to that floor. Good luck with your book - cheers Hilary

  6. We need the independent book stores ...
    Good luck with your book.

    All the best Jan

  7. We still have a few indies here in CT (US) that people shop at, with one down by shore that's well know enough for known authors/celebs to stop by on their book tour to chat with fans and the like.

    I think the only real way for indies to thrive alongside Amazon is to make themselves an attractive alternative to, or at the very least compliment, Amazon

    Wishing you the best with your book

  8. I've been enjoying my trips to local and second hand bookstores lately and I'm loving my less two dollars finds.

  9. A toast to independent bookstores and to your success as a published author! One of the few places I have visited during the pandemic was the local independent bookstore in our town, first curbside, then ordering their books online, and now back in person with a high quality mask. Books have made me feel more connected during this time of isolation. Looking forward to the time when I can fly across the ocean and see your book in a store!

  10. Interesting. I wasn't familiar with Medium. Thanks for broadening my horizons.

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