How to Shop Indie When Your Nearest Bookstore is Hours Away

Independent bookstores are the closest thing to heaven on Earth. They’ve got books, great atmospheres, knowledgeable booksellers on hand, cool events, and exclusive items that you just can’t get from the Big A. So what do you do when you don’t live anywhere near an indie and you want to shop indie because certain online retailers have shady policies (aside from meditate on your deep misfortune)? Here are some ideas!

  1. Follow indie bookstores on social media.

This may seem like torturing yourself with photos of indies that you don’t get to visit very often, but it’s actually a very good, no-cost way to boost indies and learn about new books and authors! I follow almost every indie bookstore in Michigan so I can stay up to date on events and news, and I also follow social media accounts of indie stores in faraway places that I’d love to visit one day. It means my feeds are more bookish, and as a former social media coordinator for an indie store, I can say that every like and every follow helps, even if they’re not coming from people who live in that bookstore community.

  1. Shop small, online.

Most indie bookstores have websites that allow you to shop online, offering the same great service you’d get if you walked into a store. I purchase books from a few different indie bookstore websites, just to spread the love! Yes, you’re probably going to pay a little more than you would if you clicked over to a major online retailer. I tell myself that it’s worth it because I’m already saving money in gas to drive an hour or more to the store. If shipping cost is really a concern, hunt for a bookstore that offers free shipping! Brilliant Books in Traverse City, MI offers free shipping without a minimum order, Schuler Books of MI offers $1 media mail shipping, and Powell’s Books in Portland, OR has reasonable shipping rates with free shipping on orders over $50. I tend to try and buy from bookstores that are in my state (keep your tax dollars local!), but I’ve ordered from indies all over the US.

  1. Remember—indies carry signed copies!!

One of the biggest perks to indie bookstores is that they carry signed stock! Most indies also put signed stock on their websites. Some books are available in limited quantities, like leftover stock from a signing or event, and some bookstores carry signed copies of a local author’s books on a permanent basis. Some bookstores even have agreements with these local authors to offer signed and personalized books that you can purchase online!

I recommend looking for a page on indie websites that advertise signed books. If you’re looking for signed copies by a specific author, check out that author’s website for info on where to find signed stock! Most authors are required to have buy links for their books on their sites, and will include their local indie where you can get signed and (sometimes!) personalized copies of their books. Whether this is a permanent offer or limited time offer depends on the author and indie, but Maggie Stiefvater always offers signed copies of her books through Fountain Bookstore, with exclusive doodles sometimes available with new releases. You can usually get fun goodies (provided by the author) around release dates, too. And a few years ago I purchased signed editions of Kristin Cashore’s entire backlist from Harvard Book Store for a friend’s birthday. I made sure to order a month in advance and asked if Cashore could personalize them—it took an extra two weeks, but she did and my friend screamed with joy when I gave them to her. This is the magic of indie bookstores!

Pro tip: If a favorite author is gracing a bookstore you love with an event, call the bookstore and ask if you can “pre-order” a signed copy from the event to be shipped to you. Most bookstores will say yes!

  1. Purchase a subscription service from an indie bookstore.

Subscription services are plentiful on the Internet, but if I were to ever splurge on a bookish subscription, it would absolutely be from an indie bookstore because indie booksellers know their stuff, and many even offer personalized recommendations. It may take some sleuthing to find the right one for you, but these services can’t be beat because you’re literally getting a real bookseller’s recommendation in your mailbox. Many bookstores have first edition clubs, which deliver signed first editions of new releases every month. I like the Literati Cultura subscription (from Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI), and Parnassus Books of Nashville has a really cool one as well, in addition to an awesome YA subscription service. Reading Bug of San Carlos, CA offers various gift and subscription boxes for children’s books on various themes, or personalized for the reader. They even offer teacher boxes—so much cooler than a Starbucks gift card!

  1. Plan your travel around independent bookstore visits.

Chances are you already do this, but plan on visiting independent bookstores when you travel. I never go anywhere without checking to see if there’s an independent bookstore nearby. A quick Google search may give you some names and addresses, but Book Riot has you covered with our The Best Bookstores in All 50 States + DC, and our vast library of Literary Tourism articles!

  1. Show your love.

Leave a Yelp or Facebook review, give indies shout outs on social media, Instagram your book haul and tag the bookstore, tell your friends about that awesome bookstore you visited on your weekend trip. Word of mouth buzz really helps drive customers to indie stores, and this kind of love is so appreciated by booksellers!

Living far away from bookstores is tough, but that just means that when you do get yourself into an indie bookstore, the visit is just that more magical! How do you support your favorite indies from afar?

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