Lit Where You Eat: Authors Who Work as Booksellers

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Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

There was a wordless picture book I loved when I was little about a tricycle that rode all around the town. The photos were black and white, but the tricycle was red. My mother was a librarian at our town’s library, so I got to spend a lot of time staring at the book at the table while she worked. One day, she brought me over to a man by the circulation desk and introduced him as the author of the book. Well, I was stunned! It was already hard for my small brain to comprehend that there was a book with pictures of places where I lived, but now I was meeting the actual author?!? I was too shy to say anything. (And so began my life-long habit of being awkward in front of authors.)

Book cover of all this could be yours by jami attenberg; white font on the orange door of a storage bay

Many, many years later, I had the luck of becoming a bookseller at a small independent bookstore. Indie booksellers are amazing; they’re like one big family across the country, and I quickly learned that so many of the booksellers I met were also writers. Authors who work as booksellers? AMAZING. I worked with two award-winning poets; my fellow Mainer Josh Christie had begun publishing books about skiing and brewing beer; Jami Attenberg worked a shift behind the counter at WORD in Brooklyn. Every year, there were more booksellers announcing that they were writing books!

What a great place a bookstore is for an author or an aspiring author! As a ravenous reader turned bookslinger, I was all about the employee discount. Before I was a bookseller, I was the store’s biggest customer, but I bought even more books when I worked there. (My boss was no fool.) As a writer, you are surrounded by inspiration, some in the form of books by your heroes, and you get to talk about books all day and meet authors and listen to them talk about the craft.

Book cover of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

It’s no wonder that so many amazing authors were booksellers or that several authors have opened bookstores! Authors who currently own bookstores include Judy Blume, Ann Patchett, Louise Erdrich, Kelly Link, Alex George, Jenny Lawson, George R. R. Martin, Kristen Iskandrian, Emma Straub, Jeff Kinney, and Josh Cook. And there’s a whole other enormous group of authors who have been librarians, including my hero Elizabeth McCracken and our very own Kelly Jensen, Jessica Pryde, and Tirzah Price. But let’s get back to the booksellers!

Here are several authors who once walked the floors of bookstores as booksellers!

Book cover of Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

We happen to have a Rioter who is an author and just began another career as a bookseller: Susie Dumond, author of Queerly Beloved! Susie works at the amazing Loyalty Bookstore in its Silver Springs, Maryland location. I asked her what it was like working as a bookseller, having published a book, and she had great responses. “I only started bookselling over the past couple of months, but I felt at home in the store from my first shift. I already spend every waking minute writing books, reading books, or talking about books.

Now I get to handsell the books I love to the people in my community. It feels very full circle, and I’m also learning a lot about a different aspect of the book industry. I feel like my next book tour will be heavily informed by what I’ve learned working in an indie bookstore.”

“And what can authors learn from bookselling?” I asked.

“Authors have a lot to learn from booksellers when it comes to readers and the publishing industry at large. Booksellers hear daily what kind of books readers are looking for, what their pet peeves are, and what really resonates with them. They also know what works and what doesn’t at author events,” she said. “I’m especially enjoying learning about the larger bookish community and what authors can do to promote reading and being a good literary citizen. Bookstores are truly the lifeblood of neighborhoods and a place readers go to find books out of their comfort zones.”

For more about books and bookselling, check out Jeff O’Neal talking with Josh Cook on First Edition, and learn about bookselling during a pandemic.