Wednesday Writers Wisdom: The Bookseller
In the literary community, there is a heated debate in regards to digital books versus print books. Naturally, this extends to the concept of online book retailers versus brick and mortar stores. Many avid book lovers will tell you there is nothing better than savoring the feel and smell of a printed book. And, along this line, perusing the shelves of a bookstore (or library) is an experience in itself. Today we are talking to Brandon Soale, owner of Crab Apple Books. Crap Apple is an independent bookstore located in southeast Ohio. It opened in December of last year and has built up a steady customer base since.
When did you decide you wanted to own a bookstore? What motivated that decision?
I have always had a passion for books and I always wanted to be a writer. When my book From Foggia to Freedom came out I had a terrible time finding independent bookstores who would carry my book. I contacted several stores in Dayton and Cincinnati offering to speak about my book and sign copies for them. None were interested so I decided I would create a place where local writers were welcome.
In what ways would you like your bookstore to serve our community?
My background is in education. I graduated from Miami University with a degree in history and social studies education. I have worked for the Butler County Historical Society as curator of the Heritage Hall Museum in Hamilton. My goal is to create a place in Middletown where like-minded people can gather to share ideas and learn. I will be hosting writers workshops, historical exhibits, art programs, book clubs and local history lectures. All of which will be free and open to the public. Middletown needs a place where everyone is welcome and learning can be fun instead of frustrating.
What kind of books do you personally enjoy?
I read mostly non-fiction books about military history. However, I recently have been reading the classics. I am currently reading Moby Dick and I just reread Lord Of the Flies and Don Quixote. I am usually all over the place when it comes to reading because I always ask people what their favorite book is and when I see it used somewhere I always grab it. My next two books will be Cooper’s Pathfinder and then Calico Joe by Gresham.
If you could take any fictional character and rewrite their story, who would you choose?
I would probably “rewrite” or perhaps add to The Sun Also Rises. I think Jake and Lady Brett Ashley should have attempted a relationship instead of just ending with “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so” when they discuss what life together could have been. However, the nostalgic look back on the adventures in the book and the WWI experiences Jake had make Hemingway’s book feel genuine. He was portraying through those two characters what the whole world thought life would have been like without the war changing the world. So nevermind, I guess it is perfect the way it is haha!
What kind of author involvement would you like to see in your store?
I want local authors and their books to be the center of attention. I also want writers to benefit from my store in ways other than money from sold books. I will be hosting a writers collaborative each month in the store starting this summer. I would like to see writers helping each other with everything from marketing and publishing to copyright laws and contracts. Each month we will have someone speak about a topic of interest for writers. It could be a beginners guide to poetry one month and a workshop on the layout and formatting of a photography book the next month. This should be community driven and based around teamwork. Writers should not feel like they have to be alone when they set out to create something.
What impact do you feel digital books have had on brick and mortar stores? Does this intimidate you at all?
I know a great number of people who read ebooks and my friends all read ebooks. They have a time and a place. They are great for travel and wonderful for research. For instance, there were tons of rare and expensive WWII books I needed to reference for my book. Instead of spending hundreds on out of print books I could not easily obtain I used digital copies to get what I needed. But most of my friends read an ebook to see if they like it enough to buy a hardcopy. Now when people read an ebook and realize they like it enough to add to their collection they can come to my store and buy a hardback that will look great on the shelf and will be there to pass along to others.
How long will a book remain on your shelves before it is returned to the distributor?
I buy all of my books on a nonreturnable program for a greater discount. It makes the inventory less expensive but I cannot return what I order. It makes choosing books much more difficult but in the long run, I research each book more and when customers come in with questions I can tell them more about each item on the shelf. The good thing about books is that they never go bad. Just because a book might sit on a shelf for a few months doesn’t mean the story gets stale.
What are some non-book items you have available?
We sell a line of literature related t-shirts from a New York Company called Out of Print. They produce shirts with the original cover art from classic novels such as Sherlock Holmes and children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are. We also have book related mugs and we always have gourmet coffee and tea available for customers to enjoy while they browse the store or relax with a book.
Do you encourage shoppers to stay and read in the store? Do you offer comfortable seating and lighting?
I want people to come in and read. I tried to set up the store with several places people could escape to and do what they want. I wanted to give people areas to read, study and meet but not have the different activities interrupt each other. So there are tables to work at and chairs in other rooms for individuals to relax. We will be opening two spaces in the basement where groups can go to have meetings or individuals can use to read quietly. It will be another opportunity to accommodate everyone.
Do you sell or rent ebooks? What about ereaders?
No but we will probably start selling ereaders at the store in 2016 if there is enough demand for them.
How are you utilizing social media in your business model?
Social media is a huge chunk of any businesses marketing right now. People rely on their friends and strangers for information concerning places to go and things to do. I used social media to sell my books and I am still learning how to incorporate the tricks I learned self-publishing into the business. Right now I am just trying to have an online presence while I work out the day to day problems a new business faces. I am really excited about some of the things I have planned for the interaction between customers and the store itself. I want the public to have a say in the authors we invite to sign, the programs we have and the books we sell. I also want people who can’t make it down to the store to be able to benefit from the things we do for free online. That will include posting videos of author interviews and programs as well as asking people to contribute to our newsletter. I want the newsletter to be printed as well as digital.
If you could choose any five writers (living or dead) to hold a presentation for your customers, who would you choose?
Hemingway, Stephen Crane, Voltaire, Robert McCloskey and General Erich von Manstein. I have so much to ask these guys about things other than their books.
What are your most and least favorite aspects of being a bookseller?
The best part about running a bookstore is ordering books! I love books and sitting down to order new things for the store allows me to learn about authors, genres and topics I would never have researched for my personal collection. Everyone has a favorite book and when you talk to the customers they always have a favorite title or author they are passionate about. The worst part about selling books is that when I take their advice and order all of these interesting books my personal reading list gets out of control. I am going to need to find someone to read to me while I work or I will never get caught up!
You have written and published your own book, what was the most challenging part of the process for you?
The most challenging part was doing the editing work. The book is nonfiction and the stories came from interviewing more than 30 World War II veterans who flew with the 15th Air Force in Italy, many of which were shot down and held in German POW camps until the war’s end. The stories were being told to me and I actually had more information than I knew what to do with. I did not want to leave anyone’s interview out because these men were 88-94 years old and for many it was the only time or final time they could get their story into the historical record. I began the interviews in 2008 and today there are none of the original crewmembers I started with living today. That was a challenging burden I did not expect to deal with when I began.
Last question, what is your all time hands down favorite book?
That is a difficult question because I read both fiction and nonfiction but my favorite fiction book is For Whom the Bell Tolls and my favorite nonfiction is EB Sledge’s WWII book With the Old Breed.Brandon
Brandon Soale is the is the owner of Crap Apple Books and author of From Foggia to Freedom. He resides in Southeast Ohio and is a known history buff. When he is not operating his bookstore or involved in baseball he can be found working within the local Historical Society.