I went down to Columbus, Ohio, the first weekend in May to take part in the Ohioana Book Festival. I LOVE meeting readers, but book fairs can be so weird. There you sit, behind a big, bright, hopeful pile of your books, as people file by. If they stop to browse, what is the proper writer etiquette? My instinct is to look down at my lap and hum softly under my breath, signaling NO PRESSURE HERE.
But what if they want to talk? What if they’d really like some help choosing among the million good books on display? So sometimes I give a little pitch, and sometimes I fall into a lovely little conversation, and sometimes they buy the book, which makes me happy of course. But all in all, I’m not very comfortable with peddling. A big reason I’m a writer is that I trust and like my considered voice, the one I put on paper, more than the one that blabs away aloud.
I got to talk–not blab but really talk– about exactly that with Sally Oddi, the owner of Columbus’s iconic children’s book store, Cover to Cover www.covertocoverchildrensbooks.com Shockingly, I’d never met Sally, even though she’s been in business since 1980, which just happens to be the year I had my first children’s book, “My Minnie is a Jewel.” (Long out of print, it was published by CarolRhoda, then just a teeny tiny blip on the publishing screen). Here the two of us are, leaning back (or leaning in).
Sally left teaching to open the store. She knows kids and she knows books. She’s seen the book-selling landscape change–understatement of the decade–and we reminisced a while about ye olden days. She’d just hosted a visit and signing with a very big name writer, a guy who makes kids roll around on the floor laughing. Sally told me he turned out to be shy. He did no presentation, but had a personal conversation with every child who brought him a book to sign. We both got nostalgic for the pre-social-media days when a writer wrote her book, put it in the hands of her editor and publisher, and that was it. Back then, you went back to your desk and got straight to work on the next one. Sally said watching children’s authors become celebrities has been really startling to her. I said the feeling that you could always be doing more to promote your work is a drag.
Ever since 1980, she’s been having writers who stopped by her store sign the walls. Walls are easier to share than a guest book, she says. When she moved the shop in 1997, she simply brought the walls with her. They’re in a back room now, and the new walls are all but covered with the most glorious graffiti ever.
Here’s a miniscule section, the smallest fraction of the whole. You can enlarge it and play I Spy. Aliki, Angela Johnson, Laura Numeroff, Kimberly Willis Holt. The store, an unassuming place on the outside, is a temple of the gods within.
Oh indie booksellers, thank you for keeping the faith. You are the real celebrities.