Indie Bookstore Road Trip


Independent bookstores will save the world, or at least the publishing industry, maybe. Josh Weil and Mike Harvkey took a road trip across the country, exploring independent bookstores. They found a collection of dedicated shops and local literary communities, but that didn’t answer the fundamental question: how important are independent bookstores are to writers?

An indie bookseller convinces two dozen readers to buy our books for Christmas. Say this happens six times. That’s 150 books. Literary debuts aren’t known for big numbers, but success means more than a few hundred. Success means a good many thousand. But think about this: Some of those two dozen readers — say, a third of them — tell one or two other readers about our books. Seven people each tell two friends, and so on and so forth, like that old shampoo commercial, and the train chugs ever up that hill, slow, steady, unstoppable. As authors (and Mike having spent time on the inside, at Publishers Weekly) another question that’s always on our minds is a question that’s on every publisher’s mind: What sells books? The only answer we’ve ever heard is “word of mouth.” Personal recommendations. So: Is it worth it?

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →