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Books Are Magic : An Interview with Colleen Callery (Marketing & Communication Director)
If you find yourself around Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and you’ll see it painted on the side of a building: a vibrant…
If you find yourself wandering around Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, you’ll observe an amazing street/mural art, portrayed on the side of a building: a vibrant expression or a phrase is decorated in white capital letters with pink trailing behind it. “Books Are Magic,” it reads, and beside it, in smaller pink letters, “Need to read? Open every day.”
The landmark is very popular , bibliophiles and readers are pretty fond of it . The bookshop was founded by Emma Straub— New York Times bestselling author of the novels : All Adults Here (2020) , Modern Lovers (2016) and The Vacationers (2014) — and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub in May 2017, after their beloved neighborhood bookstore, BookCourt, closed after 35 years.
“We just couldn’t imagine the idea of living in a neighborhood without a bookstore,” Emma Straub says. “We just knew that we could do it, and that we should do it.”
The bookshop name was born from a moment when Emma and Michael were thinking of opening a children’s bookstore , which was inspired by their two young sons, River and Miles. However , they decided to make the bookshop about all-ages, so they ended up choosing the name Books Are Magic, after brainstorming and rejecting few names which Emma described as “too mainstream or predictable,” including The Cobble Hill Bookstore and Straub & Sons.
“Just like with our children,” Emma says, “we decided that the name that brought us the most joy should be the one that we went with.”
I had a wonderful & insightful conversation and Q&A session with Colleen Callery about Bookselling Business Ecosystem. How Emma & Michael are managing the business and the team without any prior book selling business experience and the story behind their giant pink mural.
Colleen is a Marketing and Communication Manager at the Bookstore. She helps the bookstore in securing and maintaining Brand Partnerships and also managing and directing all digital communications which includes social media channels , E-mail newsletters , Web content /Content marketing and Event marketing. Prior to this , she has worked with Strand Book Store as a Marketing Coordinator and Bookseller. She has a graduate degree in English from James Madison University and also she did a course on Publishing from New York University (NYU).
Q1) Tell me about your workplace Books are Magic. What’s it like? Tell our readers here about its rich history? When and how the bookshop came into existence? When did Emma and Michael realized their inclination towards bookselling business? What was the mission and vision Emma and Michael had projected when they founded this book heaven?
Colleen : Books Are Magic has been open for about 3 and a half years now. On the heels of a beloved neighborhood bookstore, Book Court, closing its doors after 25 years, Mike and Emma realized this was their opportunity to fill the need by opening a book shop of their own. Emma always says they saw it one of two ways, either they could move to a neighborhood with a book store, or they could open one. And they chose to open one!
From the beginning their mission has been about serving the neighborhood — providing books and programming for readers of all levels, supporting authors (of which there are many that live in the area), and creating a friendly space where people can come and discover something new. As parents to young children, its also been important for them to be welcoming to families. We have a big children’s book selection, story times and music classes, and comfy seating so parents can bring their kids and spend some time with a book or two.
For author Emma Straub and her husband, graphic designer Michael Fusco, owning an independent bookstore had always been something of a dream, something that they envisioned doing later in life.
Q2) How has the bookshop evolved since it has first opened it’s doors?
Colleen : We’ve grown so much! The support has been overwhelming. We’re still always tweaking things, adding new sections, moving things around, bringing in new products to see what works. It’s fun to keep things interesting and see what our customers respond to.
One of the biggest aspects of our store is our event programming which has grown so much over the last 3 years. We host near 300 events a year and are always trying to make sure our events are thoughtful, engaging, and supporting a diverse range of voices.
Q3) How Books are magic is providing support to new literary voices? How does bookstore support the independent publishing in the community?
Colleen : As an author herself, Emma knows firsthand how difficult it can be to start out as a writer, so we are very conscious of how we can support new, debut, and independent authors. We feature new writers in our event programming prominently, and are always trying to find fun ways to create digital content for authors we’re really excited about on our social channels and blog. We also have an open submission policy for independently published books that we encourage authors to use, and are regularly reviewing as we make stocking decisions.
Q4) What sort of activities/workshops and discussion does Books are Magic conduct with respect to online or offline events in collaboration with authors and book launches? Tell our readers here about any memorable event or workshop or any interview which happened at the bookshop.
Colleen : Like I said, we host around 300 events a year. In normal times, these were hosted at our store and some off-site venues for larger authors or special events, but recently these have all been relegated to virtual Zoom events. Our programming mostly consists of in-conversation type talks around a new or recent book, but we also host plenty of panels, readings, a few workshops, fundraisers, and some special events. For example, we recently hosted our first open mic poetry reading which was great. And last year we teamed up with friends from a stationary store CW Pencil Enterprise to host a postcard writing night to elected officials about passing gun-safety laws.
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We’re trying to diversify the types of programming we can offer as much as possible, but have had to pivot pretty quickly since the pandemic. Luckily we work with so many amazing writers and community members that are always willing to think creatively about how to move forward.
Q5) If you could expand the space infinitely, what would you add to the store?
Colleen : Oh, such a fun question! More books, obviously. We’re a fairly small space, and shelf space is always an issue. I’d love to have more seating, and in a dream world, maybe a space upstairs that we could use to host visiting writers or booksellers — kind of like a tiny residency?
Q6) What are some of the best books you’ve read recently?
Colleen : Pandemic reading has been challenging, I won’t lie. But I have really enjoyed a lot of books this year. Some of my favorites are Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, Oak Flat by Lauren Redniss, Luster by Raven Leilani, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.
Q7) Do you have other books that you like to consistently recommend to customers?
Colleen : Some of my go-to recommendations are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, anything by Mary Oliver, and Valeria Luiselli.
Q8) According to Ryan L. Raffaelli (Associate Professor at Harvard Business School) Research Paper/Study on Independent Bookstores there are 3C’s” that contributed to the Independent Bookstore Resurgence: Community, Curation and Convening. Does Books are Magic bookselling Philosophy resonate with these three factors?
Colleen : Absolutely, I think all three of those things are so important to the success of a bookstore. By nature, bookstores have to be curated, right? We can’t fit an endless amount of titles on the shelves, so we really have to pay attention to what we are making available and visible. Finding a balance between stocking what people come looking for and what they didn’t know what they were looking for is the key. And community and convening are key to the longevity of a bookstore. Creating a culture where people want to come back, where they feel like they can have a really positive interaction with someone, even for just a few minutes, or might run into someone they know (or want to know) is all so important to running a physical bookstore.
“Independent bookstores provide a story of hope for community-led businesses.”
- Ryan Raffaelli
Q9) Much has changed over the past few decades that has made an impact on the book publishing industry. New technologies have made it possible for new writers to self-publish, creating an influx of new authors and book titles that we didn’t see before. Online retailers have made it easier to shop for books from the comfort of your home or office so you don’t have to step inside a bookstore — ever.
But despite these changes, there’s still a place for independent bookstores. While many shops have shuttered its doors, many others are thriving. How Books are Magic is reinventing themselves?
Colleen : I think because we are still fairly new, it kind of feels like we have never stopped reinventing ourselves, its a constant process of trying things, assessing what’s working, and refocusing our efforts. In the midst of online retailers and the pandemic, we are focusing on what makes our store special, which is all the individuals that make up the magic of a place like this. Prioritizing authors and books that really resonate with us, creating thoughtful content — whether that is personalized recommendations, or curated programming, or interviews with writers, and being as responsive and helpful to customers as possible.
Q10) What has it been like running the store during the lockdown? During these strange times, you’ve also had to change the way you hold literary events at the bookstore. How has it been going from in-person to virtual?
Colleen : It was definitely challenging at first, and we’re still finding ways to streamline some things, but we’ve been really lucky to have been able to pivot fairly quickly. Mike and Emma were adamant about keeping the bookstore open during the lockdown, although closed to browsing, which meant a lot of work shifting to an online-only platform with very few people actually in the store to fulfill all those orders. Our events team are rockstars, honestly, and started converting previously booked events to virtual events immediately. We were lucky to be able to do this early because it gave us a chance to work out a lot of operational kinks and figure out the best platform and practices for us. I think it’s really made a difference with the comfort level of our staff who are able to walk authors through the process with minimal surprises.
Q11) The virtual space is a great resource, but it has changed the way we interact with the book world. Besides everything being done virtually these days, how else do you think the bookselling business has changed during COVID-19?
Colleen : Some of the biggest issues we’ve had have been with supply chains (book printing schedule changes, or some books not being available at all) and shipping concerns. The USPS is vital for us, and many indie bookstores, as an affordable shipping option, so we had a lot of trouble for a few months when packages weren’t being shipped due to their funding cuts. We’re asking people to shop for holiday gifts as early as possible, like right now actually! Because we’re anticipating huge delays and lots of books running out of stock. I think overall this is forcing booksellers to reassess their buying habits and start estimating sales for longer periods of time. We love to be able to offer ordering any in-print book, even if it isn’t on our shelves, but our ability to do that is becoming more precarious with certain books, especially as the pandemic continues.
Q12) Lastly, what do you think the future of indie bookstores will look like?
Colleen : It’s always hard to say for sure because, for the most part, indie bookstores have done a great job of resisting the downfall so many people have been predicting for years. While retail is definitely a brutal business in many ways, I’m seeing so many people take creative approaches to opening their own bookstores, even during the pandemic. While big online retailers will always pose a threat as long as they go unchecked, I think there has actually been more space for local businesses to fill the niches of community and connection that these retailers can’t offer. My hope is that people continue to be inspired to find ways to keep serving their neighbors and communities despite the increasing challenges.
Thank you all for reading and a big thanks to Colleen Callery for collaborating in today’s post!
It’s a pleasure!
If any of my readers here , wish to know more about the bookstore and their work. Do open the links mentioned below . They have a wonderful informative , articulated and well-curated website.
Website : https://www.booksaremagic.net/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/booksaremagicbk/
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/booksaremagicbk/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/booksaremagicbk
Medium : https://medium.com/@books_are_magic