Bookselling Without Borders Has Plans for Your Shelf

Bookselling Without Borders Wants to rearrange the shelves of your local bookseller. Currently running a Kickstarter to raise the funds, BWB wants to send your friendly neighborhood bookseller to book fairs around the world. There, they will get their hands on hidden international gems online retailers and big box stores won’t provide you with. It’s an intriguing idea. The video below explains the idea (click on the “K” in the top right hand corner to go to the Kickstarter and donate). Below, We talk to Michael Reynolds of Europa Editions to learn more.

What is the Bookselling without Borders and what is its goal?

The ultimate goal of BWB is to bring about greater bibliodiversity in the American book market and the culture of reading in this country by empowering booksellers. Now, more than ever, we need diverse voices, literatures from abroad, different perspectives on life and how it can be lived, new ways of imagining our shared future. BWB plans to make this happen by giving booksellers, who are on the frontline when it comes to getting books in the hands of readers, the right tools. Giving booksellers the opportunity to make meaningful connections with their international counterparts and others in the global book industry, giving them a change for substantive exchange, will make them more informed, sensitive, and effective influencers when it comes to literature from abroad or diverse literature.

Concretely, in 2018 we will take delegations of American booksellers to three of the biggest, most important international book fairs in Frankfurt, Turin, and Guadalajara, where they will network, participate in panels, meet authors, agents, and publishers, visit their bookselling counterparts in the those countries, exchange ideas with the most prominent figures in the book industry.

One of the rewards on the Bookselling without Borders kickstarter is a an evaluation from a literary agent; what can aspiring writers do, beyond donation, to help this project succeed? Would they benefit from attending next year’s support international bookfairs in Turn, Frankfurt, and Guadalajara?

The benefits that an American writer could get from attending any of these fairs really depends on what stage she is in her career and whether she is adequately represented (by agents or their publishing houses) in international markets. I think the publication prospects of aspiring writers are probably best served by concentrating on their “home market” rather than investing in trips to international book fairs. That said, their literary and creative aspirations would be marvelously well served by spending a few days with other writers from around the world.

One of the market forces that makes life difficult for aspiring writers is that so much of the book market (i.e. real estate in bookstores, publishers’ marketing budgets, etc.) is sucked up by the mega-bestsellers. This is more true in the US than almost any other market. There is less and less room for the “mid-list”, for the backlist, for new voices, for experimentation, for noble failures, for anything that is not cut and polished to fit the market’s tastes. What BWB essentially sets out to do is to diversify the market, to make those people principally responsible for getting books into the hands of readers more interested in diverse literatures, and better able to sell them. In this sense, it directly benefits aspiring writers.
Apart from donating, what aspiring writers can do is to share news of the campaign as widely and as tenaciously as possible on their social networks, among friends and colleagues, before the end of the month!
What unique opportunities and relationships do independant bookstores offer their customers?  Does the internationalization of America’s bookshelves depend on these relationships?  What do we expect from the independent bookseller that no algorithm can offer? 

Oh, man. I could write a novella on this one. A bookstore is a destination in the way a favorite bar, a cafe, a place of worship, a sports stadium, or a community meeting center is. It offers a unique “third place”, one that is not home, but where we nonetheless feel at home; that is not work, and yet is connected to the deep work that all of us should be engaged in: making our life fulfilling and meaningful. Bookstores play a vital fiscal, cultural, social role in our communities. By their very nature, booksellers are going to attempt to lead us to something new and interesting. Bookstores smell good. Even when they’re a complete mess, they look good. Bookstores are places — in some place in the country, one of very few places — where we can go to commiserate, to celebrate, to share, to organize, to discover.

Amazon is a cash register.
 Amazon is a cash register.
So far, this projects involves five American independent presses: Europa, Graywolf, Other Press, New Press, and Catapult. Are there any plans to expand this list with new partnerships in the future? How would a small publisher or independent bookstore become involved with this project? Where should they start?

Yes, there are. I have already heard from other international book fairs that would very much like to be on the itinerary for the following year, and I have heard from a number of presses that are interested in partnering with us. I think everybody sees how much sense this makes and how important it is.

How to get involved: donate, share your enthusiasm online, and watch this space – Booksellingwithoutborders.com As soon as we get through this kickstarter phase we’ll be building out this web site a bit — not too much, as BWB is about connecting people face-to-face rather than providing another online forum — with a newsletter and ways you can stay up-to-date.
If this project is a success, what is the next step for Bookselling Without Borders? Will it mean a growing list of booksellers working to create a growing network of contacts? What would the ideal relationship between American booksellers and international publishers look like?

For this to really have an impact on the culture and the book industry here, we need a critical mass and we need to set up something permanent. I’d like to see at least 10-15 booksellers going to international fairs on this scholarship program from next year until well into the future. But another thing I’d like to see happen is that the “delegation” of booksellers become international, like the editors trips that many cultural agencies organize. I’ve already had bookseller organizations, publishers or bookstore owners in Italy, Germany, the UK, and Australia tell me that they would like to send booksellers on these trips. If we can make that happen, I think we can start nurturing some meaningful personal connections and making some real changes.