The following interview is one in a series of Fuze spotlights on a publisher, bookstore, or author we believe deserves recognition for maintaining a visionary, creative, and innovative approach to the changing publishing and bookselling landscape. Read on to discover the grassroots, community emphasis of Patrick Darby’s bookstore, Novel Places.
You recently opened a bookstore in Clarksburg, Maryland called Novel Places. Why did you decide to take on running/owning an independent bookstore in this changing bookselling climate?
I started bookselling at a chain store right out of college over 30 years ago. It was my dream to open my own bookstore, especially when I realized my style of selling was better suited to the independent philosophy. It’s certainly more of a challenge to open a bookstore today than years ago, but the demand for a brick-and-mortar store will continue for some time. People still want to look at the book before they buy it, and consult with a knowledgeable bookseller. The ebook will be the hardest to compete with, but the bookstore can still serve that customer. A bookstore can provide author events that an online company can’t.
What was your vision when you started Novel Places? Has it changed?
I wanted to provide a full service store for the community. Clarksburg is seriously lacking a retail center, which will be developed in the next few years.
I quickly realized Clarksburg is a young community and children’s books and toys would be the dominant feature. That vision hasn’t changed, but I’ve added gaming to the activities I planned. I was approached with the opportunity to run a game night, and it’s paid off remarkably well.
What kinds of books do you sell? Is there a “specialty” to the bookstore?
I carry all categories of books, both new and used. The most popular selection, outside of Children and Young Adult, is Mystery and Science-Fiction. Since Borders closed, I’ve become a general store, trying to cater to all tastes.
What position do you see for yourself in the big, confusing picture of today’s publishing world? How are you handling the increase in digital book demand?
I’m far too small to get involved in some of the publishing ventures the bigger independent bookstores are engaged in, and must focus on establishing the store in the community. Bookstores have always been the sales floor for authors and publishers, but I see myself and others becoming more proactive in the publishing side of the business. We can bring authors to publishers attention, “invest” in authors through self publishing and promotion, and becoming a channel for social media. Until the competition and battle over format standards, pricing, etc. are settled, I’m setting up the store to inform customers that Novel Places was one of the first to sign up for ebooks through Google. We have a large QR code sign by the street to update drivers of new releases and events. The same type of code will be used on shelf talkers for customers to get more information on a particular book. It’s difficult for a store my size to break out in front of the competition, but I hope ABA [American Booksellers Association] will keep us informed about the changing landscape and opportunities.
What position do you see for your bookstore in the community? Over time?
The building I leased was the general store in Clarksburg for 250 years and considered the center of the community, where you could find out anything. We’re bringing that back with author appearances, civic meetings, storytelling, play dates, poetry readings, etc. The town has grown enormously over the last few years, but we see the store as a place to find out what’s happening, and a place to socialize.
I noticed on your website that there are different kinds of events, from book readings, to something called a Gathering Dark Ascension. Can you tell me more about this unusual event?
It’s the gaming event I mentioned earlier. Magic, The Gathering is a card game version similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike D&D, which involves mapping and role-playing scenarios, Magic is mostly combat and strategy. People meet to compete against each other with new cards released every 3 months, or build decks from their collection. We have tournaments every 2nd and 4th Saturday. Prizes and points are awarded and these points go toward professional tournaments if the player chooses. Every Wednesday night, we have Casual Magic where players play any format they want, and it’s free. This encourages new people to join, and lets players “test” their deck for a tournament. Dark Ascension is the recent release of new cards, and this time, the store qualified to host a pre-release party. I had three tournaments over two days, and it was quite an event! I was hesitant at first to get involved, but the participants are readers and sales in books and gaming supplies is strong. We have a good group at the store, and children have enjoyed playing with the adults.
You recently requested copies of all the Fuze books for your bookstore. Have you sold any copies?
We’ve sold some and have them prominently displayed. One goal is to promote local publishers. Our foot traffic is still low, but growing steadily, and we expect these titles to give us an advantage by showcasing books not seen at the big stores. I have anotherlocal publisher, and their customers are finding us through their Face Book page. Social Media will help get the word out and that helps everyone.
What is your favorite genre of book?
All of them! Actually, Mystery and Science Fiction were my favorites when I was younger. Today, I read a wide range of genres. A book has to grab my attention, and it can be almost any subject. At the moment, I’m fascinated with Steampunk*.
* According to Wikipedia, Steampunk “is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used–usually Victorian era Britain or ‘Wild West’-era United States–that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective of fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.” Hint: think the mainstream films, “The Golden Compass,” or more recently, “Hugo.”