A conversation with Little Shop of Stories bookseller, Justin Colussy-Estes

Fabulous evening with Justin (back) from Little Shop and Angela (right) from Charis Books.

Fabulous evening with Justin (back) from Little Shop and Angela (right) from Charis Books.

Little Shop of Stories in downtown Decatur is among a select list of "Best Indie Bookstores" around the country. Little Shop bookseller and store manager, Justin Colussy-Estes, took the night off to discuss the relationship between independent bookstores and authors, self-publishing, and give us insight into "what sells."We met during another awesome Mingle and Margaritas at Charis Books in Little Five Points, where lovely co-owner Angela Gabriel was our host.

My notes from our conversation with Justin follow (unless otherwise noted):

On independent bookstores, YA and KidLit: As an author, it is important to understand that all independent bookstores are different. Their differences is what makes them thrive. Independent bookstores understand who they are, and who they are within their community. They are successful when they own that identity.

Recently, there has been an explosion of independent and children’s bookstores. The ones that do well are the ones that know their community and have a very clear identity.

As a children’s bookstore, when we open a catalog to place and order, we have an instinct about what will do well.

What does this mean for authors?

When someone comes in to the store and says I’m a published author, we usually want to know:

  • Do you live in the community? We want to support and feature authors from the local community.

  • Is your book appropriate to this store? In the children’s book market, the age level is more defined than the genre. Both the kids and the parents drive the interest in the books that are purchased. Kids non-fiction is a different scale entirely. The buyers tend to the librarians, teachers and parents. Independent bookstores do not have space. Shelf space is at a premium. Customers love that because they know they can trust what is there. The better you know your book and the market of your book, the better you can understand where to sell your book.

  • Is there an opportunity to hold an event? Typically we set up events through the publisher. That tells the publisher, there is interests in this author.If you are an author and you are doing a book signing, it is incumbent upon you to sell your own event. Do not expect the bookstore to do it.

  • How can we get your book? Some children’s publishers distribute through channels that are not as accessible to us.

  • Are you self-published? If you are self-published, bookstores normally handle this through consignment. We will can also give authors the opportunity to host an event for a small fee. Authors receive 85% of the sales. But keep in mind, different stores do this different. If you are a self-published author, do not bring your book and just drop it at the store for a manager to read, it will more than likely get donated.

From Charis Bookstore/Angela Gabriel on self-publishing: We split the profits with the self-published authors at a 60/40 rate. It is the author’s responsibility to check on sales. If you don’t check up, the store has the right to donate the books and donate the profits. Shelf space is prime real estate in a bookstore. Our kid lit section is very curated, we want to make sure they meet the mission of our bookstore. We are very specialized. We also ask that your tittle and your name are on the spine of the book, along with a barcode on the back. Bookstores are like candy shops, what looks good is what entices.

Justin Colussy-Estes bookseller at Little Shop of Stories

Justin Colussy-Estes bookseller at Little Shop of Stories

Author Q&A with Justin:

Any advice on school visits? For YA authors, the books have to be relevant to the curriculum. Some schools have media specialists—they are the rock stars of schools. As part of their job, they go to the classrooms and publicize the book talks. We’re trying to get authors in schools, where they don’t get to see authors. 

Is there a new adult category? New Adult shares some of the same characteristics of YA, but then you have adults doing adult things. We shelf books either YA or adult. We make that decision usually on the packaging of the book. At the heart of YA there is a certain kind of hope.

What works in YA? YA has the biggest divisions between books that are successful and books that are not. Also, what is popular tends to shift around. There is no blanket market. For example, P.C. and Kristin Cast vampire series have sold over 7 million copies. All of John Greens books are issues and road trip novels. You also have Jason Reynolds who writes for young men of color who are not readers. In YA romance sells better than not. The primary readers are young women. The constraints of genre are less rigorous so you can jumble different things around. The current moment is hungry for books of political and social relevance.

Justin Speaks

Justin Speaks

What differentiates a YA novel from a MG one?Kids books are about kids having agency. Adults are removed. Kids discover a space where they have agency. They have agency to change themselves and the world around them. In YA you see much more real world stuff. There are issues and real-world consequences. The real world impinges on the characters in ways that affect them in their ability to make choices and get what they want, and also find themselves. 

What books sell?A book that sales is authentically what it is. Why did you write it? Does your books speak to a readership that hasn’t seen themselves in a book before? We (as booksellers) need to be clear on what that message is. Books are hand sold.

Are you an Atlanta author writing MG or YA? Want to join the next Mingle and Margaritas? Send me an email at Mail@MayraCuevas.com and I'll keep you posted on future events.