John Green’s eagerly anticipated afternoon keynote presentation at Winter Institute 10 in Asheville, N.C., did not disappoint the crowd of booksellers that packed the Grove Park Inn’s Heritage Ballroom Monday afternoon. The event was a multimedia extravaganza, beginning with the introduction by a quartet of booksellers from Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga. The children’s booksellers, including one strumming a guitar, sang “John Green” to the tune of the Troggs' “Wild Thing,” and soon had the audience singing the refrain along with them.
“That was overwhelmingly the best introduction I’ve ever seen,” a blushing Green told the crowd, before launching on a retrospective of the past 10 years, both in the industry and in his personal career trajectory. With plenty of shout-outs to various individual indie booksellers who have supported him, including Kids Ink in Indianapolis, his local store, Green emphasized how indispensable independent booksellers have been, not just to him in the past decade, but to multitudes of other authors for generations. Green expressed the wish that publishers would even “privilege” indie booksellers over mass market accounts, and consider “subsidizing” them in some way to ensure their financial stability.
“We will suck without you,” Green told the booksellers, referring to authors, “It’s worse than not existing.”
A “real fear of mine,” he confessed, is that he would live in a world in which books were available only on Amazon and at big box stores like Walmart.
“Part of what you are selling is your passion and expertise,” he said, recalling how an indie bookseller hand sold him Phillip Kerr’s Berlin trilogy nine years ago, and he still recommends it to others. “You cannot buy that and you cannot replicate that. We’re not in the widget business; we’re in the stories business.”
Recalling his first author tour 10 years ago for his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, John Green insisted that everything he learned about the publishing industry he learned from independent booksellers. Booksellers, he said he quickly realized, are “really, really well-informed and knowledgeable,” even though, he added, bookselling is the “saddest, most pessimistic business I have ever known.” Booksellers, he explained, complain every decade that the previous decade was the golden age of YA publishing and that it has ended.
During that first author tour in 2005, Green recalled, he saw that the most successful booksellers were those who “really knew their community and their customers.” He has always taken that knowledge to heart and from the beginning, committed himself to connecting with and understanding his own community of readers. Green caused much laughter among booksellers by showing them his initial website and and early vlogs, as well as a few current video projects.
“Even though I’m on the Internet,” he noted, “I think I suck on the Internet.” His books have sold so well, he said, due to “old-fashioned word of mouth” that began with booksellers and librarians in 2005 and continues with such things as his Nerdfighter fans placing notes to other fans in his books.
Concluding his prepared remarks on a positive note before he answered some written questions submitted earlier by booksellers, Green suggested that print books – including ARCs – are popular with “plenty of teens” and that when booksellers are dealing with them, they should just be “be your badass, open selves; you have a cool you don’t know you have.” Teens respect the kind of passion and enthusiasm that indie booksellers exude, he said.
“Long live your pessimism. Long live your refusal to give in to it,” Green in conclusion. “Long live the great American bookstore!”