Last September 2 in an interview in the Wall Street Journal followed by an appearance two weeks later on CBS This Morning, James Patterson announced his intention to give away $1 million to independent bookstores over the course of the next 12 months. Since then he’s established a place on his Web site where booksellers can apply for grants and readers can nominate their favorite bookstores. He’s also reached out to other authors, including Kate DiCamillo and R.L. Stine, to recommend indies, who may not have applied but could use the money. A little over five months later, Patterson has made good on his promise and mailed out the first installment of the funding this week, totaling more than $267,000, to 54 bookstores across the country plus the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association in support of California Bookstore Day. The grants range from $2,000 to $15,000. In most instances, bookstores got what they requested; a few got even more.

In a phone conversation with PW earlier this week, Patterson stressed that this is only the first round. “We’ll follow it with as many as we can do,” he said and encouraged more booksellers to apply. “It’s as easy as putting on half a page of paper what you need to do. It’s not like applying to Harvard. It’s not difficult, and there’s no catch. We want to be inundated.” The only qualifications are that the store be a viable bookstore and that it have a children’s section.

A doer by nature, Patterson describes himself as “the anti-Congress. We just do stuff.” For him, that “stuff” concerns not just the future of bookstores, libraries, and publishers, but of the next generation of readers. “The future of books in America is at risk,” he said. “Bookstore traffic is down. Kids aren’t reading as many books. I want to really shine a light and draw attention to the fact that this is a tricky time. The government will protect the automobile industry and the banking industry, but not books.”

Acknowledging that he’s “a bit of a micromanager,” Patterson read through every one of the grant letters and formal proposals and personally approved each one. Book Revue of Huntington in Long Island, N.Y., will receive financial help after a “near apocalyptic winter.” Wrote co-owner Bob Klein, “We will use the money to keep valuable employees, pay our property tax, and do much needed repairs to our floor and roof.” Hicklebee’s in San Jose, Calif., will get help upgrading an outdated computer system, particularly worrisome to customers in tech-savvy Silicon Valley. And, like Klein and a number of other bookstores, a bonus for a beloved employee, in its case the store manager.

A number of proposals sought to expand programs already in place, like one from Dave Shallenberger, co-owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., who has been growing his book fair business but without a dedicated store truck to haul books. For the past two years he’s been thinking about retrofitting an old school bus and taking it to schools, where kids could visit and walk through it. Thanks to the grant, he will be able to have “Maximum Ride” all decked out in time for this year’s Decatur Book Festival, held over Labor Day weekend.

“We are thrilled and honored to be included in James Patterson’s $1 Million Indie Bookstore Campaign,” said Meghan Dietsche Goel, children’s and young adult book buyer at BookPeople in Austin, Tex., and program director of the Austin Teen Book Festival. “The grant we submitted asked for funds to help BookPeople work with local authors and Austin Independent School District to create book-based curriculum enhancements. We ran a pilot program with 40 Austin schools this year to expand upon local author Shana Burg’s Laugh with the Moon by providing art, music, and social studies curriculum enhancements and connecting over 3,500 kids with pen pals from Malawi.”

Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fl., wants to donate books to students who can’t afford to buy them when the store brings authors to visit their schools. “I couldn’t be more thankful to Mr. Patterson,” said owner Mitchell Kaplan. “His commitment to independent bookstores is something we celebrate and to turn the next generation into readers is quite commendable.” Similarly the 40-year-old Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass., asked for a grant to buy books. In its case it wants to re-establish its Bookloft Readers Program, which sent booksellers to underserved schools to read to the children and donate books to their classrooms.

The $1 million for indies program is very much Patterson’s project, although his publisher, Hachette Book Group, has been supportive. “We share his concerns and talk about them,” said CEO Michael Pietsch, who has worked with Patterson for 20 years and is a neighbor in Westchester County. “We help him amplify his ideas. It’s really his own endeavor.” Although Hachette can’t recommend bookstores, its reps have helped spread the word about the grants on sales calls. Pietsch, like Patterson, would like to see many more booksellers ask for help. If the grants have a lasting effect on the bookstores and their communities, it’s possible that Patterson will make more grants, even after the remaining $750,000 runs out.

Patterson’s not worried that a bookseller might try to take advantage of him. He just wants to get the money out. He cities a recent conversation that he and his wife had with President Bill Clinton, who talked about a bill that passed. “It did more good than harm,” said Clinton. That’s Patterson’s goal, doing more good than harm for booksellers and for the next generation of readers. In some ways, he’s also answered the question he posed on the cover of PW last April, “Who will save our books? Our bookstores? Our libraries?” He will, or at least will try.

Bookstores Receiving Grants in the First Round:

A Whale of a Tale – Irvine, CA

Alamosa Books - Albuquerque, NM

Anderson's - Naperville, IL

Andover Bookstore (Hugo Books) - Andover, MA

Bank Street Bookstore - New York, NY

Bay Company Books Inc. (Bookshop Santa Cruz) - Santa Cruz, CA

Book Bin - Northbrook, IL

Book Culture -New York, NY

Book Passage – Corte Madera, CA

Book Revue - Huntington, NY

BookPeople – Austin, TX

Books & Books – Coral Gables, FL

Books & Greetings - Northvale, NJ

Books of Wonder - New York, NY

Booktenders - Doylestown, PA

Bookworks - Albuquerque, NM

Brazos Bookstore, Inc. - Houston, TX

Brewster Book Store - Brewster, MA

Broadside Book Shop - Northampton, MA

Browseabout Books - Rehoboth Beach, DE

California Bookstore Day

Children’s Book World – Los Angeles, CA

Children's Book World - Haverford, PA

Doylestown Bookshop - Doylestown, PA

Eighth Day Books - Wichita, KS

Gallery Bookshop & Bookwinkle Children - Mendocino, CA

Hicklebee’s – San Jose, CA

Innisfree Bookshop – Lincoln, NH

Lake Forest BookStore - Lake Forest, IL

Little Shop of Stories – Decatur, GA

Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café – Asheville, NC

Mysterious Galaxy - Redondo Beach/San Diego, CA

Nicola's Books - Ann Arbor, MI

Norwich Bookstore - Norwich, VT

Oblong Books – Millerton, NY

Odyssey Book Shop – South Hadley, MA

Old Firehouse Books - Fort Collins, CO

Page & Palette - Fairhope, AL

Park Road Books - Charlotte, NC

Parnassus Books - Nashville, TN

Percy's Burrow - Topsham, ME

Phoenix Books - Essex Junction, VT

Porter Square Books - Cambridge, MA

Reading Reptile - Kansas City, MO

Red Balloon - St. Paul, MN

Russo's Marketplace Books - Bakersfield, CA

Schuler Books and Music - Okemos, MI

Subterranean Books – St. Louis, MO

The Bookies – Denver, CO

The BookLoft - Great Barrington, MA

The Bookstore Plus - Lake Placid, NY

The Children's Bookstore – Baltimore, MD

The Yellow Brick Road - San Diego, CA

Wellesley Books - Wellesley, MA

Wild Rumpus - Minneapolis, MN

Wonderland Books - Rockford, IL