More than 160 independent bookstores celebrated the first Bookstore Romance Day on August 17 with author events, book clubs, and panel discussions that emphasized a growing embrace for a genre that once received scant attention in indie booksellers.
At the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., bookseller Katherine Fergason introduced a moderated panel of four romance writers, telling the audience of around 30 about her efforts to introduce and cultivate a romance section in the store in recent years. She later told PW, “I think it's important for any institution that is seen as a gatekeeper to have public conversations about the value of romance as a genre. It should happen loud and often. This day was a perfect opportunity.”
Along with the event, Harvard Book Store celebrated the newly launched event by doubling the size of their romance section in recent weeks and making romance books the focus of their Select 70 featured books for the month.
Bookseller Billie Bloebaum of Third Street Books in McMinnville, Ore., conceived of Bookstore Romance Day with fellow booksellers through her “Romance of Bookselling” Facebook page. While the event was only announced four months ago, it drew sponsorships from Romance Writers of America, Sourcebooks Casablanca, Avon, Libro.fm, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and the Northwest Book Lovers.
At Third Street, Bloebaum organized a Blind Date with a Romance novel event for Saturday's festivities, and launched the store’s first Romance Book Club reading with Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. Bloebaum also heard from participating booksellers across the country, including Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, La., where booksellers organized their own happily ever after event by hosting an animal adoption-themed Bookstore Romance Day. “There were a lot of good and happy things, but this was the most unexpected and the one that still gets me a little weepy,” Bloebaum said.
Marissa and Roseann Backlin used the occasion to introduce their new store, Love’s Sweet Arrow, to readers in Tinley Park, Ill. with a full day of events. The romance-only bookstore is only the second to open in the U. S. after the Ripped Bodice, and the mother-daughter team organized a day of events including panels and readings with Morgan and Isbabeau, hosts of the Whoa!Mance podcast; Kirkus romance correspondent Jennifer Prokop; Fresh Fiction editorial manager Danielle Dresser; and authors A.J. Pine, Barbara Keaton, Liz Lincoln, and Victoria H. Smith.
“Many romance readers are also authors and romance authors are almost always romance readers as well,” the Backlins wrote in an e-mail, “so many of the community that supports us were very aware and excited for the inaugural Bookstore Romance Day.”
Along with Bloebaum, a team of booksellers helped pair romance authors with booksellers for the day, as did publishers. Silver Unicorn Bookstore owner Paul Swydan was one of the organizers and also turned to HarperCollins, Sourcebooks, and Berkley to organize a panel called “Getting to Know Romance Novels.”
Berkley sent author Kerry Winfrey from Ohio to the Acton, Mass. store, and she then participated in the evening panel at Harvard Bookstore with authors Loretta Chase, Satin Russell, Cecilia Tan, and moderator Margaret H. Willison.
On social media, some booksellers wrote that they experienced slower days, competing with local fairs, concerts, and events, as well as summer vacations, but many expressed a desire to make the event an annual celebration that continues to combat a stigma about romance books that they say is still too prevalent in bookselling.
Swydan said that as some booksellers come to understand and support romance readers, they will need help making improved displays next year and deepening their understanding of the genre. Authors also will need some coaching after trying to spread the word about this year's event, but then including Amazon links in their social media, Swydan said, but he was optimistic for the year ahead. “As with any new event, you have to marshal everyone together to build a common spirit. We’ll get there.” he said.
Looking ahead, Bloebaum said she even received queries from bookstores in Europe who are interested in participating next year, and she said she intends to include them.
In the short term, she said that participating booksellers will be hosting panels at regional fall trade shows while seeking increased support to grow the event. “There are a lot of things that I would love to see happen,” said Bloebaum, “but they require funding, so I’m focusing my energies on the things we can do with just people and the wonders of the internet.”
This article has been updated with further information.