An interview with D.J. Johnson of Baldwin and Co.

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?
The podcast studio

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?
Farming While Black

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Do you have a strange customer story?
Yes, someone called and asked if we had a restroom.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?
Nikole Hannah-Jones

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?
That it’s easy and you’re just sitting around reading all day.

What is your least favorite bookstore task?
Cleaning toilets

Favorite part about working in a bookstore?
Being surrounded by books all day and having access to read them all.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?
Think and Grow Rich/ The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke by Suze Orman.

D.J. Johnson is the owner of Baldwin and Co. in New Orleans.

Tips to consider when setting up bookstore events

Some authors don’t look forward to events – too many people, too much talking about themselves and their work. While others can’t wait for their launch party – it’s a chance to visit with all the people in their circle and meet potential new readers!

Regardless of what kind of author you are, events can be a great way to celebrate your book and all of the years of hard work you and a whole slew of other people put into it. Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting up author events at bookstores.

Business first

While most bookstores love to host events, they are ultimately a business. Staffing an event, whether virtual or in-person, takes hard work and money, so try not to be offended if they aren’t able to work you into the schedule.

Bringing an audience

The event coordinator may ask you if you have a network of family and friends in the area who are able to attend. This is for your benefit, as well as theirs. They (understandably) want to sell books, but more than that, they want your event to be a success for you! Having an event and expecting the bookstore to provide the audience won’t get you too far.

Don’t forget to promote your event on social media, and feel free to ask the bookstore if they do this as well. You can ask friends and family to share your posts to increase your chances of having more people show up, as well.

That being said, if you do host an event and only a few people show up, don’t despair. This gives you an opportunity to connect with readers in a more personal way that you’ll likely remember for a long time.

Inviting other authors

Partnering with other authors can be a great idea. This can cut down on nerves because the focus isn’t entirely on you, and an “in conversation event” is generally a more attractive prospect for bookstores. You can even think outside the “author” box, especially if you write nonfiction – an expert in the field that you are writing about could make for fascinating back and forth. Plus, the other speaker is likely to draw even more people to the event!

Multiple events

Be cautious about setting up several events in the same area: Will you be able to draw a good-sized crowd to both events? If you do feel like you can pull it off, having a different topic discussed at each event is a good idea. That way you don’t feel like you’re giving a speech but rather engaging in a topic with that audience.

Above all, try to enjoy this part of your author journey – it’s something that not all authors get to do, and events can be something that both you and readers will remember for years!

For more tips on different kinds of events to consider, check out this blog post:

Books to read if you love Only Murders in the Building

I don’t know about you, but I can’t for Season 2 of Only Murders in The Building! Watching all of the episodes in season 1 won’t take too long, so here are some great books to read if you are looking for more of the hijinks, mystery, and unlikely friendship that the show does so well.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The first title that came to mind was this hilarious murder mystery novel that takes place in a retirement village. Four septuagenarians get to take their true crime club to the next level when a local developer is found dead. Whether the female cop with her first big case wants the help or not, they are at her disposal as more bodies begin to drop. The mystery itself is great, but what really makes the book are the eccentric characters (reminiscent of Charles and Oliver) you can’t help but love.

​​A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson

This book is for the Mabel lovers out there as it follows another girl who loves true crime. Pippa Fitz chooses to do her final year proect on a local murder case from five years prior, but the more she digs, the more dangerous it gets for her. A great murder plot with a determined female protagonist that Mabel would most likely be friends with.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If you enjoyed those flashback scenes to secrets and partying that led to Oscar being wrongfully convicted of Zoe’s murder, you’ll love this book about four rich kids with something in their past they want to keep hidden. This book’s description: “A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive,” is very reminiscent of Mabel’s Hardy Boys gang. Complicated relationships, deception, and life-altering decisions are at the root of both of these groups of friends and the book itself is quite the page-turner.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

While the show deals with only murders in the apartment building, this book deals with only the murder in Blackheath Manor. Aiden is suddenly at the mercy of his own wit, as he finds that Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until he can identify her killer and break the cycle. You get to see through the eyes of all the suspects and crazy characters as he wakes up in a different body each day. Much like the show, it will keep you guessing until the end and you’ll have almost as many theories as Charles, Oliver, and Mabel pin up on their murder board.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

If you love the tone of the show, you will love this book about a curmudgeonly old man named Ove who finds his world turned upside down when a boisterous young family moves in next door. I honestly think Steve Martin would make a wonderful Ove. Much like you grow to love Charles more as you get his backstory, the same is true for Ove. It’s funny and heartwarming and has the energy that makes it feel like the story could exist in the same world as the show takes place.

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

This book is a little different from the show in that instead of solving murders, the main character is doing the killing. A writer who is struggling to hold her life together and come up with a good book idea for her publisher, stumbles into becoming a hit woman and hilarity and ridiculousness ensues. Lots of twists and turns in this book and perfect if you were a fan of Jan.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

A classic for a reason, this Agatha Christie novel takes place in a big house on an island instead of an apartment building in New York, but the stakes of finding out who is doing the killing are the same. A who dunnit done perfectly, this book will have you changing yoour mind constantly and then you’ll still be surprised by who it turns out to be. Clever like the show, and a must read for anyone who calls themselves a mystery fan.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

An unlikely duo, Detective Hawthore and the author Anthony Horowitz who he hires to write about his life end up working together to figure out who killed Diana Cowper, the mother of a famous actor. What makes the story even more strange is that she walked into a funeral parlor on the morning of her murder to plan her own service. If you love the show, you love unlikely friends solving crimes and that is eactly what this book brings to the table.


Books Forward June 2022 Newsletter

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An interview with Andi Richardson of Fountain Bookstore

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

Staff Picks! We all have such diverse (and excellent, of course) taste, you can find something for everyone there. It also changes constantly so there’s always something new. Mystery and YA are up there as well though.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

I’m a sucker for a great cover! Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw, even though it scares some of my coworkers. It also makes a great pop socket! In non-terrifying covers, The One True Me and You by Remi K. England is gorgeous. Both books are also great!

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

We are events-focused so we have mainly books from the last couple of years on hand and don’t do a ton of backlist but I can say that I never tire of recommending Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby, Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore, or anything by Mindy McGinnis (but particularly her Poe inspired duology of The Initial Insult and The Last Laugh).

Do you have a strange customer story?

Thankfully our customers are generally amazing, but we did just have someone step outside of an event to be sick on our sidewalk, then come back in and sit down without saying a word.

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Authors are all rock stars to me, so I geek out about pretty much everyone but my interviews with Joe Kenda and Norman Reedus had me nervous! I am also a longtime fan of Chevy Stevens and was so happy to discover that she is a delight to talk to. I also moderated a panel with Alyssa Cole and had to work very hard to keep from fangirling over her! Oh, and Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. Did I mention I love them all?

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

I’m sure everyone has the same answer – that we just read all day long! There’s no time to read – there are books to check in and put away, reviews to write, orders to ship, events to plan – it’s a great job but it’s a lot of physical and mental work.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

Least favorite has to be dealing with the people that don’t understand why our pricing is higher than a certain online retailer – and want to argue about it. We’re also a pretty small store so finding room to put things is a challenge I struggle with. My favorite part by far is the community of people that books create! Fountain has been around almost as long as I’ve been alive and I am so proud to be part of its life and family. Book people are the very best people.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

If someone liked Colleen Hoover’s Verity, I give them When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. It has a twist you won’t see coming, social commentary, and spicy bits that are just perfection to me. To be fair, When No One is Watching is probably my most handsold book ever so I’ll find a way to recommend it to you no matter what.

Andi Richardson is the general manager at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA.

An interview with Stefen Holtrey of Brilliant Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

The basement. Every bookstore should have a potentially haunted basement. We have a good one. Long, dark, deep and spooky. Horse drawn carriages used to be able to pull right down into the back for deliveries. There’s still a coal furnace just sitting down there. A single, final bucket of coal is right next to it. Close second: scifi and fantasy section.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

Recently, it’s been Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The cover art by Pablo Gerardo Camacho is maddeningly beautiful. One that I’m excited to be able to feature is Eric Larocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke ,due out this September. Kim Jakobsson did the cover and it’s everything a horror cover should be.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

My pick for new release would be The Employees by Olga Ravn. It’s exactly the kind of sci-fi I’m looking for these days; weird, suggestive, revelatory, and playful in its form. For a backlist pick, I’d have to go with Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. Towering, magisterial, mysterious in every way, it’s a masterpiece of imaginative literature. Warning: I’d put the MRMR stamp on this one (May Require Multiple Readings).

Do you have a strange customer story?

A man once came into the store wearing a bear suit. Full head with eyes, ears, teeth, a pair of lifelike paws and claws. It was floor-length with very believable fur. I was most worried when he went to the children’s section. I didn’t want him to scare the kids!

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

Garth Nix came to talk about his latest book a few years back. Never thought I could be starstruck by an author, but I was downright giddy to be able to speak to him. Sabriel was very important to me growing up.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

It’s not all glitz and glamor. There’s blood and tears in the aisles between those shelves. We work long and hard down in the book mines to auger up those precious gems for our discerning customers. But in the end, they make it all worthwhile. That, and the employee discount.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

So, I come from the food service world (former barista), and I have to say that my favorite part of the job is the sense of serenity and repose that goes along with selling books. I’m allowed to be thoughtful. There’s no split-second, do-it-all-at-once, mind-splitting anxiety to contend with. That said, there’s nothing like the white-hot thrill of finding someone that perfect book. Least favorite thing: answering the phone. It’s the worst.

Can you recommend an underrated readalike book for one of the store’s top titles?

If you enjoyed Sheila Heti’s Pure Color, I would recommend The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz. These works both share a certain sensitivity towards, and inclusion of, the fantastic as an exploration of the mundane, especially when it comes to family. Stylistically, they both revel in the aphoristic effect; the small explosion of insight and image, similar to the shorter works of Kafka, except with more heart, and less anxiety.

Stefen Holtry is a bookseller at Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan.

Should I enter my book in awards contests?

If you’re marketing your own book, you may be focused on getting reviews, booking events, and building a social media following. But have you considered entering literary contests as well? In addition to providing credibility for you and your book, winning a contest can also score you a monetary prize or an opportunity to network with other authors and book industry professionals.

And, because of the wide range of literary awards available, there’s a good match for nearly every book!

Keep reading for tips on how to build an award strategy that works for you, and how to make the most of publicity surrounding a win.

How to be strategic when applying for awards

Make note of your budget.

While many awards are free to submit to, some do charge an entry fee, typically around $75. Determining in advance how much money you’re willing to spend on awards will help you narrow your options later on.

Do your research.

First, look for contests that have a solid reputation and line up with your unique audience and genre. When you’ve found a contest that seems like a match, dig a little deeper. Search what books have won in your category in the past. Do they seem on par with your book? Look up the judges for your category. What’s their realm of expertise? Do their interests overlap with your book’s themes?

As a general rule, always keep your eyes open for possible scams. Some awards don’t have authors’ best interests in mind. If you have a hard time finding basic information about the award’s history, judges and guidelines, that’s a big red flag. Similarly, if the entry fee is high while the prize pot is low, that may be cause for concern.

Think outside the box.

Does your book have unique cover art or interior design elements? There’s an award for that. Have an audiobook? There’s an award for that, too.

You should also look for awards that are specific to authors in your city, state or region. Local awards receive fewer entries than national awards, which will give you a better chance of taking home the gold!

Pay attention to guidelines.

Since guidelines tend to vary greatly from contest to contest, it’s crucial that you read the fine print. I know, I know. That can be tedious. But most awards won’t offer a refund for an incomplete or incorrect submission, so do it for your wallet’s sake.

A few things to make note of when scanning guidelines:

  • Can a submission come directly from an author? Or solely a publisher/publicist?
  • Does the contest accept ebook or physical mailings? Or both?
  • If physical copies are required, how many are needed? And, will you need to include any printed materials in the package as well (e.g., receipt, copy of entry form)?
  • Are you able to submit the same book in multiple categories? If so, is an extra fee or book mailing required?
  • Are ARC submissions allowed? Or will they only accept final copies?
  • How long is the submission period and when is the deadline?
  • Are you eligible for more than one year? Some awards have a 2+ year eligibility period. So if you happen to miss the deadline for your publication year, check to see if you’ll be eligible for the following year as well.

What should I do after an award win?

If there’s an in-person award ceremony, try to attend! These events are a great way to network with other authors and book industry professionals.

I would also recommend you:

  • Add any wins that you get to your website, email signature, and Amazon book listing
  • Share an announcement on social media and congratulate other winners/finalists
  • Order award stickers for the cover of your book (if available)
  • Update your resume for potential events and speaking gigs to reflect your accolades
  • Celebrate being an award-winning author!

Not sure where to start?

As you know, awards offer credibility, and solidifying your position as an award-winning author can benefit you for years to come!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few excellent literary contests for indie authors. Best of luck!

Foreword INDIES

Kirkus Prize

Next Generation Indie Book Awards

IndieReader Discovery Awards

BookLife Prize (from Publishers Weekly)

Independent Publisher Book Awards (The IPPYs)

IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards

Books Forward BFFs June Influencer Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the June 2022 newsletter here!

An interview with Katherine D. Morgan of Powell’s Books

What’s your favorite area of your bookstore?

My favorite area is definitely the romance section! I’ve always loved reading romance, but since the pandemic, I have become obsessed with that genre. In fact, in my store, you can usually find me giving customers or my colleagues recommendations on what they should read next. I have other favorites, such as the young adult and memoir section as well, but romance has my heart, pun intended.

What’s the coolest book cover that you like to have facing out on the shelves?

As someone who (unapologetically) judges a book by their cover, one that I always smile at is Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. It is truly stunning, and it is nice to see a book about a trans teen get such a joyful and bright cover.

If you had a staff pick for a recent new release, what would it be? Backlist pick?

My favorite recent pick is This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub. It’s the perfect novel to read when you’re reflecting on your relationships with the people that you love. You should read it after watching Everything Everywhere All at Once because it’s definitely a trip. For a backlist choice, I always recommend Starfish by Lisa Fipps because it’s a middle reader that everyone should read, whether or not they have been bullied for their appearance. I read it and then promptly walked home and cried. It’s excellent.

Do you have a strange customer story?

I once handed a lady a book that she ordered, and she looked at me stunned. She flipped through the book and remarked, “I thought there were supposed to be photos in this book.” When I told her that there weren’t, she groaned and said, “Ugh, now I’m disappointed. I didn’t expect to actually read a book.”

What author have you been starstruck to meet, or have you gotten to host a fun virtual event?

I actually work on the events team at Powell’s, so meeting authors is something that I love doing. I have gotten to meet so many wonderful people, including David Sedaris (who later let me open for him twice at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall once he found out that I’m also a writer), Samantha Irby, and recently, Putsata Reang, who wrote the memoir Ma and Me, which came out earlier this month. Writers to me (and to many of the people who attend our events) are like rockstars, so I get quite giddy when I meet someone who excites me.

What are some misconceptions people have about working in a bookstore?

Oh, God, there are so many. People tend to think that working in a bookstore is so exciting, and while there are so many wonderful things about it, it’s still retail, and it’s still customer service. Another thing that people seem to be confused about? I don’t set the prices. It’s okay if you can’t afford the item, but please, don’t tell me that it’s too expensive. I can’t do anything about it.

What is your least favorite bookstore task? Favorite part about working in a bookstore?

My least favorite bookstore task is shelving. I can do it for an hour or so, but any longer, and I forget the order of the alphabet. My favorite part is talking about books and working events. I love meeting people, and I love learning about new genres. So I guess that people are technically my favorite part about working in a bookstore. Oh, the discount. The discount is a godsend.

Can you recommend an underrated read alike book for one of the store’s top titles?

If you’re a fan of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon, then you can’t go wrong by picking up Hunger by Roxane Gay or Heavy by Kiese Laymon. Both are excellent. Actually, buy all three and make it a bundle for a friend.

Katherine D. Morgan is a bookseller at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.

How to decide which social media platform is for you

Social media is one of the most effective ways to market your products or services. I know that when I find out about a new author, actor, restaurant, boutique, etc., the first thing I do is search for them on social media. Even when using Google, the first links that pop up are always the main social media sites, as long as the person I am searching for has a presence there.

There are many reasons why some platforms may make more sense for you than others, but with all the tips and tricks we have below, keep in mind that none of this is black and white. The tips below are just based on what we’ve seen authors have success with in the past, and on demographics for each social media platform!

What should I focus on when deciding which platform to use?

When deciding which social media platform to focus on, think about your audience. What is the age demographic you are trying to target? That should be the first indicator on where to get started. Also, don’t get overwhelmed by all of the options below! It is much better to consistently create good quality content for one platform, going directly to your ideal audience, rather than creating average content spread out across five different platforms reaching wide ranges of people every once in a while. You can slowly work up to more platforms once you figure out the ideal place to start for your book and brand!

What are the benefits and target audiences for each platform?


Facebook is the largest social media site, with 2.9 billion people having a Facebook account. It has a reputation of being for older generations, but based on recent statistics, 26.4% of the platform’s user base is actually made up of millennials ages 25-34. However, 36% of the platform’s users are 45 or older.

The Facebook algorithm is designed to focus on starting discussions, whether among friends and family members on a personal profile, or among you and your audience members on a Facebook page. That means your posts should have questions in them to spark conversations! For example, mystery books with shocking twists make for great discussion pieces and would do well on Facebook.

However, there are so many ways you can make your genre work on Facebook. You just need to be creative with content ideas! Your post could also be as simple as a picture of the current book you are reading and a cup of coffee. In the caption, you can pose the question: “Do you prefer coffee or tea / Have you read this book?” etc. Make it a conversation! Facebook is a good place to share links to blog posts as well, if you have a blog!


TikTok was created in 2016 and has 1 billion users – it is one of the fastest growing apps in the world, and has more daily visitors than Google and Facebook. And if you haven’t heard of it yet, #BookTok is taking the “book world” by storm, so it’s probably time to hop on the bandwagon!

The target audience for TikTok is ages 16-24, with 60% of the users being under 25. However, keep in mind that YA and/or fantasy authors will absolutely perform the best on TikTok because those are the most popular genres on BookTok. But there are so many niches on TikTok, and BookTok specifically, that you can most likely find a world for your book on there somewhere, even if you don’t write YA or Fantasy.

Also keep in mind that TikTok is known for videos focusing around humor, so you’ll be spending a lot of time making videos to go with funny, trending sounds, and showing your face a good bit! It’s definitely an app you can have fun with, but wouldn’t be ideal if you don’t have time to regularly film videos and search the app for ideas or relatable content to make your own.


Instagram has 2 billion users, and is one of the most visual platforms. It focuses on showcasing items or services through videos and images. #Bookstagram is a huge part of the “book world,” where your book could potentially do really well if you market it correctly!

60% of Instagram’s users are ages 18-34, so the majority are either Gen Z or Millennials. That means that a wide range of genres can do well on Instagram, and what really matters is making sure your content looks really nice. Instagram has sort of become a version of Pinterest, where the ideal Instagram feed would be very aesthetically pleasing. For example, romance books usually have fun, adorable covers and do well on Instagram.

For your profile as an author, any content that focuses on showing off your book, images of yourself, your writing desk, your favorite coffee shop, videos of you doing some of your hobbies, graphics shouting out any upcoming events and interviews, would all do well on the app.

Another thing to consider is that Instagram and TikTok are two platforms that can go hand in hand pretty well. If you’re making TikTok videos, you can easily reshare them onto Instagram as reels to maximize the visibility of your videos.


Twitter has 436 million users, and most of Twitter’s content focuses on trending news, entertainment and politics. 38.5% of Twitter users are ages 25-34, and 21% are ages 25-49.
With each Twitter post or “Tweet”, you are only able to type a maximum of 280 characters, so each tweet is very concise! Tweets that have an image or link with them also perform better than just text.

You shouldn’t only post about your book – posting about current events and entertainment you are enjoying, such as other books you are reading or TV shows that you are watching is beneficial to reach a wider audience. A great way to join the conversation is to talk about trending topics and relate it back to your book when and if you can! There are also popular hashtags associated with author and writer life on Twitter that you can use – try tagging all of your relevant content with #AuthorCommunity and #WritingCommunity.

Other platforms include LinkedIn, which is great for the business authors out there, Youtube, which focuses on long form videos, and Pinterest, which I mentioned above. Social media is definitely an investment of your time, but we do find that it pays off in the long run. And most of all, remember to have fun with it!