Authors Forward: W. B. Murph/Joni McCoy interview

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

W.B. Murph is a 5-year-old Beagle living his best life in Colorado. He whispers story ideas to his ever-faithful, former veterinary nurse human, who writes them down. Murph interviewed author and bookstore owner Joni McCoy. Her bookstore in Colorado Springs, Young Bookworms, exclusively sells children’s books from self-published authors, and is full of rainbow decor and colorful books.

Tell me about how you started in the book world?

As a caregiver for my mom, who had Alzheimer’s, I would read children’s picture books to her. She was unable to speak, but would giggle at the stories. I wanted to write a story she could enjoy. In my first year, I wrote 24 books and hired 6 illustrators to bring the words to life. 

In the second year, I took those books to any booth space I could find in my local area and sold 2500 books and a lot of associated plush toys that went along with the books. By November of that second year, I knew I needed a store. I had a following of about 2500 self-published authors so when I opened the store it was it easy to fill it. 

As a writer, what is most difficult for you? 

It’s not illustrating or marketing or anything you would think it’s actually finding time when I am running the bookstore. There’s just no time for anything else. I have 6 books written and fully illustrated and 21 books I want to have translated into Spanish but there is just no time.  Before I opened the store there really were no problems; it took a long time to figure out the process of writing. 

It’s overwhelming to take it on, as a whole, because there is so much to it but I just took my time and learned it. The biggest thing for me in that process was learning how to format the books.  That took a really long time. I take it all the way from the concept in my head to the finished books.

Why open a retail store, especially one that sells books? 

A lot of people do read, you know, the digital books, but there are still a LOT of people who want the feel of that book in their hands; they want their kids to have that experience. That’s the biggest thing. They can go to the library and they can feel the books and check them out but to come in here and watch them pick out a book and actually READ a real book. 

When I was young, everyone had a library card now there are so many kids with private libraries in their rooms. I’m shocked at the numbers. There is no other kid’s bookstore in town, and that surprised me, but I do think there is a big need for it. 

The other thing is with all the homeschooling; we do a BIG business with homeschooling. There are a lot of people that have not gone back to the schools after Covid. So you have the additional market there. Teachers love it for filling up their classrooms. They have to buy the books themselves, otherwise they stay with the classroom. So they, again, have their own private libraries. 

I think there is still a big need. You know, a lot of people order off Amazon, that’s our biggest competition, but with kids they enjoy having the opportunity to see, touch and pick out the physical books. 

Where do you find new authors when you need fresh ideas in your store?

Most of the authors come to me. In my group I may see a book coming out that piques my interest but I would say maybe only 10% comes to me that way. A lot of self-published authors  have great difficulty getting their books into bookstores so they have a chance here.  If the books don’t perform in the year after I put them in the store, then they get returned and we put something else out there. 

In our second year, we are bringing in traditionally published books. We are actually in the middle right now of shipping low-performing books back.

Describe the “no spine” store concept and how you balance revenue and shelf space?

You know that was one of the things – it was my only choice – I did NOT want to have spines. I had never heard of it before so I call it a “no spine store”. Every book, the cover of the book is going to show,  with the exception of our gently used section which will be spines because there just isn’t enough room. 

When you see the front cover, it makes it easier for both children and parents to pick out books. The kids are more involved when they can see the picture. We rotate our books every month so one time you will be at adult height and another time you will be at children’s height. My idea is that when you walk in that door, every book has the same chance of selling.

Tell me about the kinds of classes you offer self-publishers?

We have adult classes that go deeper; those are one-on-one with me because everybody is at a different level.  We are able to touch on all aspects of the book publication – writing, editing, illustrating, and publishing. Then I go on to offer in-depth coaching for people who want more.

The kids’ classes, the first class is the writing and we go over a lot of the requirements, then dive into actually writing their book. 

The next class is the illustrating and we do a front and back cover because I figure if we can capture what the book is about in the cover then they can continue that on the inside. 

The last class is one on one with me and their parents, because there are legal issues, in self-publishing the book. Once they publish, they sign books at one (or more) of our parties and they go on the shelf. Every child’s book has the opportunity to be in a bookstore so they feel that sense of accomplishment. The proceeds from selling used books assist us in funding some of the kids classes – paying for ISBNs, editing, that kind of stuff.

These classes, for the children, are really confidence builders; the kids realize that they really can publish a book. They see their book on the shelf and know that they did it. 

What are the benefits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

A lot of new authors particularly, don’t realize that when you publish traditionally you lose control of your book. You sell a concept and the publisher buys it and does what he wants with it. When you publish it yourself, you control everything. That is the biggest thing. We assist people to self-publish under the “Young Bookworms” umbrella but their name is always out front. 

We do it differently than other  self-publishing assistance companies. Our name is there as a publisher because you have to have one, but their name is the focus. They can order their own books from the printer, we don’t take a cut of that; plus they aren’t paying thousands of dollars to us for the assistance.