Being independent anything is tough.
Ask a singer, artist, writer or retailer: without large-scale backing, there are places you want to go — but must fight for… claw for, every step in the journey.
The independent book business? Let no one tell that is easy.
“We’ve been going sideways for years,” said John Evans, owner of the now 45-year-old Jackson indie bookstore, Lemuria Books in Banner Hall. “We’ve tried a lot of different ways to make the business grow but there’s so much pure competitiveness out there.”
In light of the behemoth online prowess of national brands, book stores like Lemuria are trying to set themselves apart.
“We’re a destination book store,” Evans said. “We always have been. I think we are winning the existence battle, the contributing battle. And we’re doing a lot to do that.”
From author signings and readings — many standing-room-only occasions in the book store’s “Dot-com” annex — to Lemuria’s leading-edge participation in the Mississippi Book Festival held each August, Evans noted his staff as a driving factor to that success.
“Realistically, it’s the dedicated young booksellers we have. The art of bookselling is still something you don’t get in other places. You can save a lot of time and energy if you read a lot to have a bookseller you interact with, someone that knows your tastes. It’s like a doctor… hardware… a mechanic. Interaction adds to the experience.”
Publishers play a big role, too, in recognizing the power of the independent bookseller.
“To get them to go downstream to Jackson and send the writers we want to work with… it takes a lot of effort. Your community has to respond or you don’t get many chances with the same publisher.”
Evans said his store’s work with the Mississippi Book Festival has helped raise awareness and appreciation for literature in the state, but it goes beyond that.
“It can’t just be local or regional,” Evans explained. “It has to have a national element to it. (The festival has) already got an excellent reputation. Maybe, three or four more years, we could get in the position the publishers are coming to us and wanting to send their ‘pick-of-the-litter.’ We’re winning enough battles that we’re catching attention.”
Back at Lemuria, Evans is driving forward, adding to the fabric of his community. As travelers stop in, on their way to New Orleans or Memphis, or loyal locals come by, his enthusiastic young booksellers have their finger on the pulse of what’s next to read.
“You’ve just got to not go backward. That’s the change in the marketplace. But I think the (local) vibe is growing — and that’s good.”
Visit lemuriabooks.com for upcoming online author events, for gift cards or special orders.
From Lemuria’s Facebook page, Evans shares his picks for this season:
- Pappyland is a celebration of the joys of family and friendship. It captures the spirit of sharing a beverage and toasting to shared memories of the past.
- August is the first novel by a young, Montana fly fisherman. It is a gift for fans of Kent Haruf, Tom McGuane, and Jim Harrison.
- James Lee Burke’s novels have been my backbone for reading during Covid 2020. Reading Dave Robicheaux (Streak and Clete) has helped me go inside, visiting my own Private Cathedral for strength. A special thanks to Lemuria’s old pal Jim for this gift!
- James Hollis, my “what matters most” mind doctor and covid guide, has helped me stay somewhat present. Living Between Worlds is my suggestion for the most helpful read for transitioning into the new normal.
- Ted Kooser’s Red Stilts has helped me find my internal present. He’s my American zen poet guide of stillness.
Originally published in April 2019 to finditinfondren.com, updated in December 2020 and still as relevant today.