On Blogging For a Bookstore:  Daniel from On Boswell and Books

I won’t deny that I had dreams of writing in my past, and I still have the piles of journals in a storage bench to prove it. Early every morning, I’d walk to the Heinemann’s….Too (as opposed to the other Heinemann’s coffee shops that dotted Milwaukee) and write four pages beforeheading to my job as the backlist buyer at Milwaukee’s Harry W Schwartz Bookshops. W didn’t stand for anything. Harry just liked the idea of middle initial.

At the time, I was reading a lot of fiction, way more short stories than the average consumer, and a peppering of personal essays. I had become quite enamored of Philip Lopate’s Against Joie de Vivre, published by Ann Patty at her legendary Poseidon imprint (for a year or so, it seemed like I was reading every Poseidon book published, years before these similar Amy Einhorn and Reagan Arthur challenges). I wound up several other Lopates (unusual for a bookseller, who tends to be overwhelmed by the new book pile) including Being with Children and Bachelorhood.

Let’s just say the writing thing didn’t pan out the way I expected. I simply didn’t have the focused imagination it takes to be a fiction writer. And who would want to read my ramblings on what happened in the store yesterday or an angry rant on white matte covers, and how quickly they get dirty? And I didn’t want to give up bookselling to go to graduate school.

Good thing that technology caught up to my limitations. For in a way, my daily blog is not that different from my old journal entries, only I leave out various crushes and try to temper my angry rants.

It’s been great for helping me build my relationship with customers as I transitioned from Schwartz to my own Boswell Book Company on Downer Avenue in Milwaukee. And while other bookseller blogs tend to be industry focused, I try to remember that my core reader is my customer, and steer clear of publishing battles, unless of course it’s interesting to our Boswell shoppers. I also try to avoid making it a dry events page-we’ve got a website and an email newsletter for that, so though I do discuss events, I try to give it a twist, making it an interesting read for non-attendees.

As these things go, I have figured out that only half of the folks who read the blog are Wisconsinites. Publishers, sales reps, booksellers and family/friends account for why my readers come from New York, Illinois, California, and Minnesota. But why I got 46 hits from Canada and 34 from the United Kingdom, I have no clue. (I can account for half the hits in Australia from our friend Denise, who visited with the store with my sister over the summer.)

Very fun. But really, what makes me happiest is when a customer comes in who I don’t know and starts talking about the blog. Of course sometimes they mean the email newsletter, but that’s okay too.

I follow a number of independent book bloggers, many (but not all) of them are booksellers, but the blog is not part of their job. I also follow some official bookstore blogs, and those written by bookseller owners. Sadly, of late, several have fallen off posting. I think some of moved to Facebook, Twitter, or maybe even Foursquare, in the great desire to be king of their local bagel shop. Though our store does try to keep up with these social networks, I have not taken to them with as much enthusiasm because they don’t really seem…like writing.

So is it a job? Sort of. Am I the next Philip Lopate? No. Is that okay? As long as people keep coming in Boswell, it will do.

(Check out Daniel’s blog Boswell and Books…it’s a must read for me, even though I’m one of the long distance readers!)


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