Celebrating in Times Like These

When we began the Shelf 15 years ago, we were told by many friends and colleagues that we were crazy. Independent bookstores were in yet another battle for their lives, after having steadily shrunk in number since the early 1990s, but we were resolute that our publication was for the indies. Money for advertising to our audience was scarce, and the competitors for those dollars were very well established. Even the vehicle itself, an "e-newsletter," was scoffed at, with folks saying they already got too much e-mail, it was an "old-fashioned way of doing it" and maybe it should be a blog, or someday, an app.

But because we believed in indie bookstores and knew what we wanted to do, we ignored the naysayers and skeptics (some of whom became our closest allies despite their misgivings) and went ahead anyway. Then, something magical happened: you began reading us, and recommending us. Publishers started buying ads. We both still have our framed Vik (our inspirational Buddha), holding the very first dollar we ever "spent" on ourselves. It was quite some time before we could even expense a bottle of wine.

The years passed, and we got to expense some wine and a few meals. We launched Shelf Awareness for Readers, which now goes out to 525,000 indie bookstore customers. We began helping the ABA deliver the Indie Next List, and now are helping CALIBA, PNBA and MPIBA deliver e-versions of their holiday catalogues and a new summer reading issue. We recently launched our Pre-Order E-blast, which goes out to more than 488,000 indie customers, helping stores bang the drum to their customers that they can pre-order with the best of them. So far, it's working: by the end of this year, through buy button clicks alone, it will help indies sell more than half a million dollars of books.

When you make a plan for a business, it's almost impossible to imagine what will it be in 15 years. In the early days, the only thing that you can really hope for in the distant future is that it's still alive and, if you're especially lucky, you still enjoy doing it.

But then, what if the world throws you the biggest, most unimaginable curveball ever? What do our businesses become during a global pandemic? Who are we in the face of continued systemic racial injustice in our country? Who do we become when we're faced with our own mortality and fear for our livelihoods at every turn? What role can our businesses play?

It is not an easy time, to say the least, but when was it ever? We might all have had a much easier time by pushing pharma or trying our hands at being a YouTube celebrity. But would we love it?

Over and over again, people have predicted the end of independent bookselling. First, the new phenomenon that would kill it was the mall chain stores, then the big box stores, then Amazon, then the e-book. In the early years of the Shelf, indies were often referred to as "showrooms for Amazon." We have been down for the count, more times, than perhaps any other industry. And then, every time, we have rallied. It is one of the most uplifting and fascinating things about our industry--and it continues even in this day.

This is NOT to say that we won't have loss. Because, although it is deeply troubling to say so: we will. We already know this, and have begun to see it a bit. We will lose stores, publishers, authors and, worst of all, loved ones. Some of the saddest stories we've heard over the past few months have been of friends who have lost loved ones, whose funerals they can't go to. 

There are bright notes. For one, indies' customers have begun to order much more from them online. Faced with the possible loss of a beloved neighborhood store, communities have rallied behind them, donated money and saved them. And indie booksellers have been remarkably innovative in coming up with new ways of selling books. Yet another bright note concerns what readers want: look at the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list and its unprecedented number of titles on anti-racism.

Of course, there's no way of knowing what the future holds, but indies have a secret weapon, shown again and again over the years, that is especially important now: resilience.

How do we build resilience? We do it through building connections, adopting coping skills, learning new things and adjusting how we think. We also do it by taking the very best care we can of ourselves.

Here's how the Shelf will help: we will continue to be the best community newspaper we can be, keeping everyone connected. We will continue to report on and highlight how everyone is doing business now. We will keep everyone informed about new ways to keep our businesses strong. We will continue to highlight BIPOC authors to our growing audiences, which so many of you have entrusted to us. We will continue to innovate, creating new products that help our indies and our publishers sell more books. And, most importantly, now more than ever: we will listen and ask how we can do even better. Have thoughts or ideas? Send them to our publisher, Jenn Risko.

In the meantime, hydrate. Prioritize sleep. If you lose your way, watch this video, Times Like These, to rally.

Heed Mary Oliver's words, which is what we try to do every day at the Shelf:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

We hope to remain your ritual daily read, and we thank you to the moon and back for letting us do something that, 15 years later, we still feel especially lucky and astonished about every single day.

And we want to thank our incredibly dedicated staff. If one of the hallmarks of a good company is being able to attract and keep talent, we've hit the jackpot: not only do they pull off a herculean amount of work every day, but they are people that we feel lucky to have and genuinely enjoy just being around.


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  • Susannah Greenberg July 1, 2020 19:24 PM

    Congratulations! Happy 15th Birthday to Shelf-Awareness! You are a great gift to the Book World! -- From Susannah Greenberg, Susannah Greenberg Public Relations

  • Marina Cramer July 1, 2020 15:46 PM

    Is it only fifteen years ago you came into Watchung Booksellers and told us, in your quiet way, about your new venture? It seems like we've been saying, "I read it in Shelf Awareness," or "Shelf Awareness recommends" for much longer. Your newsletter is vital to booksellers, authors, and publishers, and readers. Thank you, and many more! Marina

  • Carol Price June 30, 2020 17:39 PM

    Happy Birthday!!! You all are just the best, and such an integral part of what we do. I feel privileged to have drunk some of that expensed wine!! Carol, BookPeople of Moscow

  • Katie Noah June 30, 2020 11:15 AM

    Happy birthday to the Shelf! I am so proud to be a part of it.

  • peter osnos June 30, 2020 10:03 AM

    I am not an indie bookseller, but knowing what is important to them makes me and I’m sure others better publishers. Congrats. Peter Osnos

  • Linda Williams June 30, 2020 08:51 AM


  • Alice Acheson June 29, 2020 23:06 PM

    Dear John, Jenn, and all at Shelf Awareness, Your numbers are impressive, but I wish I had recorded the impressions I receive after "introducing" new writers to Shelf Awareness. They have never seen such a publication "for booksellers" that includes so many tips, education, and appreciation of the profession for writers. You are the best, and I'll be saying that 15 years from now. Alice B. Acheson, Independent Book Marketing and Publishing Consultant

  • curt jarrell June 29, 2020 22:00 PM

    It's always an informative pleasure to read your 'Little Newsletter That Could' every week. Sending you a heartfelt thanks for all you do to help books, authors and booksellers. It's important work now more than ever.

  • Joan Raphael June 29, 2020 21:02 PM

    I had just started a dream job doing collection development and somehow discovered this newsletter. It gave me what I wanted: not merely information about titles I should order but the spirit of the industry and the attitudes of booksellers. I have been retired for 4 1/2 years now and still enjoy the insight I get from this newsletter. Looking forward to the next 15 years!

  • Cheryl McKeon June 29, 2020 19:29 PM

    Congratulations! As a bookseller, it's delightful to direct customers to Shelf, assuring them they'll be "in the know" once they sign up. As a reviewer for Shelf for Readers, I am so proud to claim my affiliation with you. Hooray for Shelf!

  • DeAnn Rossetti June 29, 2020 18:33 PM

    Happy birthday my beloved Shelf Awareness, the only enewsletter that I read every day and will ever need in my life! You guys/gals are the best! I couldn't have survived as a bibliophile without your consistently excellent reporting and book news, and I have been excerpting various obits and news tidbits for my book blog for a long time. As a retired journalist, I appreciate your lovely clean prose and reviews, and I am always impressed by your ability to get timely book/author news from around the world. Thank you for all you do, and here's to another 15 years, at least!

  • Caren beecher June 29, 2020 18:13 PM

    Wonderful fantastic 15 years and many more

  • Victoria Shoemaker June 29, 2020 17:31 PM

    Happy 15th! Shelf Awareness is the spark that starts my day!! Thank you and here's to many more.

  • Shahina Piyarali June 29, 2020 17:21 PM

    Congratulations Jenn and the phenomenal Shelf team!

  • Nancy Condon Bryan June 29, 2020 16:17 PM

    I echo Allyson's comments - I am a librarian as well and your Pro newsletter is an invaluable resource! Not only for the book recommendations but also for the insights into the publishing and bookselling worlds. I have learned so much from your newsletter over the years. Happy Birthday!

  • Wendy Lochner June 29, 2020 16:13 PM

    Congratulations! As an editor who is also a voracious reader (like all of us), I don’t know how I existed without Shelf Awareness. Number of books I bought on your recommendation: countless.

  • Tommie Plank June 29, 2020 15:31 PM

    Thank you so much for 15 amazing years of news. I look forward to my morning fix before opening the store. Keep on trucking!!! Happy Birthday.

  • Allyson Goodwin June 29, 2020 15:12 PM

    Happy Birthday! I have been a subscriber almost from the beginning. I read this for two reasons; one is as a children's librarian it helps keep me on the cutting edge for collection development. Two is as a reader myself I have found so many more titles to read...thank you most of all for the column "what I am reading"

  • brad simpson June 29, 2020 14:54 PM

    I've been reading SA for nearly a decade from the time I was with my old publisher until now with Blackstone. The informative content, passionately written articles, and wonderful variety of news & stories you offer readers daily has never wavered. Congrats on your 15th year - and here's to the next 15 years! Brad Simpson - Blackstone Publishing

  • Joan Schulhafer June 29, 2020 14:24 PM

    Congratulations! All your hard work and timely information have been welcomed for 15 years!

  • Mary Bisbee-Beek June 29, 2020 14:20 PM

    I can't remember how I used to start my day before Shelf Awareness but for 15 years it's always the first cup of coffee! You are all stars! Congratulations.

  • Carole Horne June 29, 2020 13:57 PM

    I want to brag that I thought it was a brilliant idea, filling a much-needed role, from the beginning. And how magnificently you've done it! You've created a singular way to connect the entire indie world with information we need. You have the only email that everybody reads every day. Congratulations and thanks.

  • Vicki Rider June 29, 2020 13:35 PM

    Happy 15th! I'm a librarian and love reading your newsletter. Keeps me up to date on book news, book award news, trends, and etc. I enjoy the author/publisher/etc. interviews and am a mad clicker for free ARCs! All the best, and thanks! <3

  • Loreli Stochaj June 29, 2020 12:24 PM

    Happy Birthday. I am not really sure how I stumbled upon Self Awareness but I cannot image how I would keep up to date and informed on all things book and book store related. I am an elementary school librarian. Someone asked me why I would self awareness if it was for book sellers. It is not. It is for anyone who reads, anyone who tries to get others to read, and anyone who thinks the TBR pile is never high enough. Congrats and Thank You.

  • lisa howorth June 29, 2020 12:21 PM

    Yay, SA! Congrats! Appreciate y'all and you lifeline to the hinterlands! Lisa Howorth

  • Shilah Gould June 29, 2020 11:48 AM

    Happy Birthday! Thanks so much for your entertaining and educating newsletters. I look forward to them every weekday, and rely on them to learn about new books. I like your author interviews, book reviews, ARC giveaways, Robert Gray's thoughts on life, and news from around the country and world. I'm sure I left something out, but I like everything you do. Thank you!

  • Sharon Nagel June 29, 2020 11:42 AM

    Congratulations on 15 years. I have been a faithful reader since 2008, as an indie bookseller, a grad student, and now a librarian. Your column makes me feel like I’m in the loop.

  • Mark Kaufman June 29, 2020 11:42 AM

    Supporting your vision for every one of those 15 years -- even longer! Here's to many more years to come. Should you ever get to Amelia Island, the wine is on the house! All best wishes for a well-deserved celebration.

  • Barbara Theroux June 29, 2020 11:26 AM

    Congratulations!! Shelf and Wi continue to bring the book industry together. Continue to give us energy. The memories live on and the future holds hope. Thank You

  • Terry Gilman June 29, 2020 11:21 AM

    Congratulations. And thanks for all you do!

  • Karen Ruelle June 29, 2020 11:21 AM

    Congratulations! And thank you for continuing to Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

  • Jennifer McCord June 29, 2020 11:14 AM

    Congrats to Shelf Awareness...so enjoy the daily column and information. Happy 15th to all of you.

  • Vickie Roberts June 29, 2020 11:11 AM

    Happy 15th Shelf Awareness! We know we wouldn't be so dialed in if it wasn't for you!

  • Scott Manning June 29, 2020 10:52 AM

    Congratulations! What a remarkable accomplishment. And you've capped it off with some of the most insightful reporting out there on the pandemic and its impact on our industry. Thank you.

  • Eric Boss June 29, 2020 10:38 AM

    Congratulations! You are an important, and I might even say, a vital part of my day. It is much easier to keep track of what's happening with friends and colleagues as well as the entire industry via your daily journalism. Thanks and more power to you!

  • Maryelizabeth Yturralde June 29, 2020 10:34 AM

    Wow! Happy 15, Shelf! It seems like only yesterday -- and also forever ago -- that Shelf was being introduced to the book community. Here's to continued anniversaries!

  • Roberta Schwartz June 29, 2020 10:28 AM

    Dear Folks at Shelf Awareness, I am an Indie Bookstore customer and I love waking up to your emails during the week. You do a wonderful job giving me the news about the latest books, the state of the book industry, and the writers to watch. You are indeed the" best community newspaper you can be." Thanks and happy birthday. May you celebrate with vigor now and always!

  • Lisa Burris June 29, 2020 10:27 AM

    Among the rituals that have helped me during the pandemic is enjoying a morning cup of coffee and reading Shelf Awareness. Thank you for all that you do. Happy 15th birthday, and here's to many, many more!

  • Pepper Daniels June 29, 2020 10:24 AM

    Happy Birthday! May the year ahead be an amazing journey of sharing filled with wonder and memories.

  • David Raney June 29, 2020 10:23 AM

    Thank you so much for what you do. Yours is one of very few emails I never delete w/o reading, and it's a soul salve. I used to work in an indy store, and book lovers of all stripes are my tribe. Thanks for the regular reminder of an essential part of the good life.

  • Deb Lewis June 29, 2020 10:21 AM

    Happy birthday Shelf Awareness!

  • Laura Kalpakian June 29, 2020 10:19 AM

    Bravo! Thanks for yr contributions to the literary community! Here’s to many more years ahead!

  • Lenore Kester June 29, 2020 10:17 AM

    I closed my bookstore 5 years ago, but still love reading you every day. Congratulations!

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