Friday, December 16, 2011

Eric Maywar--The Makings Of A Successful Independent Book Store

Eric Maywar owns Classic Books in Trenton, New Jersey. What caught my attention about Eric and his store is that not only is it successful but that Eric gets his customer, his community, and the love of a good story. Everyone's Story invited several authors and readers to ask Eric questions. Please join Eric as he replies. If you have questions that you would also like to ask, send a comment. Eric will enjoy hearing from you this week.

From Donna: How one would go about setting up a book signing with a storeowner? Do small independent bookstores sell e-books and do you offer book signings?

At our store (Classics in Trenton NJ, an author just has to drop in and have themselves put on the calendar. 

Our customers can order eBooks through our website and we do signings and discussions for eBook authors.

From Christine: Do you ever stock books by smaller publishers when the book is receiving rave reviews and won awards? 

We’re a used bookstore, so we don’t purchase books. We are proud to feature a section of the new books of local authors who have provided their books for consignment sales. Many of them are self-published or published by smaller publishers.

From Diana:
What do you think the most challenging aspect today for an independent bookstore owner?

I think this is a good time to be an independent. While e-Books battle the chain stores, the independent customer is staying faithful to the independent store. In addition, I am getting former Borders customers who aren’t yet ready for an e-Reader.

What can authors do to help your sales?

I have had authors post links to my website from their website and leverage their book-signings to get their friends and family to come and support them.  For the most part, though, I see it my responsibility to help their sales!

What type of promotion items would you like to receive from authors?

Fliers, bag stuffers and bookmarks before an event are good promotional tools.

Where do you see the book market in the future? What do independent booksellers need to do/be aware of to ensure their presence is a driving force in today's ever-changing market?

Booksellers need to adapt to changes in the marketplace.  Used bookstores that were slow to use the Internet for sales and pricing fell. Chain booksellers who developed their own e-Reader (Nook) were in a better position than those who did not.

At the same time, play to your strengths. The independents beat chains and Internet sales with good customer service, a sense of place, easy browsability, and community involvement. Maximize these areas and remind people why independents are not going anywhere.

What's a really fun memory you have during an author event at your bookstore?

Dodge Foundation poet Doc Long brought a jazz trio with him for his poetry reading. That was cool!

What author really touches you emotionally?

I am never prepared for the emotionality of Ursula Le Guin’s short story “Guillam’s Harp,” even though I have read it many times.

What's one thing you'd like to do at your bookstore you haven't done?

That’s a stumper. Everything I’ve wanted to do I’ve made it happen: 

Jazz band in the Science Fiction section?  Done. 
    Rock band in the Mystery section?  Done.     ( 
    Run a games night, because I am a games addict?  Done.
    Make a customer laugh so hard she became incoherent?  Done.  (
    Raise thousands of books for kids in our struggling school system?  Done.  (
     Foster a community that responds to civic problems?  Done.  (

From Mary: 
Romance and women’s fiction has dominated the consumer market for many years. Does your store carry this genre?

Yes. We try to carry something for everybody.

Do you personally have an e-reader? Why or why not?

I do not. I like the physicality of books, the weight of them in my hand, the smell of paper. I like seeing them in bookshelves like old friends. 

In what direction do you see the relationship between e-books and print books going?

E-Books are going to forever change publishing. Print runs will dramatically shrink, but not disappear. There will always be people who want bound books. (Here’s a list of the types:

If you have book signings, how do you set them up? Is the author at the front or back of the store? How do you advertise the author before and during the event?

The author chooses if they want to be in the presentation area in mystery, in the back in Science Fiction, at the front near the rare books section or, in nice weather, out front on the sidewalk.

We have a 700 person emailing list of qualified book lovers we email book-signing information. We do FaceBook. We send local media calendars the event information.  We contact other local promoters with overlapping interest (kids event people promote our kids books; food blogs promote our cookbooks, etc).

From Everyone's Story:
Please tell us about The Books At Home Program and Social Capital.

The Books at Home Program provides free books for kids in Trenton’s struggling school district. We hand out between 2000 and 4000 books a year through schools, community groups, the police and churches.

Social capital is a measure of the connections between members of a community. It is a measure not of just do you know your neighbors, but do you hang out with them. Do you bowl alone, or do you bowl in a league? It is the community equivalent of business networking events. Business people understand the power of networking–community people need to harness the same power.

Social capital is not just important in a touchy feely kumbaya way–fostering social capital produces tangible results. In communities where social capital is high, kids do better in school, more people volunteer, more people vote and other wise care about their city and there is less crime. By hanging out in casual settings (not just at rallies, for example, but at a regular spades game), people increase their networks and when a problem arises, whether it is personal or community-wide, solutions are easier because there are more people to help solve it. The more diverse the group (by religion, by race, by age, by socio-economic class) the better, as it more dramatically expands the resources of the group.

For example, Classics Books has a Scrabble Club on Warren Street in Trenton. In 2009, 138 people played there, but there are 20-30 regulars. When one of the regulars was unemployed, another one of the other regulars was able to get her a job at his company. This happened twice. When the mural on Warren Street was vandalized, the club took up a collection. Several of the members noticed the need for a Trenton-focused literary magazine, and the Trenton Review was born. One of the members of the club starting a knit and stitch group at Classics, which in turn knitted and donated skullcaps to the troops in Afghanistan. Whether personal or national, this group is able to pool their resources to address problems.

Tell us about yourself, and how you came to establish such an unusual but necessary book Mecca in an inner city.

I am sure it was my destiny to start a bookstore wherever I was. I am from Michigan, but my wife was from Trenton NJ, so that’s where I ended up.

Trenton is a great place for a bookstore. My customers come from the 85,000 residents in this 7 square mile city, from the 20,000 state workers who work downtown and from Scrabble players from around the state.

The fondest memory I have of my mother is when she made a pleasant sensation in front of the librarians when I received my very first library card. Like her, I was always an avid reader. I was also fortunate enough to have my aunt (my father’s sister) entertain my brother and I with wonderful oral stories. In short, story—both in written word and verbally told—shaped my young life and in many ways probably kept my sanity intact. Has your love of books started in childhood? Do you see parents spending more or less time sharing the love of books with children?

Oh yes! My parents were avid readers and without a doubt passed that along. The much anticipated yearly trip growing up in Michigan was always to Ann Arbor which had 25 independent bookstores in a square mile. While my parents went to the original Borders Books, my brother and I bounced from one used bookstore to another.

I see lots of parents coming into the bookstore with their children. I don’t think that that is dying out anytime soon!

Are you an author, reader, agent, or editor who has a question for Eric? Send a comment to Everyone's Story. He looks forward to hearing from you.

Links for Eric and Classic Books:


  1. Eric,
    My sincere thanks for your in-depth answers to so many questions. I, too, am a believer that bookstores will be around for a long while. Though I see a huge draw for e-readers, more so with the ease of how our military deploying and taking with them a year's worth of books, I think there will always be those who love the feel of a book in their hands.
    Elaine, thank you for another wonderful interview. Take care and I wish you both the very best. Merry Christmas!
    God bless,

    Diana Cosby, AGC(AW), USN Ret.

  2. What a fascinating interview! So interesting to get a peek behind the scenes and to hear such encouraging and innovative ideas.

  3. Thank you for the marvelous interview! Eric, oh how I wish I could visit your wonderful bookstore. The independent bookstores really do understand their customers, and it sounds like you are catering to your neighborhood, their interests, and are encouraging readers of all ages. The used bookstores are even more fun! Bravo, and more power to you! Unlike most people, I hated the movie "You've Got Mail" because the small bookstore owner was forced out of business, gobbled up by the huge chain bookstore. As the "hero" said, "It's just business." Wrong. It was her livelihood and what she loved, and I considered it more a tragedy. Like you, I will always prefer a print edition of a book in my hands - the feel, the smell, everything about them. As a young girl, the best days were when our Scholastic books arrived. I still remember the unique smell of them, odd as that sounds. Some things you really don't forget. Perhaps it was inevitable I'd become a writer. If you're ever interested in donations of books from authors (with no expectation of anything in return other than perhaps a new reader or two), please get in touch via Facebook. Blessings to you!

  4. Sounds like a wonderful bookstore. Wish I lived a bit closer to Trenton!

  5. Thanks all for your comments!

    JoAnn, I would be happy to distribute books for you here!

    Cara, I wish you lived closer too! Lol.

  6. JoAnn, you brought back fond memories with the mention of those Scholastic Books... I really looked forward to receiving them. They were the equivalent of Christmas presents for me. Thanks for the smile.

  7. Great post! I love independent bookstores. I wish we'd get one in my area.

  8. Thanks for the visit & comment, Kelly. What is so special about the independent bookstores is what they can do because they're not limited to what "corporate" dictates. What I admire about Eric is how he can bring a whole community together through the venue of a bookstore... again, it's the magic, the power of story!

  9. Eric, thank you for a fantastic visit on Everyone's Story this past week. Between the publicly stated comments published on the blog and the directly-contacted feedback I've received, your guest appearance has been enjoyed by many. You've also shared some helpful advice for published authors and inspiring writers.

    I think there are a slew of us that wished we lived around the corner from Classic Books!

    Happy holidays,


  10. I think that eventually there will be books committed to print media and books never committed to print media.

    Of these some of the former may eventually be lost and more of the latter will be lost due to the instability of the electron and the short memory of humans.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future for authors, authors longevity and publishers and the used book store.

  11. Nancy, that's an interesting thought: publication strictly geared for one market and not the other... kind of frightening in a way, though a grim possibility. I hate the idea of big corporate dictating & limiting the means of how one can read. Both print and e-reading serve multitudes of purposes, let alone creature comfort preferences & conveniences. Let's hope all means of the printed word survives so we can best protect our freedom of speech.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and your visit to Everyone's Story.

    If you'd like, I'd really appreciate if you can "Follow" this blog, located under the Google Follow on the right-hand side of this page. Of course this means no spam mail from Everyone's Story.

    Happy New Year!


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