Bookstore Romance Day 2020 Q&A with Copper Dog Books' Julie Karaganis

Aug 1, 2020

I'm proud to collaborate with my local independent bookstore, Copper Dog Books, for Bookstore Romance Day 2020. I virtually sat down with co-owner - and resident romance fan - Julie Karaganis to discuss why and how Copper Dog Books is welcoming romance readers.

For more information on our 2020 virtual events, check out this landing page.

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Andrea Martucci/Shelf Love: Why do you think romance readers are sometimes wary of indie bookstores?

Julie Karaganis/Copper Dog Books: I wouldn’t limit it to indies, as a romance reader I am still wary of all kinds of bookstores: indies, corporate, and even Amazon (their bookstore near me doesn’t have a romance section). There is a stigma to reading romance that I have felt my whole life. I’ve heard it all: the jokes, the negative judgments, the assumption of poor writing quality (grrr).

My first experience as a bookseller was at Borders in the 1990s. During my training, my manager was showing me where to find book recommendations for literary fiction, historical, mysteries, biographies, etc. and I asked what about the customers asking for romance. His response was “you just need to show them to the section. Romance readers know what they’re looking for, we don’t need to sell them books.” The message I got was that the bookstore didn’t want to talk about romance and certainly didn’t want to help its romance readers.

Last year, the idea of Bookstore Romance Day, that there were bookstores that wanted to celebrate their romance readers, strongly resonated with me and I’m happy to say the first celebration that Copper Dog Books had was BRD 2019 (we bought the store 8/1/2019).

Andrea: Why was it important for you as booksellers to have a romance section? How do you represent your values as booksellers/curators and cater to local customers with what you select?

Julie: I wasn’t surprised at all that Cabot Street Books (the previous name of the bookstore) didn’t have a romance section when I started as a bookseller in 2017. Meg, the store manager at the time, encouraged me to make romance titles into staff picks and share what I was reading, but honestly, I was so used to a negative response from people when I mentioned reading romance, I didn’t want to open myself up to that attitude at work. It took me six months before I felt comfortable recommending a title (The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang).

The decision to start a romance section and invest the time and effort into making it successful was prompted by two Twitter storms and a conversation Meg and I had about them. The first twitter storm was the reaction of Romancelandia following the RITA nominees and the exclusion of BIPOC authors. The second was the Twitter thread that also inspired Bookstore Romance Day: a statement from an author directing readers to Amazon instead of indies. Indies have strong feelings against Amazon for reasons I won’t get into here, but as I’ve mentioned, I understand why romance readers shop Amazon.

Meg heard me that day as I explained how deep the bookstore antipathy towards romance readers can get. She is a sci-fi/fantasy reader - two genres that are also often dismissed and looked down upon - and has had similar experiences of people commenting on her reading choices (her go-to quote is from the person asking “when are you going to read grown-up books?”). And yet, we didn’t have a romance section because we didn’t have customers asking for romance books. It can be a chicken and the egg scenario. That day, you could almost see the lightbulb go off - our bookstore needed to be the change to see the change - and she decided to start the section-building process.

We had to fit it in the existing book-buying budget and we started off in April adding 1-2 books a month to my staff picks. I wanted to make sure that the romances were fully representative of our society, featuring ownvoices, BIPOC authors, and LGBTQ+ romances. Our initial romance selections were 70% contemporary romances and the rest were a mix of romantic suspense, historicals, etc. We selected books that were similar to what our existing customers read but our goal was to draw in romance readers and then we’d be able to stock the titles that our romance readers want to see.

One of the things I love most about independent bookstores is that we have the opportunity to reflect our community of readers and to show our values on our curated shelves. We select books thoughtfully and purposefully to appeal to the customers that we know by name or by sight. We want readers to feel comfortable talking about romances, asking for recommendations, browsing and finding new possibilities on our shelves. Lastly, we want to show a wide variety of representation in romance books.

Andrea: What things do you do to welcome romance readers to Copper Dog Books?

Julie: We welcome romance readers by making it clear that romance is a valued section of the store and deserves its place with pride. We have put the romance section in a prominent place at the front of the store; for a long time, it was in a bookcase with our Staff Picks. My name and recommendation is on every shelf talker except for My Lady’s Choosing (that one was Meg’s pick).

One benefit to the shelf talkers is that even if I’m not in the store, our booksellers have become familiar with the romances on the shelf. We recommend romance whenever a customer has an open-ended request that fits. We feature romance titles in our marketing when we’re promoting upcoming books or celebrating new releases. I also read a lot of contemporary women’s lit to filter out books that are being sold as romance but don’t have the right elements. Lastly, we engage with romance readers on social media and continue to look for new ways to indicate that Copper Dog Books is romance-friendly.

Andrea: How do you introduce new readers to the romance genre?

Julie: I would introduce a reader to romance by asking them what kind of books they enjoy reading or a recent read that they really loved. Romance has so many subgenres, it is often easy to find a romance title that interests readers.

Andrea: What romance novels have been really popular with your customers? Any cool stories of readers discovering romance?

Julie: Copper Dog Books’ Top 5 Romances have been:

My fun story about a reader discovering romances is about Meg. She is a dedicated sci-fi/fantasy reader but she wanted to gain familiarity with romance to help foster inclusivity. As she likes to listen to audiobooks at bedtime, she started with Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey. Since the bookstore has been closed to customers, she’s been flying through romance audiobooks and has discovered she’s not that partial to historicals, although she liked the role reversal of The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham. She liked Dani Brown more than Chloe and she’s pretty sure that she goes for the fake relationship trope because Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall was a delight.

About Copper Dog Books:

Copper Dog Books offers a quality selection of a wide range of book, book-related products, gifts, and cards with stellar customer service in downtown Beverly, MA, a beautiful ocean-side community. Working as a dedicated community partner and creating a destination of discovery for our customers, the store has monthly gatherings including a book club, stitch & bitch, and children storytimes; our revolving art show changes bi-monthly with an evening reception welcoming the artist. The owners, Meg Wasmer and Julie Karaganis, are Beverly residents who are devoted to books and committed to serving our customers.

Meg and Julie were so excited to talk to Esquire about the impact of the last couple months on our bookstore: Inside the Book Industry's Battle to Stay Afloat During the COVID-19 Crisis

In addition to managing Cabot Street Books since November 2016, Meg has been working in the book industry for 13 years. Her first day at Borders Books in Peabody was the release of the last Harry Potter book and the magic and chaos of that night made her want to sell books forever. She has become deeply invested in the industry, by attending author dinners and industry conferences, taking advantage of educational opportunities, and serving on the Advisory Council for the regional bookselling association NEIBA. Meg has developed strong relationships with publishers and authors, which will help bring better books and events to Beverly.

Julie has been selling books at Cabot Street Books for 2 years. This is her third time around in her working career as a bookseller. She was at Borders Peabody while in college and then again after leaving the corporate world of management consulting. She got her MBA and taught business classes at Endicott College. No matter when or where she was, she always was a voracious reader, finishing 4-5 books a week. Combining her business knowledge with her love of books has been an incredible experience.