Shelf Love

Romance-Friendly Bookstores with Copper Dog Books (everything about the supply chain you've never thought to ask)

Short Description

Romance-Friendly Bookstores with Copper Dog Books (and everything about the supply chain you've never thought to ask)!


scifi and fantasy romance, business of books

Show Notes

Romance-Friendly Bookstores with Copper Dog Books (and everything about the supply chain you've never thought to ask)!

Copper Dog Books is an independently-owned, genre-inclusive bookstore in Beverly, MA and co-owners Julie Karaganis & Meg Wasmer join Shelf Love to share the joys, challenges, and future possibilities for romance in brick and mortar bookstores. 

Guests: Copper Dog Books: co-owners Julie Karaganis & Meg Wasmer

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Meg is looking for kinky books with warm fuzzies, a la Sunstone, a graphic novel series by Stjepan Šejić. Let her know if you know of the perfect recommendation @megpyre on Twitter


Popular at (or Recommended by) Copper Dog Books



Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories and fiction across media, time, and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture.

I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, we are going deep into the underbelly of the romance novel supply chain. That's right. We're going to talk about brick and mortar bookstores. I'm joined by Julie Karaganis and Meg Wasmer, the owners of Copper Dog Books an independently owned, genre friendly bookstore in Beverly, Massachusetts.

They also happen to be my main suppliers of both print books, as well as dot grid notebooks, Meg, Julie, thank you both so much for joining me today. Can you introduce yourselves in your own words, Meg, do you want to start.

Meg Wasmar: I'm the front list, backlist kind of general book buyer. As a reader I'm just starting to dabble in romance, scifi and fantasy are my kind of my home's genre. But a couple of years back, we realized that I was doing this whole we're a genre inclusive store and I had mystery, thriller, scifi, fantasy and no romance section. So Julie kind of stepped in and you, it was like, let's put our money where our mouth is. And we built a romance section, which was, an interesting trial.

Andrea Martucci: Julie, why don't you introduce yourself. I guess you're the romance reader, TM.

Julie Karaganis: I am. Fill in a little bit. Meg is a lifelong book industry professional. She has worked in used books, new books, buying, merchandising. What else?

Meg Wasmar: I did textbooks for a hot minute for Barnes and Noble. I did comic books at the local comic shop. The only part of this industry I haven't touched as the publishing side, to some extent, done it all.

Andrea Martucci: You've seen some stuff.

Meg Wasmar: Yes been in the trenches..

Julie Karaganis: Yes. She has the industry knowledge. I am the owner who handles most of the back office business stuff. As Meg says she does not read nonfiction. So I handle all contracts and taxes and the boring stuff that, gets the bills paid.

I am the romance reader. I have read romance since my first Johanna Lindsay mass market picked up at a friend's house. Her grandmother read romance. So probably, oh God 30 years I've been reading romance. My preferred subgenres. How do you usually the urban fantasy, paranormal, scifi, space operas. I do the genre within the genre romantic suspense.

And I've been getting into the contemporary romances as well. The romcoms that have no definition of what makes a romcom. the only one I struggle with a little bit is historical because I know history and I know history is not always depicted correctly in historical romance and that that's something

Andrea Martucci: It's romance history. It's not history.

Julie Karaganis: but my mother an actual [00:03:00] historian. She worked for years for our city's historical society. And so ask me anything about Beverly, I'm your girl. Also we as a bookstore have been really trying to become more diverse with our book buying and representation and making sure that we represent a more multicultural world of books that we are selling.

And so those are the romances that we are actually really trying to push now.

Andrea Martucci: Why did you both want to become independent bookstore owners? And, And what was your journey? How long have you guys been in business now? Is it three years?

Julie Karaganis: Yeah, it'll be three years.

Meg Wasmar: August 1st. Yeah. I didn't. (laughs) I didn't, I loved having someone else to kick the problems too. And then the previous owner of the store made me an offer I couldn't refuse. And now Julie and I own a bookstore, like what was not in the five-year plan.

Julie Karaganis: No, there was no plan for this. The offer was made to Meg and Meg alone. And so I told her that I would help with the business plan and help pull some things together. And maybe I'll throw in a little bit of money and be an investor in her bookstore. And then as we kept trying banks and loans and figuring out how to actually get the payment because he wanted money for the store, like whatever.

Andrea Martucci: What?! This is a bookstore.

Julie Karaganis: was bizarre

We're run on passion, not dollars. So it got to the point where I was putting more and more money in. I had retirement money from pre kids career and we went in 50 50. Meg had the knowledge, I had some of the capital and I really thought I was going to be a part-time owner, 20 hours a week, nothing more. So from offer to purchase was three months.

Andrea Martucci: that's fast.

Julie Karaganis: And then we went into the holiday season within two months of owning the store. And then we finished that did our second book fair in March, 2020, and then pandemic hit. And so it's been a very interesting first few years of owning a store. Would not recommend doing it this way.

Andrea Martucci: And so you guys are passionate readers and Meg obviously worked in many facets of the book selling world prior. When you had the opportunity to start your own store, how did you come in and say, you know what? We're in charge. Here's what we're going to do. What was important to you as independent booksellers?

Meg Wasmar: Equity. We've got a very strong, old guard in bookselling which I think I know later on, we're going to touch on like, why are bookstores so romance resistant? And I think a lot of it's the old guard coming in as booksellers and not bookstore owners, not people who opened bookstores who had truly come up through the [00:06:00] ranks, I think changes a lot of your perspective.

There's a balance to be found, number crunching versus, heart buying of product. But we definitely, we wanted to look at how we treated our employees, how we were stocking the store, what changes we needed to make on that front. We'd come from some really tight budgets which had hampered what we could bring into the store and a lot of ways.

Equity with artists, Beverly's an art community. Very much looking to make sure that we were treating fairly with people was incredibly important, but also looking to be a stronger match inventory wise to our community as well. And I would

Julie Karaganis: say for me and for Meg, but a lot of it was feeling shamed or people treating me like I should feel ashamed for the choices of books that I've read. There's just so many stories of, why are you reading that? "Heaving bosom books" was the nickname in my family for what I liked to read. And, when are you going to read serious books? What about the real books that are out there that you could be reading instead? and I know Meg got that as well from science fiction

Meg Wasmar: Straight up, customers have asked me when are you going to read grown up books? They are like

Julie Karaganis: and having that conversation with Meg about the fact that she said, genre friendly and I said, but we don't have any romance here. And it was around the same time that Bookstore Romance Day had been created from the same Twitter threads. That sort of, you don't understand until you walk into a store and they're like, oh, we don't stock that here. Or oh, of my personal favorite. Where do you shelve Nora Roberts in your bookstores? Because she has many sub genres and I said why don't you just put her in fiction. They say, oh we try to keep the quality of writing high in that section.

Andrea Martucci: I'm having a heart attack.


Julie Karaganis: right. And it's the judgment. It's palpable. We want people to feel like they will not be judged coming into the store.

So they will find books that reflect themselves, whether it's race or sexuality or gender, or type of book that you want to read. And so come in and feel welcome was, I think , the other thing that we really went in along with equity. That's pretty much how we expanded our book buying philosophy.

Meg Wasmar: And it's interesting, like particularly romance is a really hard genre to start a romance section, unless you have someone who is actively involved community wise. As a front list buyer, I rely really heavily on sales data to keep me from passion buying like, yo, I don't want to be someone who is saying, I need 15 copies of this book, or I won't have enough when my track [00:09:00] record is I sell about three each of a title by an author.

And so romance readers are a passionate people. They like what they, like. They don't like what they don't like, which is absolutely fine. But if you're making a romance section for community like a brick and mortar romance section. Julie reads paranormal as the sub genre of her heart.

But what actually sells in Beverly are the contemporary rom commy, the Dani Brown's the Tessa Bailey. That flavor does really well.

Julie Karaganis: We can sneak some space opera in, but not paranormal. I don't understand it

for the scifi fantasy. Anyway,

Meg Wasmar: we can't do urban fantasy really as a genre, either it's not Beverly, which is fine. Like I can read Toby Day, every single day of the week and love it But what's a good match for everyday Shelf stock isn't always, I can keep the first two of a series and maybe not all 16, like that makes sense.

Julie Karaganis: Even the historical didn't do very well until Bridgerton came out. So we really were focusing on the trade paperbacks of contemporary romances, some angsty, some funny, but that was about it. Some romantic suspense was going, but that's a sub genre that hasn't been particularly popular lately. So there weren't that many trade paperback options. Mass markets don't sell very well out of our store. In any genre

Meg Wasmar: And that's interesting three wide that is not, we are not a special snowflake

A lot of series that I'm seeing Del Ray in particular on the sci fi side, has been reissuing a lot of their stuff that they've traditionally done in mass market as that kind of trade paperback size.

And I'm immediately seeing increases in sales and things that I couldn't sell in person are selling off the shelf in TP.

Andrea Martucci: And so you've alluded to some of these things, but to be realistic as a small, independent bookstore, you do not have the large financial backing that a Barnes and Noble or a large commercial chain would have. And so not only do you have physical space limitations because you're not a small store, but like you have space limitations, you can only have so many books.

You have non-fiction, you have fiction, you have children's, you have some gifts and cards and stuff. So there's literally space limitations. And then also just thinking about like where you are physically located. You're like on Beverly's main drag. So you're like next to Atomic Cafe with some good coffee shops.

And if you think about like the people who are passing through. It seems to me and please correct me if I'm wrong on this. It's a lot of people who are like, oh, a bookstore, and like they're popping in. And so it's a different clientele than people who are like sitting down and very focused on like time for books.

Meg Wasmar: [00:12:00] Yeah, I think we've got a little bit of column and a little bit of column B. The pandemic has affected everything.

Julie Karaganis: The downtown has really grown quite a bit since reopening, Beverly reopening after the pandemic lockdowns and we still get a lot of people preferring to shop in a smaller store.

So it, rather than going down the highway to Barnes and Noble they'll come in instead. And I think they come in actually, it's been really nice, with that idea that they can just shop what's on the shelves or they have a specific book in mind and they'll order it and know it'll take a little bit of time to get there, but that's okay because that's the trade offs.

I think Beverly is starting to get also some more spillover from the people that are trying to visit Salem and realize that's a little too crowded. Let's go up the street a little bit. So it is a lot of that touristy just wandering about which changes what we stock because they're not coming in looking for let me see what new books you've put in your romance section since the last time I've been here.

Andrea Martucci: The romance section, which look, I am very happy you guys have it, but just for context for the audience, it's three shelves,

Meg Wasmar: Two and a half to three, depending on the

Andrea Martucci: right?

Meg Wasmar: And to be fair, it is less representation than scifi, but I am who I am. But more than mystery.

Andrea Martucci: Take that mystery.

Meg Wasmar: Like, more than mystery, more than horror. So I would give it more space if there was not, we're literally out of shelves in our store.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Meg Wasmar: it's packed, it's all spine out which I would prefer it wasn't. A lot of what sells right now in our store is those good graphic cover romances. And I know the readership is divided on them in a lot ways. Some people love that traditional, with the step back and the, I can't remember what the spicy photo underneath is called.

Andrea Martucci: Thought that was the step back.

Julie Karaganis: The clinch

Andrea Martucci: Oh, the clinch on the step back. So the step back is the actual location, but clinch is, like what you tend to find there. Okay.

Meg Wasmar: Okay, cool. I'm learning. We are in a learning curve.

Andrea Martucci: Together.

Meg Wasmar: Yes. So I know that there are people that really love that traditional cover, but again, for us, like the graphic, very bright, cartoony covers really move books for us. So like we're in a place where I should probably have about 25% fewer titles and the titles that I kept would really do better for it.

Andrea Martucci: Cause they could see that and get grabbed by it. Can you describe the types of folks who are coming in and heading to the romance section or finding themselves perusing the shelves of the romance section or perhaps are getting directed there by the friendly staff at Copper Dog Books.

You're what you're saying now is that essentially you're seeing that people are being grabbed by the graphic covers. You're definitely seeing that in a sales data. What are you seeing anecdotally about the patterns of people coming in? Are they asking questions? Are they finding it themselves? Do you get the sense that they're like stumbling upon the section or they're there for [00:15:00] it?

Meg Wasmar: we live in an interesting age. Tik Tok has changed so much,

Julie Karaganis: A year ago, it would have been different.

Meg Wasmar: It's been interesting to watch people start messaging us for, is it The Spanish Deception that I believe that's it's called, was indie pubbed and then Simon picked it up when it got big on Tik Tok to get it in stores and to see people actively looking for these titles that have been up until very recently, all indie pub and now traditional publishing wants them.

Julie Karaganis: Scarlett St. Clair is one, Ice Planet's another one

Meg Wasmar: which does sell out of the store. Like it, I think that might be our only face out right now is Ice Planet Barbarians. But a Love Hypothesis. That one was one, the Tik Tok really drove. But what I think is interesting subsequently is looking at these folks that founded on Tik Tok and are moving into the genre more comfortably.

So they're coming to the store cause they can get them now when maybe they couldn't have, because there are, - I can go into the financials of Y indie pub in indie bookstores is difficult. But we're not going to do that. Cause I will take up this entire hour would love to have that conversation another time.

But as these things become traditionally available to us, they're doing well, Colleen Hoover who's not really romance, but has that same kind of Tik Tok-y vibe watching that change what people's buying habits are because they come in for Love Hypothesis, but they leave with,

Julie Karaganis: Kiss Quotient,

Meg Wasmar: they're finding kind of backlist, the, not quite as, the titles that weren't the big flash on social media, that are getting these secondary lives because of one big title.

Julie Karaganis: It is interesting to see what hits on Tik Tok because I do feel that. Meg and I are, I don't think are very big on Tik Tok ourselves. It's usually a surprise to me as to what hits there. I read Love Hypothesis as an ARC and loved it, but did I ever think it would be on the best sellers shelf on my bookstore? No, not at all. And there it is. And it's been there for weeks.

Meg Wasmar: It's been wild to watch these books that traditionally have not hit the indie bestseller list really start to show up. And, we stock our store based on the best seller list. Like it's something like 30% of our book sales come off of these two bays in the store. And when Love Hypothesis hits the best seller list and hits, 13, 12, 11, on the list, stores start bringing it in

Andrea Martucci: And then it keeps going up right.

Meg Wasmar: It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, because if your book hits indie bestsellers, it doesn't change super, super fast because we all bring them in.

We all put them in this really good spot in our store, and then people find them and it's forcing a certain amount of romance acceptance I think, or accessibility, just, you could walk in and [00:18:00] actually pick a romance up off of the shelf of a store that maybe wouldn't typically have ordered Love Hypothesis.

Julie Karaganis: And I think that's part of it is, I think we're well positioned as an independent bookstore to be able to talk to the customers, looking for those specific Tik Tok books and then be able to hand them good recommendations based off of what our usual romance stock

is. And so that's been one group of customers coming in. But usually when for someone who's just asking for more general recommendations, if they usually say something like, I can't handle anything sad or depressing, I was like, oh, come with me, come with a place where the, it's a satisfying conclusion.

And if you don't want angst, I can help with that.

Meg Wasmar: I also I love as a bookseller, the code word, like folks who won't necessarily come in and say, give me a romance, will come in and say, I'd like something light. I'd like something happy. I'd like something it's like unlocking a puzzle. Oh, you'd like to come to the romance section. We have one.

Julie Karaganis: Sometimes there are some internalized issues there with, oh no, I don't want anything off the romance shelf or my personal favorite discovery of Witches. They want one like that, but they don't want it off the fantasy or romance shelves.

Meg Wasmar: night Circus is the other one. I don't read fantasy or romance. Night Circus is my favorite book,

Andrea Martucci: you're like, guess what? Guess what?

Meg Wasmar: You're my people!

Julie Karaganis: You don't want to be, so we can't really help you

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So people say, oh, I just want something light, something fun. Do they use words also? Like, I just need to escape.

Julie Karaganis: Oh yeah..

Andrea Martucci: And obviously a lot of genre could fulfill that, but also you're very likely to find that sort of like escapism within genre fiction and then with romance specifically.

I am curious if you're like, even if you don't say, Hey, we've got a romance section, come over here. If you say, Hey, what about this book? And you take them over to the romance section and they see the word romance. It sounds like sometimes people just viscerally are like, whoa, no

Julie Karaganis: no. I like to, I would like to read good books.

Andrea Martucci: Julie, you're killing me.

Julie Karaganis: I

don't read romance. I read good books with good writing. (long pause as we ponder the bleakness of this statement)

Andrea Martucci: I guess you can't say get out of my store. Can you?

Julie Karaganis: No, I, it, or it's like book club selections, but, people coming in because it's their month to pick their book club book and oh, I would read it. I just don't think the club would appreciate me selecting this book. Yeah. It's gross. I hate it.

Meg Wasmar: it's been interesting kind of on my end, like again, very new to the genre. I'm really like, I don't know is romance will ever be the home of my heart. But having this little secret arsenal of, I really liked this one and breaking down that, even if, as a bookseller, if you only have one romance that you have read in loved, to be able to say, [00:21:00] I liked this, it gives people permission who maybe may not be traditional romance readers, or who do have that internalized like, oh, I don't read romance.

You know, They think of the, I, again, I know a contentious term, the bodice rippers that their mother or their grandmother had. And they're like, I don't want to read

Andrea Martucci: That

Meg Wasmar: yeah. But so like giving people permission, like to just feel joy and again, I do the same thing with scifi or fantasy, depending on who your person is, they're different genres.

But to be. Able to say, Hey, this is what I really loved, or I see you enjoyed Song of Achilles. Would you like, Witch's Heart. And like letting people know that they're already reading these things. I get really annoyed particularly with, transcends genre like Sally Rooney invented romance this year.

Did you know,

Andrea Martucci: I heard about that. We talked about that actually on the podcast, Jodie Slaughter, and I, we talked about Normal People and you know what, here's my controversial take. It is a romance novel. It's just, you have to like, actually stick to the actual definition of a romance novel and think about it as a really toxic relationship, which many romance novels have.

But the reason it's not actually a romance novel is because it quote unquote transcends genre and doesn't actually have the things that romance readers are there for. It's like transcending genre is not a good thing. You have literally missed the point.

Hold on. Let me get on my marketing high horse for a second. Genres are really just ways of saying oh, you like this kind of thing? We're going to make it easy for you to find and identify these things. It is a marketing term. And when you say I am writing a romance novel, or I am writing a YA novel, all you are saying is I'm going to adhere to certain conventions that will allow me to more easily find the people who will enjoy this and help me find a publisher who will understand what I'm doing without having to sit down and read the whole thing first, or have one very specific trusted person who can read this for me and tell me. It's marketing, friends.

Julie Karaganis: Which is why it drives me nuts. So one of the most anticipated books of 2021 was One Last Stop Casey


Andrea Martucci: McQuiston yeah.

Julie Karaganis: but One Last Stop was one of the most anticipated books and the first book did fantastic in independent bookstores Red, White, and Royal Blue.

I think it's still doing, has pretty long legs on the lists. Shelf Awareness does a newsletter twice a week, email newsletter And they also do a pre-order newsletter once a month that we participate in. But they allow us to select the books that, that, in what order are we going to market these upcoming books that we want you to pre-order.

And I, I usually look down the genre listing and I stop when I see romance and my eyes skittered over the [00:24:00] term for One Last Stop, "literary romance." How do you indicate to book sellers, book buyers across the country that for your independent bookstore, you should be interested in this title. They're going to skip their eyes right over romance cause they don't stock romance. Literary things they stock. Literally never seen that genre or sub-genre or whatever description, anywhere else, but (long sigh)

Meg Wasmar: They could have slammed new adult in there because it is a great new adult.

that perfect bridge book from YA to traditional lake, adult literature, young protagonist. It is a fun, light read. I did listen to that one. I am still very upset that Jane Su left Bao the rat on the bus because white rats don't really appear in nature. So Bao was an abandoned pet and I'm still very upset about it. Not what you were supposed to take out of that Casey McClintic this book. And here we are. But it was great. It was fun. It was light. It hit all of those great, those things that make romance readers happy. Like it's okay to be a romance book. My dudes

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Julie Karaganis: literary romance. So you know it's good. it's good.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Ooh. Okay. So Meg hold yourself back here. I'm going to ask an indie pub question, but let's keep it limited. So I know, because I have done this, I have ordered many self-published slash indie published books from Copper Dog Books where I go on your website and I search for books and I can find them. Like I got some Rebekah Weatherspoon books that were indie published. I got Jack Harbon. I definitely bought Jodie Slaughter's book. Yeah. There, there are several people whose books I got in hard copy via Copper Dog Books. These books at the time were not on your shelves. But I was able to order them and this was during the pandemic.

So you even delivered them to my house at one point, or I wait a few days and I come into the bookstore. I like to go into Atomic. Also. I like to have an excuse to go downtown and get some coffee and pick up my books. So it's fine. I love it. It's a five minute drive. But I know what I'm looking for, right?

I love that I can support you guys and buy the book from you, but also support my favorite indie pub authors. Without getting too deep in the weeds, as a bookseller, what is the difference when somebody orders a special order indie pub book versus a traditionally published book? Financially, how is that different for you guys? And then second of all, what are some of the limitations that mean that it's a bit difficult for you guys to have a bunch of indie pub on your bookshelves at any given time?

Meg Wasmar: Publishing is weird because the price of the book is traditionally printed on the book with, when you get something from Macmillan or Penguin Random House it's printed on there. So we're not setting the price of our product. We are working within what the publisher or author has set and to get through the Great Depression, publishing stopped selling books as a final [00:27:00] sale item and started publishing houses would let you order books and give you 90 days to pay for them.

And you could send them back to the publisher if they didn't sell. It's how publishing survived the First Depression. so we're buying books based on a fixed discount and knowing that we can return them if they don't sell.

Our biggest issue becomes a lot of indie pub authors when they are listed through my wholesalers, I can't return them t o the wholesaler, they are marked as non-returnable. I can work within a short discount, which is under standard industry terms, like usually anything less than 30% bookstores won't stock.

Andrea Martucci: To pause there for a second. So if the book is $10, with a 30% discount, you're paying seven. And you make three. But for a lot of traditionally published books where you have the standard industry terms you're looking at, is it 40% or 50%?

Meg Wasmar: In between those two numbers, like it, it depends a lot just based on, forties the low end of what we would expect if we're ordering through our wholesaler,

Andrea Martucci: So your profit margin is lower with indie pub books. And then also, it's more of a risk because you have to actually put it on your shelves. And if you don't sell it, you are out of luck. And I assume that's because in a lot of cases, these are actually print on demand. So it's not a preprinted bunch of books that are sitting in a warehouse and they're like, please get these books out of here.

They had to sit down and they had to print that. And even if you could return it, they'd be like what are we do with this now?

Meg Wasmar: So there is a risk factor and like we're not inherently opposed to stocking indie pub authors. It's that returnability factor.

Julie Karaganis: Returnability was important when we were starting the section, because how else were we going to realize that paranormals did not sell in a store that has a lot of scifi fantasy, customers, so we tried it out and after three months we sent all the paranormals back because we had not sold any.

So returnability is important, especially when you're starting to figure out what your customers want to read. The other thing that I struggle with has a romance reader is for the indie published and self-published how do I know what's out there? Meg mentioned all the publishers that we work with.

They send sales reps to us and they say here are all the books and I can filter them down to just show me the romances and then I can click through and they tell me who it's going to appeal to. And what other authors are similar to you and what are the tropes? And what's sold in your store to compare to it?

And then I go to the indie publishing world and I'm like, I don't know. So I've gotten into a couple authors. Usually because I'm a bit wonky and I read Publishers Weekly every week and they will review self-published and independent. Susanna Nix is an author that I got used to bringing into the store because she has contemporary and she offers them at our wholesaler for them [00:30:00] returnability.

And so we, again, we were able to stock them on the shelves. We just, I do just struggle with the hybrid authors are fantastic because I can find them on the traditional side and then go back and read all their back lists, which is what I did with Jodie Slaughter books. So how do you find indie published


Andrea Martucci: And so it sounds like part of understanding the supply chain there, the publishers in many ways because they have data on what has sold in their world before they also are theoretically saying you know what? Like we understand in aggregate what people are liking. So that's what we're going to acquire.

And that's what we're going to publish. And then we're going to give you good comps and all of this. And the indie publishers are outside of that world because they may understand what of theirs has sold and how it has sold. But they're not in a conglomerate that can look at all indie authors together.

Like maybe Amazon has a pretty good understanding of this, but they're not going to share that with us.

Julie Karaganis: So you mentioned the name of the bad place.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, I'm sorry. I said the bad, I'm sorry. I said it.

Julie Karaganis: And I think this is maybe the biggest stumbling point that we have is trying to understand that we are a completely separate channel going back to marketing terms completely different channel than Amazon. We are parallel and in competition.

And so many of, especially romance authors, indie, and pubbed use Amazon that they know how to use it, adapt to it, how to market on there. And they tried to shift channels over to us by referring us to the bad place. And it's like, we don't want to have anything to do with that.

So don't send us great reviews that you got on the bad place and we are just completely separate.

Meg Wasmar: I can not express an any level, how much your Amazon sales ranking does not apply to indie bookstores. That sounded a little combative. And I did not mean it to be like, don't give me your Amazon sales ranking, but it doesn't translate.

Like it doesn't even necessarily translate for traditional, brick and mortar. Jay Kristoff was like the number one hardcover, vampire book this year. And I think we sold three copies of it and I was like, we're going to sell a hundred copies of this going to be great.

And it just, it doesn't always translate into the indie market. Like we have a slightly different customer and they're good customers and they're devoted, but they're different.

Andrea Martucci: And it's a completely different sense of scale, right?

Julie Karaganis: Romance readers are voracious and we read fast and we read a lot and we tend to read shorter books, I would say than a lot of the other, excepting novellas. But they don't call them novellas. it's that weird word count between novellas and novels. That's like romance lives here.

Meg Wasmar: [00:33:00] And it's interesting. Cause I think, again, scifi is my home. Our books are getting longer and longer like books or something like 25% longer in every genre probably excepting romance. Like guys haven't gotten longer in the time that I've been selling books.

Julie Karaganis: they went to e-books and they went, I do believe that the bad places home of romance books that are available there with the Kindle Unlimited and the eBooks that you can get at the library as well, eBooks has changed for romance what they can read, how fast they can get books out and how quickly they can supply the book, it's one-click and you have it right away.

Plus the ability to read samples, like

it's, it is a whole different online world. And we've talked about this before, Andrea, that sort of, that split. And I stayed with traditionally published romances and fantasy romance. And all of the different sub genres, but I stayed on the traditional side. And then when I was like, whoa, where did you guys go over on the other side and trying to find those books and then get the books in front of our customers has been a bit challenging.

And one of the reasons, many reasons that we keep banging our heads against this is because we do want to be representative of the romance stories that are out there and Black romance and interracial romances have flourished on the indie side and trying to get those into our store, if we can't get them in traditionally publishing. I don't want to stop reaching for those because I know that's where a lot of them are because racism.

Andrea Martucci: In the publishing industry. You're kind of subject to the problems of your supplier.

Julie Karaganis: And I don't want to, I don't want to ignore that part of it. As Meg and I tried to build this business that reflects our true beliefs. This is one area that we have to keep our eyes open on publishing and be aware of what it does and how we need to keep battling it.

Andrea Martucci: You guys did some amazing events with Dame Jodie Slaughter. And listen, I'm just going to put it out there that if you are looking for a paper, copy, a print copy of White Whiskey Bargain, Copper Dog Books has some on their shelves because like we were just talking about, in order to get them for the event Copper Dog had to place an order. So guys check out and buy White Whiskey Bargain and they have it on their shelves. They'll ship it right out to you.,

Julie Karaganis: I still have book plates so you can get

signed white. Whiskey Bargain.

Andrea Martucci: Noise.

So speaking of that I think we've already talked about some of the books that are flying off the shelves. Julie, what romances are you excited about that are coming out in the next few months? The next seasons.

Julie Karaganis: And it's funny cause I went and I looked back on [00:36:00] what I, because often booksellers are reading in the future. We read books that have not yet come out so that we can get excited about them and write little reviews on blurbs that marketers can use -marketing again. But so I went back in, some of them are out like this week or have just come out.

So The Love Con was one

Andrea Martucci: that's Seressia Glass?

Julie Karaganis: Yes, that was so good. It was like it's reality TV show. It's a fake dating friends to lovers unrequited crushes, like it's adorable and with fashion. And that was really fun. I liked that one. Dating Dr. Dill is coming out, I think next month, that's Nisha Sharma. I also quite enjoyed that one. It is a Shakespeare retelling. retellings are super popular right now.

Andrea Martucci: Did you notice everything has a reality show component?

Julie Karaganis: Reality. Lots of food, lots of cooking


I just re-read Lucy Parker's Battle Royale. Which was really good. I realized a lot of my reading lately has been grumpy sunshine because I'm usually sunshine and I've been grumpy lately. So I've been like trying to pull myself back to the sunshine part. Lucy Parker does some fantastic grumpy sunshines

Andrea Martucci: Oh, wait, is the grumpy sunshine just about the duality of ourselves?

Julie Karaganis: It could be, but one of the reasons I love Lucy Parker's is it's not because the grumpy is just misunderstood or had a bad childhood or anything. They're just grumpy, like just grumpy is how they want to live. That's their personality. And you've got to accept it. I'm like, I love that because that's what I've becoming because it's fine. It's fine. Grumpy sunshines.

So for all of my fantasy romance and scifi I re-read The Mercenary Librarians by Kit Rocha, which is super fun. The one that's coming out this summer Dance with the Devil. But then the second one is out now. I, Jesse Mihalik Hunt The Stars was so good that came out a couple of weeks ago. I just Finished reading the second one and I don't know how she does what she does, where it's this massive scifi world of empires colliding and it's got all of these like plots, just driven stuff. And then the romance is just sprinkled throughout perfectly. I really like her. And then what else?

Oh Delilah Green Doesn't Care. That's coming out tomorrow. Yes.

Meg Wasmar: Three copies. So it will be coming out today because the Sarah's tomorrow.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Yeah, it's out. It's out. Y'all.

Julie Karaganis: And it's really good. It gave me similar vibes to One Last stop. Not the new adult part, but the Sapphic romance. And just the it was just so sweet.

will they won't they. Anyway, also grumpy sunshine. And then the other one that I really liked was Not The Witch You Wed .

Andrea Martucci: April Asher.[00:39:00]

Julie Karaganis: yes. But it hits the same Katee Roberts, not that steam level, but that sort of paranormal, slightly witchy that has been really popular with oh, like Lana Harper. That was the other one. I was gonna say Payback's a Witch, and then the next one coming out is also top-notch.

but it is interesting to see now like the paranormals are coming back, like they're not calling them that they're all just like a little witchy romance.

Andrea Martucci: They're like contemporary witchy. They're like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Julie Karaganis: Yes. And there's been a bunch of them. But it's that, there's something that society is hiding from, and it's just a little bit magical and everything's wonderful. We had a great event with Lana Harper, a virtual event with her where we didn't even know this, but she lived in Salem for a little while. And so when she wanted to make a book about a witchy town, she wanted it to make like Salem, but sweet. Cause that's not Salem, but everything's witchy. Everything's wonderful. So those are some of the romances that I am looking forward to. And I do think that our customers will enjoy.

Andrea Martucci: oh yes. Especially being so close to Salem too.

Julie Karaganis: Yeah. Yeah.

Meg Wasmar: Ex Hex did really well by us. It was delightful. It was fun.

Julie Karaganis: Exactly. And I think that's what a lot of these books are. They are fun.

Andrea Martucci: And that's by Erin Sterling. I was looking at shelf.

Meg Wasmar: I was listening to Ex Hex and I think it's really funny. Cause again, scifi reader. Witches doing witchy things like falls into my fantasy reader purview, but there's a scene in a spooky haunted house and I'm like, someone's about to die. I'm like, this is a romance ! No one dies in this. It was very weird, as a newer reader to the genre to be like, oh wait, much lower peril level,

Andrea Martucci: like reset, reset

Meg Wasmar: I'm expecting someone to die, but they're going to kiss.

Julie Karaganis: Yes. Very different expectations.

Andrea Martucci: The tension is resolved differently.

Julie Karaganis: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: So Meg, you're a fairly new romance reader. It's not necessarily going to replace nor could it, your true love of scifi fantasy. What romance have you found so far that you're like, you know what? This really resonates with me. I like this. I enjoy it. I get it.

Meg Wasmar: So I've listened to all three Brown sister books. Dani is my favorite. I know that Chloe is Julie's favorite and we all thought Eve was going to be my favorite as a neurodivergent person. But I definitely I liked Dani's chaos bisexual energy. Helen Hoang hit on a lot of who I am as a person.

So like it was less the smooches and more of the, neurodivergent. And I'm actually, I'm glad that you asked this question because I do this thing where I try and find something that will scratch the same itch as Sunstone, which [00:42:00] I know we're doing more literary here and not graphic novel, but I am chasing the high of Sunstone.

Like I need something loving, but like we don't say smutty in Romancelandia put a little definitely I need the good relationship meets a little bit of kink and Katee Roberts didn't do it for me. I was told something that was not quite that. and so I'm hoping that your readership can answer my son's stone itch late.

Andrea Martucci: Sunstone. Is that a graphic novel?

Meg Wasmar: It's a graphic novel. And they definitely fall more on the erotic romance side of things. But like again, loved them and it's interesting cause there's a warmth to them that like you roll into it and you're like, it's a kink comic.

Like it is about the BDSM community. You're expecting like all smut all the time, but it's really about these two characters slowly falling in love. And yo it hits every beat of a traditional romance. and I am chasing that high and it looks like The Night Circus of graphic novels. Like I have not found the, what do you read next?

Like his other series don't do it. None of his wife's work quite hits it, So I'm looking for this very late.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, I have two thoughts. And so this is a road diverging the woods, angstier, or more like warm fuzzies,

Meg Wasmar: I'm actually, I think I'm looking for the warm fuzzies,

Andrea Martucci: the warm foot. Okay. Because I think that,

Julie Karaganis: kinky,

Andrea Martucci: that Rebekah Weatherspoon's Beards and Bondage series does that really well. It's kinky, it's called Beards and Bondage. And it's kinky, but like warm and fuzzy kinky, if you're looking for kinky, but angsty, I was going to say Tamsen Parker.

Meg Wasmar: I'm not opposed to angst.

Julie Karaganis: I am these days

Meg Wasmar: Email me at the end

Andrea Martucci: I wrote it in my dot grid notebook that you went to the basement to get for me. So thank you.It's

Meg Wasmar: Yes. Februaryalmost ready for an order.

Let me know how many my need.

Andrea Martucci: How often do you order? Like every six months? Cause like maybe 25. That's maybe a joke, but definitely more than 10.

Meg Wasmar: Okay. They come in 6's so we'll do 24, we'll get fourdifferent covers.T

Andrea Martucci: Okay. And maybe somebody else will want some who care, who knows?

Meg Wasmar: Things edited out of this,

Andrea Martucci: Oh no, I'm leaving that in. I need them to hear how dedicated you are to creating a bookstore that makes me feel like you've curated it, especially for me.

Julie Karaganis: I was going to say that and I'm jumping ahead because one of the questions you sent us was what's the best way to support us investing in romance. And I wrote the words, order books. Tell us what you want to read. If we start to see a ton of indie published romance orders come in. I will start to read. It's February. And as a romance reader, we know that this is when all of the stupid it's Valentine's day. These [00:45:00] are the romances. You should be reading come across or it's February, and these are the romance books we're looking forward to that are coming out from now on, which is a weird take, but it's another, tab I have open so that I can scroll through and try to figure out what is going on in the mainstream media's lists of romances that are coming out. think I saw two self-published titles. Just one, one of those authors even thought to put non traditionally published books on their lists.

So I immediately went where I can try to find a sample of it and try to read it and see if it's the writing is for me. And I will then see if we could get it in the store.

Meg Wasmar: And I'll say again, as a frontlets buyer, like I was having a Twitter thread because every once in a while I do Twitter deep dives where I'm like, okay, so this is how it works from the inside because it's who I am as a person.

I'm a one trick pony. If it's not books, I'm not doing it. So I'd been like, if you order a book, it changes my sales data. And even within the genres that I love , the example I actually used was Becky Chambers who writes these warm, lovely scifi books. And I hadn't read any of them.

So they were never a priority for me to stock. I wouldn't have been like, yeah, this is how I'm spending six inches of my shelf space, but people kept ordering Becky Chambers and it's changed the way I buy it. I make sure to keep Becky Chambers in the store because people want Wayfarer books.

So another one is T Kingfisher again, more in my wheelhouse. People kept buying a Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, which is a charming little - like I say, little it's YA fantasy but it's indie pub. It is not a big publishing house and I never would have ordered it the discount on its garbage.

So it doesn't make sense. I never would have found it, but people kept ordering T Kingfisher's books, we have started bringing in her traditional stuff and people are like, but I really want the Paladin books, which are charming fantasy romances. But the way to impact score is very much to be present and you don't have what I want.

Let me show you that I am your customer buying this to give sales data. The number one thing that took us so long to put a romance section in the store is

Julie Karaganis: we didn't know what romances customers wanted to read,

Meg Wasmar: but further, I would say to customers who were like, do you have a romance section?

And I would say we don't, but we want one the best way to help us get a romance section is when, you're looking for someone's next book to order it. So we start building a sales [00:48:00] history which I know I know that, there's a contentious relationship with indie books, stories, and, romance readers.

I know that there's been a lot of, yeah, we'll order it for you, but like truly. When I have my sales calls, my reps will be like, listen, you skipping this book and you don't mean to skip this book, look at the comps. Don't skip this. And it may be that I'm like, okay, I'm skipping it because I've ordered three other similar books because they have similar comps.

And I'll pick up one, but not three but giving us the data that we need. Again, we do a lot of contemporary. We do a lot of rom com. If people are coming in and not seeing paranormal on the shelf and never coming back, I can't make a romance section that people want because I don't have the data.

Andrea Martucci: Right.

Meg Wasmar: Which it's long game. And again, we are an intentionally inclusive store and I know that not all stores are, so I'm not saying go and hack your indie bookstore because I know that's not going to work every place, but if you're not seeing your trope at a store that has romance and does have a presence, the best way to hack an indie bookstore is to order books from them.

Andrea Martucci: And if you go in some place and they shame you for what you're reading name and shame them on the internet,

Meg Wasmar: yeah,

Andrea Martucci: why I won't go back to ever.

They may have changed, but you know what? I'm still burnt from the year 2005.

Meg Wasmar: so here's what I'm going to say. And I mentioned the, the culture divide. There are owners that are old garden who are very deeply into their literary thing, but frontline booksellers in indie bookstores, again, not universally, but I know, like I know that there are frontline booksellers in fighting tooth and nail to make a good romance section.

Like some people are antagonistic, some people are snobs, we can grow and change. But a lot of, your early twenties early to mid to late twenties booksellers. They are a generation of young people that grew up reading Twilight

And I don't think the Twilight is an exemplary example of, romance.

Andrea Martucci: It's a bridge in.

Meg Wasmar: And I think that it's interesting to look at readers that have grown up or have grown from Twilight because they're a lot of the people buying romance and they're a lot of the people buying scifi fantasy right now. Vampires are about to have a very big moment. Again, like I'm just looking through my catalog, seeing what's coming out, seeing what's selling. And there's a direct tie to that very specific moment in bookselling. Like I was there for it. I watched it.

It all of those midnight releases. Cause I was the only person on Border's leadership that was under 45 and they were like hang out with the teenage girls. So I went and hung out with teenage girls.

Andrea Martucci: And you found out that they were real people,

Meg Wasmar: I was recently recovered from being one of them.

Andrea Martucci: And if they're rude to you, take their picture post it on the internet. Let's really make romance a welcoming place. (they laugh because they KNOW I'M JOKING!) [00:51:00] So do, I'm going to take out the vaguely threatening parts of this

Are there other things that you're doing to sort of encourage a community of genre readers at Copper Dog Books, other than having the books on the shelves?

Julie Karaganis: One of the things that we finally acknowledged to ourselves is that we are farther ahead in creating a community of scifi fantasy genre readers than we are with romance.

And that we can't take shortcuts to creating that community. One of the things we talked about was as we hire more people try to hire more romance readers, because right now the burden is on me to read and blurb. And it's been a long life as Meg would say. And I think I spent the last three months of last year rereading all of my favorites.

I don't think I read a single new book. So creating that community of romance readers takes time, and I need to do my part to squee more loudly on the social media, which may be, is not my happy place. Is social media, anybody's happy place,

Andrea Martucci: No, it's the other bad place.

Julie Karaganis: There are books that I'm reading and loving. I just need to make sure that I'm getting them my words out there so that we're creating a place where people feel welcomed.

And I especially want to make the romance readers feel welcomed because I have felt I'd been told in the past that bookstores don't talk about romance in the bookstore.

And I definitely don't want that to be our bookstore.

Meg Wasmar: When Julie started as a wee little book seller, when we didn't even own the store, like overcoming those biases to even get staff picks I think it takes a certain amount of vulnerable vulnerability to be inclusive.

Julie Karaganis: We talked about this. We're still getting that in terms of people wanting have a nice light read, but not a romance. There's no push back from society on those words. And it is something that I've struggled with being able to say in a nice way. So what's wrong with a romance. There's nothing wrong with it. I read it. I love it. And I should feel more confident in saying that face to face with people who sneer at you, but,

Andrea Martucci: So you're saying that having an air horn ready to put in people's faces, when they say mean things about romance is not really something you'd want to do in a service oriented type role.

Julie Karaganis: Well, and I'm a townie, so

Andrea Martucci: I oh, that's part

Julie Karaganis: everybody.

Andrea Martucci: Oh no.

Julie Karaganis: Or if I don't know them, they know my parents or friends or yeah. It's

Andrea Martucci: I'm so anonymous. If I see somebody that I've seen before, I'm like, oh my God, I don't like this.

Meg Wasmar: but also being [00:54:00] willing to come in and push back when people are like, yo mother's day is coming up and that's the other that's second wave romance season.

When people come in and they're like, I'm buying it for my mom. Like reads kind of smutty stop. And I'm like, we don't say that here, like pushing back and like validating outside of romance, readership, I think is labor that I can do is genre adjacent. Like I hang out on the edges, I'm here, but my passport does not read Romancelandia.

Andrea Martucci: Meg, I like that. I like, first of all, that you are defending mothers out there and their reading tastes to their snobby children. Number two, I will say you have great boundaries and I appreciate your assertiveness. I think sometimes it requires just like having phrases at the ready that you can deploy without like sputtering and having too much defensiveness in your tone,

Meg Wasmar: and again, just being able to be like, yeah, we don't see that we use heat level or we use spice. You'd like something, a little spicier or you're giving it to your mom. So you'd like the low heat put again being like. How are you talking about your mother? Or, ha I wish my wife would read something more literary.

Like, why do you want to Rob your wife of joy?

Julie Karaganis: The term that drives me nuts that is used within the community is clean.

Andrea Martucci: Oh,

Meg Wasmar: gross.

Julie Karaganis: Yes. I read clean romance. No.

Meg Wasmar: Or clean teen,

Julie Karaganis: go fuck yourself.

Meg Wasmar: And I'm I pushed back to the publishers on that one again. Cause I see my reps all the time. Like I leave these little passive aggressive notes and the ordering catalogs being like why we slut shaming?

Andrea Martucci: Love it.

Yeah. This was on Twitter conversations, which again, it's always a mistake to go there. What's difficult about it is, we were talking about marketing terms earlier and on the one hand, it's helpful to have words to describe things so that you can understand quickly oh, that is the thing I'm looking for.

That's not the thing I'm looking for. And there doesn't need to be like a, that thing is good or bad. It can just be a descriptor that helps you find the thing that you're looking for and stay away from things that you are not necessarily looking for. And what's difficult about it is that I think the reasons people go for particular things, their motivations are very different.

And so there are some people they're like, I do not necessarily want to read sex on page. And so they might be okay with a closed door romance, or you might have somebody who's like, I don't believe in sex before marriage, in which case for an unmarried couple, they don't want them to even have sex behind a closed door.

And then there's some people who are like, want sex before marriage, but they'd be totally happy with reading sex about two married people. I think it gets so complicated because I think that, like you have to almost get down into the actual description of what happens, which starts feeling weird and clinical.

Like I get it. And, I think it's hard. Like at that point it's probably just like, you start to gravitate towards certain authors that, you know, are gonna give you that predictable experience, [00:57:00] because otherwise you start having to rely on these descriptors that people use, like clean or closed door romance, but then that doesn't always give everybody the information that they're really looking for. So it's complicated.

Julie Karaganis: But also they have to know that language exists. Those descriptors exist. I remember again, I'd taken myself away from any community of romance readers. And it was just out there on my own doing research, hunting the library, pulling books out to see what the covers looked like.

Going off of what authors, the authors I read recommend. But I remember it was Ilona Andrews said something about how they don't like the fated mates when they at first sight, we are now joined together and that's the first 15 pages of the book. And the rest of the book is them like banging and I hate you, but clearly I'm meant to be with you.

And I was like, thank you for the words that helped me realize what I didn't want to read either, but I never had the words to explain what I didn't want. So if you don't even know that the words closed doors exist, you can't really ask what you're looking for.

Andrea Martucci: I think what you're really saying, Julie, is that everybody should listen to romance novel podcasts, where they can hear conversations to get the language to learn about things and, discover new things. I think that's what you're saying.

Julie Karaganis: Absolutely.

Meg Wasmar: I would add going back to clean as a horrible descriptor, it's also used largely to exclude queer romance or queer content, in YA. So that's that's my big issue with teens? What are you considering?

Andrea Martucci: Right. It's code for it. It doesn't matter how, like non-sexual the couple or whatever the relationship is, the queerness makes it unclean. Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of judgment in those terms and they are used in a sinister way by people to,

yeah definitely weaponized.

To say this is my moral judgment. And so therefore there's something wrong with you.

Julie Karaganis: There is, but

Andrea Martucci: Other things. Thanks for coming on today. I know you said so the best way to support Copper Dog Books as an indie bookstore that is investing in romance is to go to and to order books online and have them shipped to you if you do not live nearby, or if you do live in the North Shore of Boston, the north shore of Massachusetts, come on by Beverly, Massachusetts, and browse the shelves, get a coffee next door, do some secondhand thrifting at,

Meg Wasmar: Worthy Girl, our good friend.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, Worthy Girl on the corner.

Meg Wasmar: And also engage with us on social media, which like, sounds so trite when we're at @copperdogbooks, just about every place, but. Yeah, we definitely have a stronger scifi fantasy presence and we would love to be more deeply [01:00:00] engaged with the romance community, so visit us on social media because we're really trying to be more actively engaged and be more accessible and find a place where our Venn diagram overlaps

Julie Karaganis: and I want to find books to read tell me what those indie published authors are and you know who they are and what they write and send me book recommendations. I will be all over that. But again, you don't know what's out there if you don't know how to find it, or, you know what what I would like. One of the things to come out of those indie published self published authors are the content warnings on websites.

I love that. I love that so much. It's really starting to come into traditionally published, but I it's, I'm all over that in year three of this pandemic, please tell me what you're going to be touching on. And let me know whether I want to go there or not. But yeah, the authors and the titles of books that you think, that they're totally backlist and, they've been out forever and everybody's read them.

I haven't. So I want to and if we can get them in the bookstore even better.

Thank you so much for having us on. I love talking about romance and I've really enjoyed being here.

Andrea Martucci: Thanks. I think we first talked about doing an episode, probably like two years ago. So I'm glad we finally did it.

Julie Karaganis: I think it was closer to two and a half. I'll see you in another two and a half years. No, that sounds wrong.

Meg Wasmar: Bring us back. This was fun.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources.

If you want to join the conversation about the topics that we discuss on Shelf Love, I'd encourage you to check out Shelf Love's Patreon at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith, and John Jacobson.

See your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.