Spotlight: Karen Lillis and her Indie Press Pop-up Bookstand!

Karen Lillis, the Small Press Librarian and author of multiple small press titles, was introduced to Kimberly Ann Southwick, our Editor in Chief, through one of our 1.2 contributors, poet Geoffrey Cruikshank-Hagenbuckle. We reviewed her novel, The Second Elizabeth (Six Gallery Press, 2009), in that same issue.

Karen has kept up with us since our humble beginnings, and she has kept us informed on goings-on in and around Pittsburgh, through her work as the Small Press Librarian and involvement with Small Press Pittsburgh. She is a component of what we know and love about literature, and we’re happy to have copies of Gigantic Sequins 4.1 and 3.2 with her in Pittsburgh during a new venture of hers: an Indie Press Pop-up Bookstand that goes by the name SMALL PRESS PITTSBURGH! The stand has appeared twice so far at Pittsburgh events, and Karen will continue to sell and promote the indie titles on it at future events.

Karen Lillis in action at her Small Press Pop-up Stand!

Karen Lillis in action at her Small Press Pop-up Stand!

The idea was inspired by other unique and recent indie lit promotors such as Mellow Pages Library and the many pop-ups that the small press world has seen in various locations all over the country. To name a few: Word Up! in NYC started initially functioning as a pop-up & is about to have its  Grand re-Opening 7/26 as a permanent store-front; Paper Darts in Minneapolis has been promoting its art & lit pop-up this summer to acclaim; and the others that are out there, doing their thing.

twenty-four hours has posted a great interview with Karen, one that you should definitely read, on their site. We had our EIC contact her to ask her a couple of additional question about her totally rad pop-up stand.

GS asked: How are sales? What “pops” for customers at your stand?

Karen says:

Sales have been steady. I sold a lot more than I expected at the first event and fewer than I expected at the second event, which was a bigger event but less “indie.” One of the cool things has been selling a large percentage of Pittsburgh authors, more than 75% (even though my wares are representing a variety of cities). The customers I’ve had so far have mostly not been writers themselves. It’s been a good feeling for me to step outside of the literary ghetto and introduce what I’ve learned there to Pittsburgh readers who aren’t already familiar with the city’s emerging novelists and poets. I like that challenge. “Where can I find these readers?” Another trend I notice among buyers is that they often want my suggestions, or are open to them. Many browsers buy what I like, what I enthuse about, what I can describe well. A third trend I’ve observed is that they want a good story.

GS asked: There is something importantly physical and personal to what you are doing– what’s the importance of gathering and promoting these titles in the way you’ve done it as opposed to, say, online promotions or long-term brick & mortar bookstore sales?

Karen says:

The first importance is that I’m personally sick of online promotions.  On the one hand I’m addicted to social media, on the other hand I find it unfulfilling, which is why it’s addictive. The value of a LIKE lasts 3 seconds, and then you need another LIKE. The web is slick and clean and fast, but I miss actual faces, in-person conversations. 

I believe the internet certainly has its rightful place–Twitter’s role in so many protests, social media as citizen journalism. But I think that the free press, especially in an age of data-mining and surveillance, still includes passing paper objects between hands, too. 

Even for sales, I think that online promotion can create a closed loop, and we sometimes forget that. Social media and blog reviews are a staple of small press and micro press promotion, because they’re free. But only the literary ghetto is finding them. Only our network is seeing them. The world wide web in practice is not all that wide, it’s more like a habitrail and we mostly see who and what’s on our own path. For the small presses who make a point of getting review copies to Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, Book Forum, Library Journal, and daily newspapers: kudos. Those presses are making it out of the literary ghetto because libraries and bookstores buy books based on those reviews. But for the smaller and micro presses, grabbing those reviews is often not realistic. I’m running the following experiment: What happens if I put a physical stand of faced-out, good-looking literary books and little magazines in people’s path? What if potential readers meet me and a bunch of books I can vouch for? Can I sell some small press books people wouldn’t hear of otherwise, because they’re not looking in those places?

I think the main “advantage” I have over the brick and mortars is that I’m giving the small press a chance by showcasing 99% small press titles. (Full disclosure: I’ve got a few Pittsburgh major-press authors thrown in like Annie Dillard and John Edgar Wideman.) Otherwise, the brick and mortars are doing a great job and I am happy to point people to them, like browsers at my bookstand who aren’t carrying cash. Pittsburgh has some excellent, very-engaged booksellers—and they’re very supportive of each other and of the local literary scene.

Peep GS in the bottom lefthand corner!

Peep GS in the bottom lefthand corner!

Gigantic Sequins is thrilled to have copies of our journal at Karen’s stand. Please stop by one of the pop-up events in Pittsburgh and browse the many small press titles Karen has collected. And heck, buy one! You’ll be supporting what you know you want to support: the good guys, the small guys, the men and women who ‘do’ art and lit because they love love love it.

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