Say As I Do: Rebecca Makkai

Say As I Do: Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers will be hitting shelves today. I recently spoke with Makkai for KMUW’s Marginalia podcast. If you’ve ever wondered how she pronounces her name, here she is:


This seems like a good time…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Books & Whatnot emails have been arriving in your inbox less frequently. I thought I should explain.

About 6 months after I launched Books & Whatnot in 2014, I took a job at my local NPR member station. I was able to send Books & Whatnot daily for a few years, until I couldn’t. What started as the ‘digital content creator’ position has evolved into a ‘director of marketing and digital content’ position, and I also work on 3 podcast teams as either creator, editor, producer or host. Now I’ve been asked to join a podcast team at NPR’s StoryLab workshop for a project on the forthcoming gubernatorial race in my home state of Kansas, a state which, politically, at least, has been known to be its own worst enemy.

This seems like a good time to reformat Books & Whatnot.

We’ll keep posting reviews, 300-second suggestions, display images, and other noteworthy content to the website in a timely manner, but you’ll only receive a weekly round-up in your inbox. Hopefully this new format will be less daunting . . . for both of us!

Thanks for your continued support.


300 Seconds: In-House Communication

When communicating information about events planned for the store, it’s easy to remember to use Facebook, Twitter, the store website, newsletters, community calendars and news releases to achieve the best reach. But the most important communication is sometimes forgotten: communication to the staff.

Even if you broadcast event information through all of the platforms I’ve mentioned, chances are someone will call the store for more information, or with a specific question or request. If your staff isn’t equipped with the know-how to handle the call, or that the event exists at all, you’ve just made a bad first impression.

But if your staff knows about the event, they can not only answer questions that arise but can also help spread the message and their own excitement through their personal social media accounts.

So if you only have 5 minutes to spend on marketing today, market to your staff and make sure they are aware of your programs and upcoming events. Not only will this help spread your message, it will be amplified.

Year-End Video: And the winners are…

Thanks to all who entered for a chance to win a produced year-end video for your store. The three winning stores are:

If you’re interested in producing your own video to showcase 2018 at your store, remember that the first step is to take photos. Snap more pictures than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to cull through many photos to find the right shot than it is to recreate the moment!

It’s not too late to start a challenge.

I tend to pull for the underdogs, for the ponderers, and for the procrastinators. Which is why I’m stating, mid-February, that it’s not too late for your bookstore to start a reading challenge for 2018. If you thought about launching one in January but just didn’t get around to it, I’ll tell you that there are readers out there with the same mindset.

I didn’t realize the benefit of a reading challenge until I was publicly shamed to participate in one on December 30, 2016. Suzanne Tobias, a reporter for my local newspaper shared the digital version of her reading challenge story on Facebook and tagged me, our local independent bookstore owner, and a gentleman she knew who always had a book in his hands. We all accepted and I thought, “This is going to be easy.”

Well, it was a true challenge because of the categories Suzanne selected. I had to keep reading new releases for my Marginalia podcast interviews, but I also had to read “a book you’ve owned forever but have never read” and “a book that was published before you were born” and “a book you should have read in school” and “a favorite book from childhood.” I have 20 items on my what-I’ve-read list from 2016. In 2017, that improved to 72. (And it took until December 31, 2017 for me to check off the last of 24 categories.)

One of the best things to come out of this challenge was how it got the community talking about books. The newspaper started a Facebook group and participants would post a image of the book they’d just finished along with the category they were checking off their list. Whenever Watermark Books would schedule another author visit, someone would post that information so participants could knock “a book by an author who is slated to visit Wichita in 2017” off their list. The 2017 Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge turned into a community affair. So much so that the Wichita Public Library partnered with the newspaper for the 2018 challenge. Both entities benefit from more readers.

Which is why I’m telling you that a procrastinator’s or second-chance reading challenge is worthwhile. Here’s how to get started:

  • Select 10 reading categories. If you launch on March 1, there are 10 months left in the year for 10 books. There are so many reading challenges out there from which you can “borrow” some categories. Suzanne shared this Master List of Reading Challenges which was pulled together by Or borrow from fellow bookstores already doing challenges. One of my favorites from Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario, is “a book with non-human characters.” That will be a challenge for me.
  • Publish the categories… on your website, on a downloadable PDF, on a bookmark. And then share where to find the categories through your social media outlets.
  • Come up with a hashtag, and use it. 
  • Start and promote a Facebook group. When participants ask to join, let them. When participants post what they’ve read, “like” and comment on it. When participants ask for recommendations for a specific category, offer some. There are currently 872 members of the #ReadICT Challenge posting about books several times throughout the day. I’m sure you could join and hang out in this group for a few days if you’re still on the fence.
  • Start talking about the challenge in the store and encouraging readers. Most challenge accepters participate in multiple challenges, so a 10-book challenge shouldn’t be daunting. Some readers might be hesitant because they don’t read much. Encourage them to try just one of the categories and call that a victory.

If you have a category suggestion, please share it on this Facebook post.

It’s up to you whether or not you offer a reward. Maybe an end-of-year celebration? Suzanne let the first one to complete the challenge choose one of the next year’s categories. But I think one of the greatest rewards is the sense of community. Oh, and checking off the boxes. That’s huge for me.

My next challenge is deciding which book to read that was published the year I was born. One Hundred Years of Solitude or The Master and Margarita. Suggestions?