Dipa: What inspired you to open a bookstore?
Christina: The idea for the bookstore grew out of frustration regarding where my husband, Alex, and I were with our jobs. I was an adjunct writing professor in the Greater Philadelphia area, and Alex was working as a freelance graphic designer and Twitch affiliate. We felt under-appreciated, underpaid, and exhausted. We also were fighting to get time together! We were engaged at the time.
One night Alex suggested we open a bookstore in jest, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized it could be a great opportunity to do something together and give our neighborhood a type of retail that it has been missing. I always dreamed of owning and working in a bookstore, and we thought it was the perfect way to blend our passions and talents.
Dipa: Tell us about the concept behind A Novel Idea on Passyunk.
Christina: Community and supporting local is the cornerstone of our business. We’re both artists, and a lot of our friends are artists, so we wanted to make sure our store reflected and supported the many talented people who live, create, and teach in the Philadelphia area.
We have a specific section of the store dedicated to books written by local authors, published by local presses, or about our great city. And we host hundreds of events per year, most of which feature local artists and educators. In addition to this, most of our non-book products are made by local artisans.
Dipa: At A Novel Idea on Passyunk, you’ve mentioned that you hope to foster a space for diversity and inclusivity. What is your vision on how to foster this in the literary community?
Christina: We hope to foster a space for diversity and inclusivity by featuring a variety of artists, educators, and artisans. We are open to working with anyone and love taking on projects or events that push the bounds of what we’ve done before. We also actively curate a diverse catalog of titles for the store.
We believe it is especially important now more than ever to amplify diverse voices and expand our community. We’re working to do this in a few ways. We have restructured our book club selections to include a more diverse range of voices. We’ve also added a Social Justice Book Club. The first meetup is Monday, August 17th at 7pm EST. We’re discussing So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
We are working to expand our other programming as well, such as readings and workshops. Earlier this summer we hosted a virtual reading featuring a 100% POC lineup (and hope to do many more in the future). We are also working with local POC writers, artisans, and educators to continue to expand our programming.
For instance, a few weeks ago, we hosted a publishing panel with John Vercher about Navigating Publishing as a Person of Color. We’re interested and open to hearing suggestions on event ideas and want to continue to support and amplify all of the voices in our community.
Dipa: Bookstores often hold events such as book launches, readings and interviews. What is that process like as an owner?
Christina: As the owner, it’s a lot of scheduling, planning, and then making sure the event goes smoothly. In our first year, we held over 230 events (with just my husband and I working at the store), so it made for a lot of long days and late nights.
Events have ranged from book clubs to workshops to live theatre. We really will try just about any type of event.
Pre-COVID, we scheduled six months in advance, hosting approximately 15-20 events per month. Some of these were held monthly, such as our book clubs and toddler story time. The majority of the events were book launches and readings.
Currently, all of our events are virtual, and we’ve mostly been hosting our regular monthly events, as well as a variety of workshops. As we move into the fall, we are seeing virtual book launches and readings pop back up, which is great!
Dipa: On the flip side, what is that process like for authors? What should they expect and be prepared for?
Christina: We have a form on the Event page of our website for authors to fill out. We ask them to tell us what type of event (book launch, reading, workshop, etc.), who will host, the title and ISBN of their book, materials needed for the event, preferred dates and times, and if they’ve hosted any other events in the last six months. This is especially important for author readings. We recommend at least two weeks in between readings to ensure the best turnout for each event.
Once we receive this form, we reach out to the author and start to discuss booking.
Some advice for booking with A Novel Idea:
Please make sure you take note of the season we’re currently booking for. For instance, right now I’m looking at events for January 2021 on. Any requests we get for dates sooner than that are disregarded because our calendar between now and December is full. We will get back to you as soon as possible! Please do not resubmit your request form. COVID has impacted our response time, as well as our calendar.
It’s also very important that the author understands that they have to promote the event. A Novel Idea will do as much as we can on our side, but we have other events to promote as well. It’s crucial that the author shares the event on social media and with friends. We always suggest telling your friends to share it with their friends. The wider the audience, the better chance the event has to draw a crowd, virtually or in person.