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Papa’s Bookshelf

Something very different today.

Over the 30 years I’ve been writing, I’ve been fortunate to have been published both traditionally and independently. Way, way back in the early days, there was an enormous gulf between these two routes. Traditional publishing was the gold standard. Indie publishing was very basic in comparison – rough and ready, and with a distinct lack of tools for producing, marketing, and distributing books.

In my experience, one of the few stark differences that remains between the two approaches is the level of exposure to bricks and mortar bookstores that traditional publishers can secure for their titles. I can remember clear as day the conversation I had with the publishers of HATER in the UK – GOLLANCZ – on the eve of publication. The number of copies that had been shipped to bookstores up and down the country pretty much exceeded the total number of books I’d sold via INFECTED BOOKS in the best part of a decade up to that point. It was staggering.

In the 15+ years since then, the market has changed dramatically. Even in the five years or so WAYNE SIMMONS and I were regularly signing books in branches of WATERSTONE’S, we noticed how the reduction in size of the genre fiction sections was inversely proportional to the increase in the number of shelves stocked with cookbooks, self-help manuals, and ghost-written novels emblazoned with the names of the celebrities who’d had the initial story idea.

Today, it’s a challenging environment for independent authors and independent booksellers alike. That’s why I’m keen to thank those booksellers who continue to support us. Top of the list is my pal BILLY REESE and his store PAPA’S BOOKSHELF in Lincoln City, Oregon. He’s been a champion of my work for a long time, and I wanted to take an opportunity to publicly thank him for his support. What better way of doing that, I thought, than by putting together a post about the store. Billy was keen to chat about Papa’s Bookshelf and why he loves doing what he does.

Papa's Bookshelf - Full service bookstore in Lincoln City, OR. New release, used, rare, discount, comic books, graphic novels and more.
Read more: Papa’s Bookshelf

Like many authors, a lot of booksellers seem to have it in their blood. Billy’s been at it for 20 years now.

“I was in my mid 20’s and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. When I was a kid my mom told me, to her, a dream job was something in a field you would pay to do. That if I could get work doing something I would otherwise think of as a hobby I would be happier than her, who spent her working years in banks (and did not enjoy it). I have been an avid reader my whole life so I thought well maybe I could be a librarian. After looking into what it would take, and finding out I would need at least a master’s degree in order to get a good head librarian type of position, I realized that was not for me. At that time, I could not see spending 6 years going to university to get a government job. The next best option was to find a bookstore that was hiring. I applied at a handful in the small town I lived in and had no luck. They were mainly small mom and pop owner/operator stores. A local company with a couple of locations had an application from me on file. I bugged them pretty regularly for that year, literally weekly calls and stopping by and asking if they were hiring. When they finally did have a position available I got it, I think mainly to shut me up! Twenty years of working through a couple different companies from part time to full time, to assistant manager, to store manager and finally acting district manager for a small privately held corporation I learned the business inside and out. At the end of 2022 the last company I worked for closed their remaining 30 locations country wide and I had a window of opportunity to open my own store. After some hustling my wife and I were able to open our own shoestring operation. And now, just over a year into it, Papas Bookshelf in Lincoln City Oregon is our store. I am living my dream and growing the business slowly but steadily.”

Here in the UK, independent bookstores have had a torrid time of late. Fortunately, Billy’s experience has been more positive.

“Our first year exceeded expectations, and so far 2024 is even better. There is a strong growth trend in physical books right now. There are certain genres that are growing at a significant rate. Plus, I am a collector and dealer in rare books, autographs and comic books. So, with our store we have decided on a full-service bookstore (new overstock, new retail, used, and rare) plus collectible comic books approach. I like to say we are an independent bookstore with a strong comic section. It is something you don’t often see in my experience: most bookstores don’t deal in comics and few comic dealers know books. We are trying to serve book traditional book readers and comic book readers and collectors.

My biggest challenges are money and sourcing inventory. As the store is new and small I am focusing on building inventory without going deeply into debt. So, all profit beyond a small payroll is going directly back into buying inventory. Book inventory is neither cheap nor easy to find. Ingram is the only national distributor for retail books (think New York Times bestseller list) and there is very little margin in new retail books. So, the main segment of inventory is new overstock books (called remainders in the industry), because there are a small handful of wholesale dealers I can source that inventory from, and the margins can be better. With used books, if you buy them cheaply enough, there can be a good margin. The comics market is like any other collectible market: buy low, sell high, and profit as much as possible. The comics have made up a good twenty five percent of our overall sales and I don’t think I’d be able to make the store work without them.

Papa's Bookshelf - Full service bookstore in Lincoln City, OR. New release, used, rare, discount, comic books, graphic novels and more.

It’s great to hear the way Billy talks about his store and the range of items he stocks. It’s clear he’s passionate about the written word. I asked him about that.

My main genres are Science Fiction, fantasy, horror and historical fiction. But if it’s a good story, regardless of genre I want to read it. I am forever hunting the next great story. As far as the store inventory my focus is on best sellers and trying to have something for everybody. That’s another reason why I decided on the full service new and used approach. It makes sense to me to carry quality used books given the reality that so many titles and authors are out of print. If we can’t stock something new, why not look for a used copy? The store tends towards the speculative genres (sci-fi/fantasy/horror), but we have strong romance and mystery sections too, as well as non-fiction.

Most people come into the store looking for particular titles and/or authors, but quite a few ask for recommendations. I have a prominent 8-foot bookcase filled with recommended reads and staff picks. The 3 of us who work in the store fill it with our own favourites daily.”

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned how the industry has changed for me as a writer. I asked Billy how things have changed from his perspective.

“The industry is barely recognizable. Everything has changed. 30 years ago, every mall in the US had a bookstore. Now it’s probably more like one in 30 or less. The only national brand left alive is Barnes and Noble. The rise of Amazon and the eBook, coupled with the decline of the national chains has cut the size of the overall industry drastically. But that pendulum swung so far it was bound to come back and it seems that has started to happen. I feel like readers are turning back towards paper books and away from the digital ones. A good example of this is the growth of the contemporary romance genre in paper. In 2022 alone Trade paper sales of that genre grew by 52%. That’s an astounding number and an example of what I am talking about. A physical book can be given away to a friend, donated to a library or sold or traded to a used bookstore. It has a physical value that an eBook never will. Companies that survived the decline, or like mine, opened recently, are positioned to do well in this new environment of growing paper sales. We certainly have thus far.

Huge thanks to Billy, not only for answering my questions, but also for championing my books and the work of many other authors. Having people out there in the real world advocating for authors is critical, and I appreciate it. Writers and booksellers inhabit the same ecosystem. In many ways, our relationship is symbiotic. And like writers, it seems that many booksellers are similarly cursed by the written word. I couldn’t stop writing, even if I wanted to, and I don’t think Billy could stop selling books either. I’ll give him the final word.

I love what I do. It is a blessing to wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work. I can’t imagine doing anything else. For a lover of books, there is no better work than that of a bookseller!”

Papa's Bookshelf - Full service bookstore in Lincoln City, OR. New release, used, rare, discount, comic books, graphic novels and more.


1500 SE East Devils Lake Rd, Lincoln City, OR, United States | +1 541-557-2092 | papasbookshelflc@gmail.com

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