Interview: Author Julie Berry Talks About Opening a Hometown Bookstore

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

I am excited to welcome author Julie Berry to Cynsations today. Some of Julie’s titles include the Printz Honor Award book, The Passion of Dolssa (Viking, 2016), Lovely War (Viking, 2019), and The Emperor’s Ostrich (Roaring Brook Press, 2017). Most recently her picture book Cranky Right Now, illustrated by Holly Hatam (Sounds True) hit shelves this month. Yet, Julie isn’t here to talk about her books, as wonderful as they are. She is here to talk about her newest venture as bookseller. Julie is the owner of Author’s Note in Medina New York.

Julie, welcome and congratulations on the opening of Author’s Note, your new independent bookstore!

Thank you! And thanks for inviting me to Cynsations.

Author’s Note is located in your childhood home of Medina, New York. Tell us about your homecoming and what led to it?

My parents moved away from Medina in my senior year of high school, so after graduation, I lost touch somewhat with the town. When my first book released in 2009, I visited Medina for a book launch, and I’ve come back for nearly every book since. The warm welcome I received always made me wonder, could I see myself living here again?

My husband, children, and I visited Medina over the holidays in 2019. (I have a sister living here.) We got together with my cousin, Erica, a bookseller, and her family. I learned that the bookstore, The Book Shoppe, had recently changed hands. I was disappointed to learn it had been for sale and I hadn’t known. I realized then how much I wanted it. Over dinner, Erica and I discussed what we would’ve done with the store if I’d bought it. It was pure bookstore pie-in-the-sky. Then, in the spring of 2020, my sister called to tell me the new owners had listed the bookstore for sale. I made an offer. It took time for the moving parts to align, but now, here we are.

You and your cousin are working together. Tell us what each of you brings to this venture.

Erica has owned her own bookstore, and been a bookseller at three different stores, including The Book Shoppe (the former name of Author’s Note). As a child, she was a frequent customer here. She most recently worked at Lift Bridge Books in Brockport, NY. She understands what Western New York readers and customers want and buy, and she understands the day-to-day operations of running a store: ordering, receiving, merchandising, restocking.

Most of all, she has scrumptious taste. Every box of arriving merchandise is more adorable than the one before. I can’t wait to watch shoppers browse her selections. I can’t wait to shop them myself, in fact. I can tell I’ll be my own best customer.

I’m scratching my head wondering what’s left on the table for me to bring to Author’s Note. Erica says my industry connections with publishers, editors, sales reps, publicists, agents, and authors have proven valuable. I hope so.

I’ve spent my career as a published author promoting my own books, and I’m excited to extend that evangelism to an entire store full of wonderful books, toys, gifts. And I do have experience launching new businesses, especially from a business development and marketing standpoint. Mostly, though, it seems I’m here to order supplies, choose paint colors, and take out the trash.

Tell us how you chose the store’s name.

Ah, if you could see the pages upon pages of rejected names we pored over as we tried to figure this out! So many of the best names and concepts were already taken – cleverly literary wordplays, and straightforward classics. My husband, Phil, urged me to find a name that teased the connection I had with Medina.

I grew up here; I left home; I became an author; I came back. That’s a story in itself. It was he who hit upon “Author’s Note.” My books tend to feature hefty author’s notes, so it fit, but I’ve come to see it more metaphorically. This bookstore is my love note to Medina, and to indie bookstores and booksellers everywhere.

Seen another way, every book is an author’s note to the world.

You mention that the store will seek to connect authors and readers in new ways. What do you envision?

Having been on the author side of the experience, I’ve seen what works and doesn’t work in planning and hosting events. I know why authors hold events and what they hope to accomplish, and I’ve seen the difference smart publicity can make. I hope my experiences there will make author visits at Author’s Note a winning experience for everyone, so authors will want to come back, and more and more local readers will participate, creating a positive spiral of involvement and connection.

I also hope to entice authors to leave “author’s notes” of their own for readers in the store in various ways. It’ll be fun.

I hope to be an author’s bookstore, offering books, products, experiences, and mentorships to writers, both published and aspiring.

What other bookstores and booksellers are you looking to as models or mentors and why?

It’s been wonderful to see new bookstores form and grow to do great things since I became an author – stores such as Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Belmont Books in Belmont, Massachusetts. Wonderful established bookstores have adopted me and made me their own, including The King’s English in Salt Lake City, Utah, Once Upon a Time Books in Montrose, California, and Anderson’s Bookshops throughout greater Chicago. I take inspiration from each of these.

The store I’ll most closely emulate is Silver Unicorn Books in Acton, Massachusetts. The store got off to a scrappy start three years ago, and it has weathered the pandemic well. Paul Swydan, its founder, is a friend, and has become a mentor in every sense of the word.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found about being a bookseller?

I confess it; the biggest surprise is how little I grasped the sheer mechanics of bookselling. It’s a hefty, complex business. I always knew booksellers were the superheroes of the book industry, but now, as I work to set up my own bookstore for the first time, I’m amazed that any of them find time to read and recommend books at all, much less network, draw up inventive ideas, or, I don’t know, pet their cats.

Admittedly, I’m on the steep end of my learning curve here, and we’ve been working feverishly to complete a massive renovation under a tight timeline, so that’s undoubtedly skewing my perspective, but the biggest surprise for me has been just how busy we are. It’s a terrific problem to have.

Connecting with readers and customers makes it worthwhile. I’m so excited to finally throw open our doors and really start putting books in people’s hands.

Cynsational Notes

photo credit: Travis Tanner

Julie Berry is the New York Times bestselling author of the 2020 NCTE Amelia Walden Award and SCBWI Golden Kite Award winner Lovely War, which received seven starred reviews, and has been called “Poignant” by The Horn Book, “Mesmerizing” by Booklist, and “Virtuoso” by the New York Times. She is also the author of the 2017 Printz Honor and Los Angeles Times Book Prize shortlisted The Passion of Dolssa, the Carnegie and Edgar shortlisted All the Truth That’s in Me (Speak, 2014), the Odyssey Honor The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook, 2014), and many others. Her first three picture books, Long Ago, on a Silent Night illustrated by Annie Won (Orchard Books, 2019); Don’t Let the Beasties Escape This Book, illustrated by April Lee (Abrams, 2019); and Happy Right Now, illustrated by Holly Hatam (Sounds True), released in 2019, with more to follow: Cranky Right Now and The Night Frolic.

Julie is a board member of the California School Library Foundation. She holds a B.S. from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.

After living many years in the Boston area and in Los Angeles, Julie has recently relocated to her hometown of Medina, New York with her husband, sons, and two cats, where she bought the local bookstore and reinvented it as Author’s Note. Julie enjoys quilting, cooking, piano, running, hot yoga, musical theater, and goofy movies.

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.