An author’s journey often begins with a simple love of reading and many of us embrace that love by spending some quality time with local book sellers. My life was forever changed after taking a creative writing class in Woodstock, GA at the wonderfully cozy FoxTale Book Shoppe; that one class led me down the path to finally completing my first novel The Unexpected Daughter.
There are a plethora of reasons why independent book stores are important for communities across the country. In-store readings, writing workshops, book clubs, and other offerings help bring like-minded readers together. Today on Southern Life, Indian Wife I’m joined by FoxTale co-owner Karen Schwettman.
Karen tells me how books have always been her lifeline (2:19), the incredible origin story of FoxTale Book Shoppe (3:31), how the store has become a stimulating environment for would-be writers (8:22), how she has enjoyed connecting with me early on in my writing journey (10:51), she discusses her incredible and sometimes difficult experience being an independent bookseller (12:11), how their incredible customers got FoxTale through the economic downturn (15:13), why it’s so important to buy books from local independent booksellers (22:51), how Amazon is creating an uneven playing field (27:54), how she’s working to build a community of readers at FoxTale (31:37), and how you can find an amazing local independent bookstore in your area (34:05).
If you’re ever in Woodstock, GA don’t forget to check out FoxTale Book Shoppe and to find out more about their upcoming book club events, make sure to connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Keep up to date with the podcast and my upcoming book news by following me on Facebook, Instagramand Twitter! And…email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to order a signed copy of my book The Unexpected Daughter.
I’m a lifelong Southerner married to an Indian man who grew up in South Africa during apartheid and I am fiercely proud of both. If you don’t like that Well bless your heart. I’m Sheryl Prabhoo and this is Southern Life Indian Wife. Right. Welcome back to Southern life. Indian wife today I have a super fun guest. I’ve got Karen Schwettman.
She is co-owner of a local indie bookstore near me Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Woodstock and I’ve got her here to talk to me about books and business and publishing and all the ups and downs of talking to authors and crazy people and the crazy business. So welcome Karen Hi Sheryl. It’s great to be here. Thank you so much. So let’s talk a little bit about who you are. I know you’ve got this super cool Southern accent but I don’t really know where you come from. Oh well I was born in Rome Georgia OK and I lived there most of my life until my husband got a job in Salt Lake City.
Well we went to Utah for five years. Culture shock it was quite a shock when I got back home I wanted to kiss the ground. I bet you did kiss that red Georgia clay. And we have trees here and that’s very important. Yes. So after that. Well when I was in Utah I started working for an interior design studio I worked for the House revival. I worked for Sherwin Williams. And when I came back to Georgia opened my own business interior design his house. And I did that for a few years. And then when the kids grew up and left home and I started having grand children then it was time to think about doing something now. OK. So does the book store the bookstore. OK. So you must have been a reader before you decided to open up a bookstore. Oh yes. I’ve always been a reader have always been passionate about books. Books have been my lifeline my entire life is my go to my blanket it’s my safety net.
Yeah you’ve told me once or twice how many books you can read in a few weeks so you just gotta tell the listeners. This blows me away when you go on vacation.
How many books are you going to read about 14 or 15 and maybe a little more maybe a little less holy cow. But that is how I like to read. I like to have binge reading session. OK. If I’m off during the week I like to spend the whole day reading. I like spend all day on Sunday reading and then of course my vacation binges.
Wow. I feel like I have readers ADD. I can’t sit down and do that and I feel like for me it’s kind of the technology screen age that we’re all in. Like me I’ll sit down to read a book and then my husband puts on Netflix and he’s watching some cool show about Vikings and it just distracts me. So I think you’re doing the community and the world a huge service by opening an independent bookstore. How did you just decide. Did you just decide one day.
Oh why don’t I open a bookstore? Almost. Really. Yes I went out to visit a friend who was working in Denver. OK. And while I was there we went to the greatest bookstore ever called the Tattered Cover OK. And it had everything I wanted in a bookstore. The wooden creaky floors stairs lots and lots of books lots of people to talk about books with. And I thought I want to open a bookstore. And my friend said Well why don’t you. Yeah. What’s stopping you. And then I went down. Yeah. And so while we were there we had this idea in mind. And one night we went up to Red Rocks Amphitheatre was right at dusk and we got out the car and there was a fox sitting right in the parking lot about two feet away from me. I looked at her. She looked at me. She got tired of it walked away. And so we’re thinking oh my gosh what a fabulous thing to happen I know it means something what does it mean.
I don’t know
But when I got back I met a friend for lunch and she said Oh I’ve been looking up animal totems and I found the fox. So this is what it means to see a fox. And so she started writing me all the energy and the power that this particular animal brings and then she said Fox tail is the symbol of feminine creative energy. No way way And legend has it when the female fox turns 50 that she becomes human. Well I just turned 50. You know there was a fox. And so we decided that was going to be the name of our store FoxTale. And that’s where the name came from. Yeah. I always wondered about that I thought it was super cute. But I never knew where it came from. That’s the story behind it. And then I had a few other friends that went into the business with me. Since then we’ve the three of us have gone our separate ways. OK. And so now it’s only me in the store. Oh I didn’t know that. Yes. Jack ie recently retired. OK. So things are a little bit different.
I’m writing a new chapter of my life it seems. But that’s OK. New chapters are good. Yes. Yeah. Hard I’m sure. Change is hard but it’s always hard but it’s exciting too. Yeah. That’s great. Well I’m so glad that you’re you’re keeping it going because when you all opened how many years has it been. It is 12 years. Really. Oh man I feel old because I was thinking it was maybe six or seven years ago. It goes by fast. Man Yes. So when y’all opened the doors I remember going in there and thinking wow we finally have a bookstore here in you know the boonies of Woodstock. We were still kind of the boonies back then. Yeah it was. Yeah. And acquired it in Downtown Downtown was just beginning. Yeah. To build and pick. Yeah. And there would be times when I would take either just myself or take my little ones because back then I had little ones to barnes and noble and just walking around and looking at the beautiful covers it was heavenly. And I was so happy to see that y’all we’re gonna be close and that didn’t have to do that. And it’s a small you know warm inviting environment not like a Barnes and Noble which you know they have pretty book covers but that’s about it you know.
But that was part of what I wanted with my background as an interior designer. To me the most important part of design is how your space feels it can look great. It can be decorated beautifully but unless it feels welcoming and cozy then I feel like I’ve missed it. So that was my goal when I decorated the store.
You did a fantastic job. Thank you. I love walking in there even if I’m not in the mood to buy a book which is rare. Yeah. It just feels good to go in there. Thank you. And I also got to know you and you know other people at the store when I took a creative writing workshop that year in the workshop. Yeah. And that’s also another thing. Not only do you go in there and feel like you want to read every single beautiful book on the shelves but you want to write too. So that environment really stimulated that for me and I’m sure lots of people.
I’m glad we actually started out as writers. We met in a creative writing class. My partners OK and that’s how we got to know each other so well because we had been in class together for several years and our goal in the beginning was that we would teach classes or we would take classes. Little did we know how much time running a bookstore actually takes a lot of people think oh be so much fun to sit in here and read all day. I can assure you in 12 years I’ve never read a book in the store because there’s not that opportunity right. But we did find some great resources to teach classes for us and just being there and being a part of that helped it fulfill the part of me that wanted to write seeing other people do that and seeing what they produced. I still write from time to time mostly now just journaling or logging information in case I want to write something later on.
That’s a great idea. You have to keep those things close because I’m sure there’s going to be a time when you’re ready and you’re going to sit down and you’re just going to pound out that book. Well we’ll see. You will. Well I can’t imagine not being surrounded by all of that your whole day. The beauty of it. So it’s exciting. Yeah. You’ve got to do it. It’s exciting. Well your store I mean is truly responsible for me getting my novel The Unexpected daughter out. One hundred percent because I was I had a bunch of kids at home. I was losing my mind had to write you know my story. I do. And I took a couple of classes at Kennesaw State and creative writing and just didn’t really connect with people. And then I saw online that you all had a creative writing workshop with Wayne s Smith who was doing it. I said Okay I’m just gonna get away on a Saturday. My husband can deal with the kids. Yes. And did the workshop met him. Got him to help me get through that book and did my book launch there. So yeah I mean I’m grateful that all are there. Nobody else is and I’m sure they are but at least you helped me. Well I love being in on the early part of your work.
As soon as I met you and heard your story I just I want it more. Of course you did. No. But for some reason I’ve always had a fascination with India. Anything Indian. And here you are married to an Indian. And your stories or just very compelling. Your book is an easy sale. You earned the right to be on the favorite shelf. It’s well done it’s funny and poignant. So I can’t say enough good about it and I’m looking forward to your next book.
Thank you and thank you for that honor of having it on the bookshelf because I thought no one is ever going to read my book to begin with. So to have it on a bookshelf like that that was that made my my life my whole year. So that was wonderful. Thank you. So you’ve gotten to know people through the writing classes and you get authors in there all the time so you know me I’m I’m a new author. I’m learning the business as I go which is you know the school of hard knocks. Really it’s tough.
So how does it work being an owner of an independent bookstore because you have to deal with authors publishers publicists I mean crazy amount of different people from different angles I imagine. So how does the whole business work.
Well when we started we knew nothing about bookselling. Well we only know we love books and writing. So we learn the hard way just like you said you’re doing. And at first it seemed it was overwhelming. It seems futile to try to get big authors. How do we do this. Because the publishers want you to be able to produce sales of course. And until you have been in business long enough to earn those authors. Yet at the same time you know it’s like how do we get more authors if you don’t give us authors. Right. Right. Catch 22. That was a frustrating the first couple of years were frustrating but we looked for different ways. We just had to get creative of how we could attract authors and how we could bring them into the store. So at first we did a lot of local authors. Luckily Terry Kay was local and he agreed to come out and he was our first big book signing. Also I’ll never forget it. It was in October. It was the most beautiful autumn that we’d had in some time. And I just remembered driving up five seventy five to go to work and I was so happy. I mean what could be better. The sun was out. The leaves were orange and yellow. And Terry Kay was in my store signing and it was a successful event. And I think Terry really helped kick start us. He would use us for offside. That’s when he you know read at different places. He would ask us to be the book seller and because he’s been around Southern authors for a long time. He introduced us to a lot of Southern authors so that’s fabulous. That’s how we really got started. And then I’d say for the first five years we got more and more authors until after five years. Some of the big publishers were ready to take a chance on us.
Wow. So five years of hard work kind of scraping your way up at all. But that’s that’s enlightening because I had no idea as somebody that just sat down to write a book just because I was going to write a book how hard the business is on all sides.
It is. And I think the business has progressively gotten harder just because of the age that we live in. We really saw a drop in the early years I’d say about the second year we were there the economy you know tanked. Yeah. If we hadn’t started the bookstore when we did we wouldn’t have been able to because they would have been too discouraging. Right. But you know our customers kept us going and that’s for that stretch of time we lost eleven businesses in downtown Woodstock from 2007 to 2010. Wow. We saw a lot of businesses that had been well established not be able to make it. And then you know the economy turn and businesses started flocking to downtown Woodstock. Yes. But what got us through was our faithful customer base that it was the community that you know they took a chance on us and we they stayed with us and supported us and we hopefully we gave them what they wanted to. Oh I’m sure you did.
And you know I had no idea how faithful customers would be to a small bookstore like that because when y’all opened I didn’t have a heck of a lot of time. You know I wasn’t able to be involved in things but you know once I wrote this book and I got involved with the store and saw how many people come to these events and you do have these faithful loyal people that are there at every event we do. And I love it and it gives me hope that there are still readers in the world. Oh yes there’s a lot of suffering. Yes but sometimes I feel like wow you know I’m the only person in my little circle that nags to read. I remember talking to an old neighbor one time who I told her that I was a writer and I told her what my book was about that it’s about an intercultural family saga. And she looked at me and she said Oh you write the smart stuff I like to read you know Time magazine Time magazine People magazine you know I like to read the stuff that I don’t have to think about. And I was like Oh you’re a reading teacher too. Oh no I won’t name or name but I just feel like so many people have started watching Netflix and given it up. So it’s nice to know that there are still war people that are still going to keep going. There are.
I think the biggest area that I see that is falling behind in reading are middle grades when we opened middle grades were our biggest sellers really kids were in there all the time. Rick Riordan books. Yes. Yes. So many of those series they followed those and they were in there during the summer. We used to have kids that come up there and sit on the back row of the bookcases in the floor and read for hours. Wow. And their moms would call. Have you seen. So I guess they’re back here reading OK just checking. That’s my dream for my child to do. Know I will never have that. And it was great but see little of of interest in books now and I think it’s because they’re so used to everything instant. Yes. You know they’re gratified immediately a book isn’t fast enough for them it’s not like a video game or them talking to somebody on social media. Right. And it is almost punishment for them to have to read and that makes me very sad.
Me too. Like we’re not OK. So I have a 12 year old he’s in seventh grade and I remember back when I was in seventh grade I was reading everything I could get my hands on. And a lot of the time it was my mom’s book. Yes. She probably doesn’t know this but I read The Thorn Birds when I was in the seventh grade and Shogun and some Stephen King books. I loved it. I did not get it was it was my guilty little pleasure. I can’t imagine my 12 year old voluntarily reading a book. And it’s because of that darn fortnight and all those games and he really does treat it like it’s punishment. When I make him I have to make him read a book because I say look your brain is rotting. You need to exercise those muscles. But he just doesn’t see it because it’s you’re right it’s not that immediate gratification. Well I have six granddaughters so six granddaughters. Yes no boys. Oh so girl power. Yeah heck yeah. But they don’t like to read. It breaks my heart like I have a book store and you don’t like to read? Not a one of them likes to read.
Zoe Monet who is nine now. She could read very well before she started kindergarten. She’s always been a book lover. So she is my main one good. And we started a book of fairy tales when she was seven. And every day she would come over and we’d read a fairy tale. And then we would mark it off our list. Then they moved to Michigan. And I kept the book of fairy tales. So when I went up at Easter to see her and it had been two years since I’d seen her and I pulled out that fairy tale book she started crying. She was so happy to see that. And we sat down and we read as many stories as we could give in that visit and we just came back from a week from there and I took the book again and she read me a story every night before we went to bed all so she is my biggest reader. I really want you know I’m excited for the time where she could read things like little women and the Secret Garden.
And Anne of Green Gables and all those that I loved when I was growing up. Yes. And hopefully she won’t get distracted by all the screen stuff and all that. Well they’re always out there. We’ll hope but her dad is a software producer for video games so big.
I’m not going to hold out too much right.
Yeah. My family is not readers either my own husband has not even read my book. Are you serious serious. Now granted when I was writing it I did read a lot of chapters too and a lot of those chapters were deleted and changed and so he doesn’t even know the story. Oh I think you should sit down and read to him every night. I should but then he’ll probably punish me by sitting me down and reading me dental journal and all OK OK.
So I don’t know. Maybe not maybe not. Yeah.
So this bookstore is just a like an oasis of art. I think for us the just the written word people can go there and experience it but independent bookstores are having a really hard time surviving right now. And I don’t think that everybody out there understands that it’s important to buy locally and not from Amazon and to buy new from the author from the bookstore just because it saves you money doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good. So let’s talk about that.
A lot of people ask me how can you compete with Amazon. We can’t we cannot compete with Amazon and that’s what I always tell them. However we can offer things that Amazon does not. Yeah Amazon offers quick delivery and a discounted price. When you come in our store whoever is there is going to walk out from behind the counter and greet you and ask you what you’re reading. Yes. Talk about what we’re reading. And we like to put the right book in the right person’s hands. Yes. You’re not going to get that at Amazon. Definitely not. You won’t get an author of that. You won’t meet the author through Amazon like you will in an indie bookstore. I had a phone call one day last week and it was a young man who was looking for a gift book for his girlfriend. He told me what he wanted and I told him oh about three or four different books that were on my shelf that I would recommend. And then when he got through he said you know there is no way I could have even paid for that kind of information if I gone on Amazon to look for it. So not only do I want to buy this book from you he gave me a list of other books to buy. Wow. It was I mean what a great guy. There was so much joy in just being able to find him what he needed and the top books with somebody. Yes. That’s what we do best. That’s what we love. Yeah. So we do have some things that so that you’re not forced to use the A word or the K word. But we don’t have a Kindle what we have is Kobo and there are e-books and Kobo is in a rater designed in Germany especially for indie bookstores. OK. So we do have that available in the store available. We have audio books through libros OK li bro how should say it libro ah OK. And it if you sign up for li bro and leave audible your first three books are free. Wow so that’s a really great deal. That is an audible is not cheap so it’s not like you know you’re getting a great deal right. With audible well you probably know but a lot of people may not know that audible is owned by Amazon good reads is owned by Amazon. So when good reads when people are really pushing a book it’s Amazon behind that book. Yes but not necessarily the readers that you know we’re looking for great recommendations from readers. But what we’re getting is really just filtered down from Amazon in a different way. Right. So what I think about because so many people come in through the course of a day I can’t tell you how many people will tell me on the phone or in the store. Well I could get this cheaper on Amazon they tell you that to your face to my face or they will wait until I’ve explained some great books and go Oh thanks I’m gonna go order it on Amazon. Yeah. And then they’re looking at probably as I walk out as a whole remember and Peter Pan where they talking about fairies and somebody said I don’t believe in fairies. And Peter says what you don’t believe in fairies every time somebody says they don’t believe in fairies a fairy dies. That’s how I feel about Amazon every time you order a book from Amazon. It helps an indie bookstore die a little more because after a while if it continues the way it is now we won’t be able to compete there will only be one store and that will be Amazon right.
And I mean it not only kills indie bookstores but it kills authors too. Oh yes. I mean you know I think every author’s book has to be on Amazon my book is on Amazon of course and I looked on there the other day and you know how on Amazon you’ve got it from direct from the publisher.
Then also you have the used price as well. There were people that were selling like new copies of my book for a dollar or two cheaper than the brand new price. And so Amazon put it above my link to click to buy it new ad. So people are thinking that they’re buying it new and it’s going to a used bookstore. No. I mean that totally screws authors. It does.
It’s so wrong the playing field is so uneven. Publishers give Amazon huge discounts. No not the same discounts that we get. OK. And they are able to because of the volume of sales that they have. They can also have loss leaders they can afford to give 50 percent off a best seller because most of their other books are not that much off. So that is another consideration when you’re thinking about Amazon. Definitely I heard some rather disturbing news this week in a sales rep told me that an Amazon store is going to be going in right across the street from Parnassus which is in Nashville. Yes hatchets bookstore and of all places it could be just the gall they would choose that site to put their store. They’re poaching clientele. They take money out of our communities instead of keeping it here. A lot of things aren’t taxed Amazon’s not taxed the way that we are both as a consumer and as a small business. You know not just with bookstores but with everything Amazon is just killing us in so many ways. Another way we are part of the community we coordinate school visits with middle grade or young adult or children’s authors. OK. We have a school visit this week with an author. And as you know we do lots of events in the store. We’re often asked by authors to go to offsite locations if they’re going to go speak at a library or out of town. They may ask us to be the bookseller and we go in and take the books and sell books. There are a lot of books selling is loading boxes and unpacking them and packing them. And yes you’ve got to be very strong. So you’re going to haul a lot of boxes. We do that and we try to give books when we can wait to choose a charity every year to give back. We either buy books for a classroom or give books to maybe a shelter. We’ve given books to the jails before because we do get a lot of pre publication copies. And if it’s something that we’ve all read or we don’t want to read then we can just box it up and send it out to somebody that does that because they’re full publishers will often send us boxes of 30 40 books. And when you’ve got 10 publishers that’s a lot of reading.
That is a lot of reading. And so you’re you’re spreading it to people that wouldn’t be able to afford to come into your store and even pay it 50 percent off. You know if you did have the Amazon sales. Yes. Yeah. Wow. That’s fantastic because I think the world needs more of that personal connection and people wanting to share literature are all the good stuff in life with other people instead of just getting on the computer and getting it. We’ve seen so many friendships formed in the store.
You know you’ve probably been a part of it at one time or another where maybe you’re in the store and we’re talking books and somebody else. So wander in and they’ll hear something and come over and conversations starts and it’s just I think especially for women. I think it’s a really good place to have connections and meet up with other people who have similar interests too who have the very same issues as we do. And it’s a place to come and be and not feel judged or that you’ve got to hurry. It’s very very relaxed and Fox Tale is you know we’re passionate about people and we’re passionate about books. Yes. And the two go together. You can’t just sell a book you’ve got to be really excited about the book. And if you’re getting the right book to the right person I know I said that before. Yeah but getting the book that you need in your hand is very important.
Yes. Yes it is. You know I came to the Harper Collins event last week and I had never been to one of those. It was fun. What do you call it a preview event for the coming season. It was amazing because I loved hearing the descriptions of all of these new books and there are these authors out there that I know have written a million books and I hadn’t heard of them yet but I loved hearing the descriptions and I thought Yeah I’m going to start reading this author and I did yeah I went and got Louise Eldritch his book for a great rate. Great read. Howard for a yes. And I love it. And had I not been at that event I would have been able to find that on Amazon and you know search you know authors that I love writing about powerful family events. You can’t get that from Amazon. Now you can know. You can get it at Fox Yale. And so before we go do you have a message for people out there who love to read and where is the best way to find an indie bookstore.
So it’s a. Of course you know people that live in Woodstock Georgia. They’re gonna come to Fox Tale Fox Tale is famous. It’s wonderful. But what if you live somewhere that doesn’t have an indie bookstore close by. Can you order online you can stores order online at most any bookstore in these indie bookstores.
We have our own best seller lists every month. OK. So use your computer for something good and go into Google and just type in in the next Indie Next you know. Next it will take you to a site where there’s book reviews. There’s the best seller list. There’s where you can find the links to both Kobo and Libro for the audio and for the digital books. It will also list all the indie bookstores around the country. Wonderful. And all of those are available for you to use. OK.
So there’s really no excuse not to support the independent bookstores because it’s all right there it is. Yeah. OK. So everybody listening. Support your independent bookstores please. Yes. Because if we don’t they’re going to go away in good books are going to go away. We need you. Yes we definitely do. Well thank you so much for coming in to tell us your story . Yes. Thank you and I wish Fox tale the best in your future endeavors and you running it on your own and I hope you don’t get too tired from running it and never. I think I’m too tired when I go in every day. It’s just energizing that’s in the air. That’s wonderful. And I’m looking forward to your new book and I hope we launch it at FoxTale too. Well once it’s finally done yes you definitely will so maybe you can just call me and like you know light a fire under me once a week or so and get that book so I can do that.
OK. Thank you. All right thanks so much for being here. Thank you.
If you like this podcast so far please continue following along by tapping the subscribe button wherever you listen to podcasts. If you really liked it go on the awesome and leave a rating and a review. Find me on all social media too by searching Sheryl with an S… Par bhoo. That’s p a r b h o o. Thanks for listening to Southern life. Indian wife.