Wait. Are you crazy?!?!
When we announced our plans at Milkweed Editions to open a bookstore, the response was neatly divided along two lines: People in the publishing and bookselling industries cheered the effort and offered their help. People outside the industry questioned our sanity, responding, often with a smirk, “Don’t you know that bookstores are going extinct?”
While our skeptics aren’t completely correct—in recent years the American Booksellers Association has tracked an uptick in openings of independent bookstores—they are generally right: retail bookshelves are an endangered species. In 2011 alone, nearly a third of physical retail space for books disappeared overnight with the closure of Borders. And the number of independent bookstores open today pales in comparison to numbers ten and twenty years ago.
Amidst the many potential extinctions the world is facing, physical (and specifically independent) bookshelves seem like a pretty small loss—until we think about what lives there: Poetry. Translations. Short fiction. Experimental and creative nonfiction. Inventive, breakthrough novels. New voices speaking across cultures, economic divides, and genders. In short, groundbreaking literature relies on bookstores and booksellers to thrive. Algorithms employed in online shopping are only capable of selling us more of what we already know and like. Perusing a bookshelf allows for chance encounters and new discoveries. Booksellers offer that wondrously unscientific but nonetheless totally reliable synaptic leap: “Oh, you loved [insert amazing novel here], you should give [insert inventive debut nonfiction writer here] a shot!”
So when people doubt the sanity of opening a bookstore, we see only one possible response: There’s no way we could responsibly choose not to! At Milkweed Editions, our mission as an independent publisher is to find and nurture the best literary art, and build an engaged community around it. And so, Milkweed Books will come to be in early September. Located on the ground floor of the Open Book building—the nation’s largest literary center—it will be a wonderful and necessary addition to the building’s existing tenants, the Loft Literary Center, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and Milkweed Editions, as well as our 175,000 visitors per year.
What will Milkweed Books do?
Milkweed Books is a part of Milkweed Editions, but this doesn’t mean we will only sell books that we ourselves publish. Instead, the store’s mix of titles will reflect our mission: Milkweed Books will showcase and sell titles primarily published by independent presses, nonprofit presses, and other publishers working to bring the most exciting literary art to the marketplace. If you want to find the best new poetry, or creative nonfiction, or short stories, or translations, this bookstore is for you.
In fact, parts of the bookstore will look more like a gallery than a library, including an entire wall dedicated to exhibits offering a behind-the-scenes look at how books are made. You’ll also be able to set up “dates” with publishing and bookstore staffers to get a primer on what’s happening in the literary world, and a recommendation for what books are right for you—a personal shopper for your bookshelf. Eventually, you'll be able to sign up (from anywhere in the country) for our brand new subscription service, where you’ll get one or many new books each month suited to—but also pushing forward and expanding—your tastes. If you’re close enough to our home base, we’ll even deliver by bike!
If you want John Grisham’s latest, or if George R.R. Martin ever delivers the next Game of Thrones book, we can get you that too, but we’ll probably have to order it special. It’s a small space (only six hundred square feet) with a specific mission. So every time you come in you’ll find the latest from Copper Canyon, Sarabande, Coffee House, McSweeney’s, Deep Vellum, Tin House, Graywolf, and, yes, Milkweed Editions, alongside other books that rise to the level of quality and innovation that these publishing houses and other independent booksellers have long supported.
OK, you've answered the WHAT, but HOW will you do it?
Beyond being a strong organization with a proven history of effective nonprofit management, and a sharp, dedicated staff, we’re also fortunate to have a space that offers a number of essentials:
- Reasonable real estate price (check!): As a founding partner of Open Book, Milkweed Editions is able to negotiate below-market rent to allow us to devote more resources to programming.
- Killer event space for both large and intimate audiences (check!): The Target Performance Hall, classrooms, and commons are set up to host audiences of 20 to 200 and all feature state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities.
- An attached café or bar, preferably run by another party (check, check, and check!): The building has featured a bustling coffee shop and bistro since opening 16 years ago.
- On-site storage for inventory (check!): Our on-site warehouse already manages the movement of thousands of units of inventory each month.
Loyal customers (check!): Last year alone, 175,000 people interested in literature visited our building—the only public literary arts building of its size in the United States. Milkweed Books will serve each of the diverse communities that already gather inside the building’s doors — readers and authors alike — and will become a destination for those seeking out the newest and best literature being published.
But WHY do you need my support?
Sometimes we encounter confusion about why we have to raise money to publish books. “You sell books, why would you need to fundraise?” Put simply: The types of cutting-edge work independent publishers take risks on typically return less than half the investment they require. And so we raise additional funds from people who love the risks we take, the new authors we debut, and the books we bring into the world. Being a nonprofit supported by a strong community allows us to focus on quality and transformative potential over everything else.
The same goes for our new bookstore. While, in many ways, Milkweed Books will look like other bookstores, its not-for-profit status mandates that it operates to fulfill a mission rather than seek a profit. There’s a reason that many bookstores are unable to stock healthy poetry sections or lots of debut writers — they’re very hard to sell. Milkweed Books’ role in the bookselling ecosystem will be to take risks on great new literary writing and engage new audiences with it in inventive ways. And yet, while our mission might mandate such an approach, it doesn’t make the effort any less challenging from a financial perspective.
Investing in Milkweed Books with your dollars today will allow us to stretch farther, experiment with more creative models for bookselling, host more public events, and invest in the work of more independent presses and literary authors. Ultimately, your gift will allow us to champion talented writers, engaging books, and curious readers to help ensure a world filled with wonderfully diverse bookshelves.
And now . . . . THE REWARDS!
You've read this far. You're ready to support. THANK YOU! But everyone loves perks. Take a look at what we've got to offer!
AT ALL LEVELS (STARTING AT JUST $5): See all those friendly faces? That's us. See us standing on the roof of our building? No matter what you give, we'll *literally* shout your name from our rooftop in thanks. Your name will also go on our digital thank-you wall, and you'll get to carry the warm satisfaction of contribution for the rest of your life. **NOTE: If you wish to remain anonymous, please be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
FOR $10: MAKE METAMORPHOSIS HAPPEN. That is, we'll send you milkweed seeds, and if you grow them right you can help caterpillars reach their true potential. (We like milkweed as a metaphor for transformation...)
FOR $25: MYSTERY DATE WITH A BOOK. No algorithms or swiping left or right this time. You don't know what you might love until you try it, so don't judge this book by its cover. We'll send you a *super awesome* mystery book, lovingly selected based on intuition alone, along with a personalized note of thanks. OR, FOR $12: GET A MYSTERY E-BOOK!
FOR $35: COMMUNITY SUPPORTED LITERATURE TOTE. Be the first to sport the brand-new Milkweed Books tote bag, featuring a custom design by Twin-Cities artist Meghan Murphy. The CSL bag celebrates the diverse and complex ecosystem of writers, readers, donors, publishers, booksellers, reviewers, educators, librarians—including the bicycle delivery people—who make a vibrant literary community possible.
A generous 18" wide by 14.5" deep with a 3" gusset and extra long handles, this bag is perfect for *toting* lots of books (obviously), that manuscript you've been lugging around, veggies from the farmers market, and showing off your critical role in literary culture.
FOR JUST $18: GET THE LITERARY PUBLISHING DIGITAL BUNDLE. Explore the ever-evolving literary landscape with the help of publishing insiders and revolutionaries in this digital version of our explosive anthology, LITERARY PUBLISHING IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY. **PLUS: You'll get a set of ready-to print postcards inspired by the essays inside.
FOR $60: DAVID GESSNER WILL DRAW FOR YOU. Perhaps you know Mr. Gessner's work as an author from My Green Manifesto or The Tarball Chronicles or, most recently, All the Wild That Remains. Or maybe you know him as founder and editor-in-chief of Ecotone. Or maybe you know him as the cartoonist and personality (with Bill Roorbach) behind Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour. Regardless of however you might know him, David Gessner will draw you a cartoon with nuggets of wisdom from one of the many writers currently haunting his brain, including Wallace Stegner, Edward Abbey, or maybe even Thoreau.
FOR $75: BE ONE OF THE FIRST MILKWEED BOOKS [ONLINE] DATES. Be the first to get a personal reading recommendation from Hans Weyandt, manager of Milkweed Books & famed champion of independent books. Hans will send you a list of the next three books you **MUST** read, based on your answers to a short quiz.
OR, FOR $75: GET ALL THE POETRY FROM 2016. Every single collection of poems we publish this year, including bilingual translations of Yi Lu and Rosa Alice Branco, debut collections from Max Ritvo, Justin Boening, and Chris Santiago, and more.
FOR $80: THE GREAT MINNESOTA GET-TOGETHER. In honor of the Minnesota State Fair, aka "The Great Minnesota Get-Together," we're offering a reward that features a sampling of titles donated by several of our state's small and independent publishers, including Graywolf, Coffee House, Lerner, New Rivers Press, Milkweed Editions...and more! We look forward to carrying books by our fellow Minnesota presses at Milkweed Books.
FOR $90: BEN PERCY WILL RECORD YOUR OURGOING VOICEMAIL MESSAGE. That's right. Ben Percy will record—in his exceptionally, impossibly deep voice—your outgoing message. (You know, like Carl Kasell does, but in the way only Ben Percy can.)
OR, FOR $90: GET YOUR VERY OWN MOBY-DICK POEM BY DAN BEACHY-QUICK. Dan Beachy-Quick—poet, essayist, and Moby-Dick aficionado—will personally recommend a passage from Moby-Dick, and will write a little poem just for you, using only words culled from the passage he recommends. You'll also receive a copy of his essay collection A WHALER'S DICTIONARY.
FOR $100: BETH DOOLEY SENDS YOU A LOAF OF BREAD. Beth Dooley—author of numerous award-winning cookbooks about Heartland food traditions and well known for her wonderful baking—will send YOU a loaf of homemade bread along with a fruit preserve, local raw honey, plus a signed copy of her memoir—IN WINTER'S KITCHEN.
FOR $125: GET EVERY BOOK WE PUBLISH THIS FALL. That's eight books, at an impossible-to-beat value. Stock those shelves and get reading.
FOR $150: LIMITED EDITION THINGS THAT ARE PRINT. Show off your *excellent* taste and enchant your friends with a limited edition print from Amy Leach's singular Things That Are. Brilliant illustration by St. Paul-based artist Nate Christopherson.
BECOME A FOUNDING MEMBER OF MILKWEED BOOKS! **ONLY AVAILABLE ON KICKSTARTER**
- $100 = CATERPILLAR LEVEL. Get a lifetime Founding Member card (entitles you to 10% off at Milkweed Books) and the Community Supported Literature tote bag.
- $250 = CHRYSALIS LEVEL. Get the lifetime Founding Member card (entitles you to 10% off at Milkweed Books), the Community Supported Literature tote bag, AND two tickets to the VIP launch party (date TBA)!
- $500 = MONARCH LEVEL. Get that lifetime Founding Member card (this time entitling you to 20% off at Milkweed Books), the Community Supported Literature tote bag, AND two tickets to the VIP launch party (date TBA).
NOTE: Supporters at ALL levels will be acknowledged, and if you wish to remain anonymous, please email us at email@example.com.
Risks and challenges
With the rise of online sales and big box stores, experts predicted the demise of the independent bookstore as long ago as the early 2000s, and indeed more than 1,000 bookstores closed their doors during the next decade. But since 2009, due to a revitalized “Shop Local” movement and a range of other factors, the number of independent bookstores opening in the United States is on the rise once again. And yet, while this trajectory is encouraging, significant challenges remain when it comes to opening and maintaining an independent bookstore. With thirty-six years of independent publishing experience and a bookstore manager with nearly two decades of bookselling experience, Milkweed Editions is uniquely prepared to take this risk, and succeed in opening and running Milkweed Books.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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