#MCRPop: The Little Bookstore That Could

Humble beginnings. 💚

I didn’t have much money. What I had was the burning desire to fill a big void in my community: the need for multicultural children’s books, including bilingual books. The desire to put the books I love into the hands of the readers looking for them. The desire to support diversity-focused small presses and independent authors of excellent books, but whom I know to have no or little marketing budget. These books are not yet reviewed by big, well-known newspapers, and not carried by big chain bookstores.

I figured I’d start with 10 copies of 10 different titles, and replace sold-out titles by new ones, to keep the customers looking for new items. As you will read below, reality quickly outgrew my vision.

I sold some personal items and emptied my saving account to purchase a business license, a seller’s permit, and to place the required ad in my local newspaper, announcing that I was open for business.

MultiCulturalism Rocks! Pop-Up, my tiny bookstore, was officially born.

First pop-up banner.❣️

I then used my credit card to purchase the first books. I simply contacted the publishers and the independent authors on the list I had made, with the help of Robert C. Liu-Trujillo, a writer/illustrator friend, and I pitched them my idea. I can’t thank enough the first people who jumped onboard. Not only did they enthusiastically welcome the initiative, but they also supported it by accepting to work with me: Robert C. Liu-Trujillo, award-winning author Zetta Elliot, Tiffany Golden, Maya Gonzalez, Justine Villanueva, and publishers Heyday Books, and Just Us Books.

I opened shop at the Davis International Festival on October 1st, 2017. I had clients already lined up while I was still setting up. A friend came to help me, and we were so busy selling that we didn’t have time to pause and be interviewed when asked.

Though I initially only spent a few days every month attending events and selling books, I systematically sold out of at least one title every time. To keep up with the pace of the sales, I increased my inventory, not just by ordering more than 10 books per titles when I saw fit, but also by adding more titles to meet my customers’ demands.

I quickly received more invitations to attend school events and cultural festivals not just outside of my county, but outside of my state as well (hopefully I will be able to honor these one day.). The African Market Place, in Sacramento, CA, whose community gave me a warm welcome, also quickly became a home where customers know to find me twice a month.

The challenge I’m meeting is that I need to increase my inventory again. I don’t do consignments. I pay for the books that I sell, and I believe that this is an essential way of supporting the authors I work with, especially the indie ones. I know my customers. I know what they want, and I know that all the books I carry will sell. So far, they all have. I used to be a bookseller specializing in children’s books, and I was good at it. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know to order just the right amount of items, taking into account the space I have, and the events I have lined up. I’m at a point where I need to rent a small space where I will store my inventory, because it is about to increase. And it will be an even sweeter deal if I could sell books from that location too, while still traveling places to meet the customers — educators, parents and kids, who are most looking for these stories and can’t come either to me or to the closest culturally diverse brick and mortar bookshop. I have a location in mind, in a vibrant community and with a rent within my range. I’ve been doing this, the traveling and transporting the table, banner, chair and books, using my green 2000, slightly beaten up Volkswagen Jetta. It would be amazing to one day have a vehicle with more space, to transport more of these amazing stories.

w/ spoken word artist and fellow pop-up bookstore owner, danté péläyō. 💛

I keep tab of all the fun that happens every time I’m out — which books sell the fastest, anecdotes, pictures, etc. I’ve been asked to share these snippets by several people, and will try to regularly do so in the future. During this literary, nomadic journey, I’ve also had the pleasure to meet other mobile bookstore owners (all heroes to my eyes and, I’m sure, to the eyes of their customers). I would like to give them a big shoutout, and I’m planning on spotlighting them on this blog in the near future. Please help make this a recurring event by adding more names to that list.

Last but not least, one of the ways I look to timely meet the readers’ demands for more titles, before the end of this year, is by applying to small business grants. This month I’m applying to the NAV grant, as well as the Amber Grant, and as such a part of this blog post will also be shared in my applications.

Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your support. Is there a book you would recommend? Any bookmobile you would like to give a shoutout to? What about your own work: What have you been up to? 🙂

PS: About the play on the colors in the captions: green for hope, red for passion, yellow for friendship. Those three colors are also an ode to my African origins.

First #MCRPop customers! 💜
A dad who told me he was buying these books for his “princess.” 😊👑
On the road again… 🚘
Library in the making for a toddler, global citizen! 🎁 (I need to brush up on my Spanish!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited 08/16/18 at 3:54pm to add link to my NAV application.

Changes

It’s been a while.
Much has happened since I unofficially went on hiatus from academia, blogging and writing to take care of my family, only re-posting, or hosting a honorable guest over the past years. For reasons beyond my understanding, this blog has a life of its own: it kept getting visitors from over the world, and to my surprise its membership actually grew to over 3,000 subscribers, well approaching 4,000. This should tell anyone who still doubts it that there is a hunger for cultural diversity and accurate diverse representation in children’s books.

Since a few things have changed, let’s do a little housecleaning:

1. The list of resources has been updated. All the links in the sidebar should be working, and blogs that are defunct or haven’t been active for over a year have been removed.
2. Grants and scholarships for writers of color: It’s hard to be creative, and write or illustrate or otherwise grow as a children’s storyteller when struggling to pay bills. To make it easier to find, there is now a list of available resources focused on helping writers of color thrive. Please help keep the list growing by sharing resources that you know of. Thank you.
3. A separate twitter account: You’re invited to follow @mcrpop. MultiCulturalism Rocks! (MCR) now has a twitter account of its own. I anticipate that it will take some time for past followers to transition over and for its numbers to grow; however the separation from my personal account makes sense since I’m increasingly tweeting about more than just diversity in kid lit, and one day someone else might be tasked to maintain it.
4. A calendar of events. There is a calendar with events centered on cultural diversity in kid lit, and occasionally you might see events (fellowship deadlines) aimed at writers of color in other genres as well, such as screenwriting. I’m currently working on installing a plug-in, which will be a form that would allow readers to add events to the calendar after review.
5. Guest posts: As always, this blog loves hosting fellow bloggers and writers! If there is a piece, an essay or a book review, that you’d like to share, email info (at) multiculturalism dot rocks.
6. Follow me on Medium to read about my personal journey in publishing and in the startup world. Indeed, since I last wrote and posted a blog post here, I’ve launched two businesses (and a grassroots group for my local African diaspora and friends of Africa), revised my first novel with a freelance editor, become active again in a picture book critique group, completed an idea-stage accelerator program for startups with the goal to be equipped to do more to bring culturally diverse stories to mixed families, and anyone looking for multicultural children’s stories. One of my businesses, MultiCulturalism Rocks! Pop-Up, is a mobile bookstore that aims to primarily help connect small presses and independent authors, who are usually not sold in big chain or otherwise traditional bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, with the schools and families that struggle to grow their library. MCR was always meant to celebrate diversity in kid lit and its incredible pool of literary champions, and not myself. On this site you will continue to read all about it, as well as the bookstore’s growth; however I’m also being asked more and more to share my own experiences, so I will give it a try. If anyone is curious about that particular journey, I’m on twitter @nathaliemvondo, and Medium seems like a good platform for longer posts.

I think I’ve covered everything. Is there any resource missing from the sidebar? Please, leave a comment to share it with the community, and if you have any questions you’d like me to answer. I hope that you’re well. Thank you for reading, and for your passion for diversity in children’s literature.