The Ripped Bodice is a sister-run and romance-only bookstore in the US. With a focus on diversity and a canny internet presence, sisters Bea and Leah Koch have become legends. And we're a bit starstruck!
Are independent bookstores and smaller online booksellers gaining more ground with the distribution of diverse romance novels than the big names? And should bookstores—both independent and chains—be doing more to help with that?
I definitely think smaller places tend to care more than the large chains. They also have a lot of power in terms of buying. A lowly bookseller at B&N might care deeply but the person doing the buying is way way up the food chain. At smaller stores, the whole team tends to work together to stock.
I personally believe that bookstores have a responsibility to stock the most diverse and inclusive books they can find—within whatever genre/type of books they are selling.
How do you work with authors, and what are some of your favourite author and bookish events that you’ve hosted?
We work directly with authors in a couple of ways. Firstly, authors can submit their books on our website for consideration for stocking in the store. It is a great way for us to find out about books we haven't come across yet. Secondly, we host tons of events and we frequently plan those directly with authors. Some of my favorite authors that we've had in the store are Christina Lauren, Sherry Thomas and Nicola Yoon. One of my most favorite events we've ever done was the watch party we had for Harry and Megan's wedding. Everyone wore their pajamas and fascinators.
What would you like to see happening to help place diverse books in front of readers and increase awareness? And how do you integrate them into different sections of The Ripped Bodice?
Well, first of all, more of them need to be published. There is only so much we can do unless the books are being put out. Otherwise, we simply try to have as many titles as possible and to make them all fit seamlessly into the store. Books are shelved by their subgenre, not the race of the person who wrote it or the race of the characters. Those things are not subgenres.
How would you help a reader to find books by diverse authors they may not have discovered yet?
It is extremely important that recommending authors of color be a regular part of every customer interaction. We do not wait for someone to ask for books by a specific kind of author. If they want vampires we're going to make sure we show them at least one book by a non-white author.
You've utilized social media and the internet in order to develop awareness around authors of colour and indigenous authors, and how would you like to see the work that you've done, especially through the annual “The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report”, be utilized by traditional and indie publishing houses?
I would just like them to acquire more authors of color! We're kind of running out of things to say because that is really what needs to happen. We hope that they will look at our bestseller's list and see that these books thrive if they are given the time and attention (and money!) that they deserve.
Your intricate and inspired window displays are pretty infamous, being featured on Shelf Awareness’s Window Display of the Day multiple times. How do you come up with your ideas and how much time and work goes into creating them?
I tend to come up with ideas either based on the time of year or a subgenre I want to feature. There are some months that have an obvious theme: Valentine's, Halloween, etc. If I don't have a season to work off, I will pick a subgenre to highlight. I brainstorm with my sister about what we want it to look like. I try to switch up styles, so if one month the window is super graphic, next month I might try to do something more scenic. I start prepping about six weeks beforehand, ordering all of my supplies and drawing out a plan. I will do as much as I can in advance. Installing them typically takes between six and ten hours. It brings me so much joy that people like them!
And finally, as with all great booksellers, we’re sure that you have the best recommendations! What are some of the romances that you’d recommend to our readers if they’re looking to read outside of their normal catnip?
I recently really loved Alyssa Day's Atlantis Rising, which I had never read before, so if you like paranormal but have never come across an Atlantis set series, you would love that! Hired by Zoey Castille is such a fun contemporary set in New Orleans, the couple has great chemistry. If you are a historical reader, my favorite of last year was The Duke I Tempted by Scarlet Peckham, which felt very fresh and original to me.
A couple of books to look for when they come out later in the year are I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn, Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev and Puppy Love by Lucy Gilmore.
The Ripped Bodice can be found in LA, or on TheRippedBodiceLA.com. Bea and Leah also post on Instagram, and Twitter. Merchandise for Romance and the store can be found on the Merch Page.
The Ripped Bodice is proof that good can come from Kickstarter! Who are your diversity champions? What is your local bookshop and how do they bring something different to the table? Comment below and chat to us on social media!