Under the dieselbooks imprint, John Evans and Alison Reid published Barry Gifford’s Read 'Em and Weep: My Favorite Novels in 2004. When Gifford approached the store about publishing the book, John and Alison hadn’t published any books under the imprint. After reading Gifford’s book, John loved the book and the idea of publishing it through the store.
John approached one of the managers at the time, Hannah Cox, about designing the book for Gifford and she was eager to get started on this new endeavor for DIESEL. Hannah studied Book Arts at Mills College and won a scholarship to attend Camberwell in Britain for book making. Currently, DIESEL doesn’t have any plans to publish any books under the imprint in the future, but that it not to say it is out of the question. “I never say never,” John said.
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“It was either a bookstore or a bed and breakfast in Portugal,” said John Evans, one of the owners of DIESEL. Luckily for their customers and co-workers, John Evans and Alison Reid decided on opening the original Oakland, CA location in 1989 (the bookstore now has two more locations in Malibu and Brentwood). But DIESEL doesn’t have any plans to slow down anytime soon. Next spring, John and Alison are opening their fourth store in Larkspur, CA in the building where A Clean Well-Lighted Place, a beloved independent bookstore, closed more than ten years ago. Recently, Alison and John set up a booth at the Marin Country Mart where they were greeted by excitement from visitors about the return of an independent bookstore in the community.
With three stores and a fourth one opening next spring, it is clear that John Evans, Alison Reid, and their devoted co-workers have this bookselling business down to a science. Since the start of their store, John and Alison have ensured that their staff gets comprehensive knowledge of the book-selling industry with everything from history to publisher relations to the process of distribution. “It is about the equality between publishers, authors, editors, booksellers, and readers. They are all equally passionate about the same thing. Booksellers want to be included,” John stated.
DIESEL also prides itself on its circulating manager structure, extending beyond its role as a bookstore and becoming a school for its employees, and in turn readers. “It is an apprenticeship. You learn all the aspects of what it means to be a bookseller and that includes managing the bookstore. Ideally you end up with a staff of people that have all been managers before. They have done all of the aspects of working at a bookstore so that they are master booksellers,” John told me. “As a result, whenever anyone walks in they are meeting someone with an incredible skill set which is the opposite of how most business run.”
The booksellers are also responsible for the collages around the store and the interesting and quirky categories for displays, such as Books by Bald Men. “The more passionate you are about book-selling the more you notice the titles” revealed John. One season, there were two books that came out called Cloud Atlas, so DIESEL did the only logical thing and created a display with books that all had ‘cloud’ or ‘atlas’ in their title. It’s just one simple way DIESEL adds their unique touch to the book-selling business.
It is evident that part of DIESEL’s success is due to John and Alison’s focus on garnering strong relationships between their bookstore and the publishing community. At last year’s Book Expo America, John was a moderator for the Editor’s Buzz Panel. “It’s great to be able to tell my co-workers and the readers some of the behind-the-scene stories that help them to appreciate the book more,” John said. “It rounds out my understanding for how books are chosen and how books are made. It is great to speak to editors about that because they are the quietest part of the whole publishing business. You don’t get to hear enough from editors.”
The knowledge that John, Alison, and their co-workers can provide to customers about the processes completed by the editor, author, and bookseller give a deeper meaning to reading. This unique experience is one that DIESEL offers to their young customers. At their Malibu location, several local schools came to their store to talk to author Walter Dean Myers. “He answered their questions like how much money he made a year, why he chose to be a writer, how does it work as a job and why is he so excited about. It was like they saw the bookstore for the first time. They experienced the bookstore like it was a museum and playground all at once,” stated John.
In the end, DIESEL’s specialty is providing a selection of great books to their readers with their catchy slogan, “If you bought an ugly book, you didn’t buy it at DIESEL.” “People that go to independent bookstores don’t want to have at look at things they are not interested in. It has to do with knowing what your community of readers is interested in,” John concluded.
To keep updated on all the exciting future plans for DIESEL, check out their website: www.dieselbookstore.com.
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Nicolette Amstutz is a writer for Independent Publisher. She is currently studying English and Communications at the University of Michigan. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at namstutz (at) umich.edu