Interview with Bea and Leah Koch of The Ripped Bodice, Part Two
Last week we ran the first part of an interview with Bea and Leah Koch, the sisters who own the USA’s single romance only bookstore, The Ripped Bodice. Located in the Los Angeles area, the store is a magical place for romance readers. Here is the second part of the our conversation:
Janine: How so you decide which books to carry?
Bea: Oh. That’s a really hard question. Carefully.
Leah: Carefully, and there’s lots of moving pieces. And stuff is kind of always changing.
Bea: So, short answer is, when our website is up and running, there will be a form on the site where authors can submit their work or any agents, publishers, whoever that wants to submit something can submit something.
We initially chose it based on a lot of research and a lot of help from some very generous souls. We knew the general numbers we wanted to carry in each subgenre, we used that as a guide, we solicited recommendations on Twitter, which was super helpful, and then we just kind of jumped in and ordered everything.
Leah: And now, now it’s changing. Now we have the initial inventory so it’s — that’s like, probably the hardest part. Because we always want to be getting new books in, but we also want to carry things that people like, so we try to balance it.
We keep lists of the people that customers recommend, and people ask for on Twitter. We have authors who reach out about us carrying their books which we love, and like Bea said, we’re going to soon have a standardized way for that to happen because it happens a lot, and we just try to keep a balance between ordering new and exciting things and making sure that we have everything that we think people want to read and we just… It’s definitely not a science, it’s an art. And we do our best.
Janine: You do a great job.
Leah: Thank you.
Bea: Thank you. Some days it feels better than other days. Some days we’re like, “Nothing we thought we had in the store is here!” And other days it’s like, “Everything is here! Overflowing room!”
Leah: But we can also get books very fast. So we can always order anything anyone wants that we don’t have. And soon, once the website is up, we will have enormous selection on the website that we don’t have in the store because obviously, you don’t have to have a place to put the book. So we’ll have triple the amount of books on the website that we do in the store.
Janine: Great. What strategies do you use to excite potential customers about print books at a time when the digital format has a sizable share of the romance market?
Bea: That’s a really interesting question, because people come in here and almost universally talk about how much they love the bookstore.
Leah: I know. I feel like we don’t have to.
Bea: Yeah. We don’t.
Leah: We really don’t. We don’t spend that much time doing that. I mean, I don’t–
Bea: And we’re super welcoming to people who read on ereaders. We read on ereaders. That’s the way the world works. Getting up on your high horse about ereaders? Not our jam. Not our jam.
Leah: We love books. Obviously. We opened a bookstore. And we encourage you to pick up [print] books when it’s convenient for you.
Bea: Yeah. And sometimes it’s not convenient.
Leah: I don’t know. I think people read across more platforms than the publishers or media is willing to admit for some reason. We know tons of people who read on their kindles and buy books, and the two of them co-exist perfectly together.
Bea: We have people come in here with their kindles, and they’re like, comparing what they have.
Bea: They want to fill in gaps or they want to buy—you know, a lot of romance readers do that “My best shelf,” put all their favorites on a shelf.
Leah: Yeah. If they read something and they really liked it, then they buy another copy.
Bea: We get people in here buying books they’ve already read so many times.
Leah: All the time. Or they’re going to a convention and they want to get it signed.
Bea: Yes. People I’ll be checking out with, “Oh my gosh, I loved that book, have you read it yet?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, I’ve read it twenty times, this is my favorite.” Or they’re buying it for a friend or, I don’t know, I just, it happens all the time.
Leah: So far, we don’t seem to have much problem selling people print books.
Bea: I know. And it just—it just feels like we should be crowing about it. People love books still!
Bea: We don’t really have people coming in here like “Why would you do this! I’m an unhappy e reader!”
Leah: And if you’re going to do that, you probably won’t even come in. This NBC poll came out a couple of weeks ago that was 92% of college kids prefer to read physical books.
Bea: We had a mom in here with her daughter this week. The mom only read on kindle. The daughter was the one picking up hardcover books. She wanted hardback books. I don’t know, it’s really cool.
Janine: It is cool.
Janine: What is currently the bestselling book at The Ripped Bodice?
Leah: I can actually look and get you the real answer if you want.
Bea: Yeah, do it, I’m curious.
Leah: Okay, I can guess, but I’ll do it.
Bea: Wait, wait. Do you want to bet?
Bea: Okay. What do you think it is?
Leah: Well, we have to exclude anyone we had in here for a signing. That doesn’t count.
Leah: Because we sold thirty copies of a book that someone was here to sign. That doesn’t count.
Bea: I think it’s—I think it’s Discovery of Witches.
Leah: I think it’s Nuts. Okay, hold on.
Bea: We sold a lot of Nuts.
Janine: I haven’t heard of that one.
Bea: By Alice Clayton. Have you read it?
Janine: Not yet.
Bea: Do you like funny contemporaries?
Bea: That’s what it is. She’s laugh out loud funny. Hilarious. And it’s got a great cover. It just really draws people in. And just the name Nuts. People just giggle when they hear that.
Leah: [Looking up the sales on the computer] Okay, here we go. Okay, so it’s…. Oh my God, we’re both wrong!
Bea: What is it?
Leah: Oh, it’s such a good answer! So excluding the two books we’ve had in for signings, it’s Forbidden.
Bea [excited]: Forbidden! By Beverly Jenkins. Which I force everyone to buy!
Leah: It’s Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Second place is Discovery of Witches.
Bea: Which is so fitting, because I’m still so–
Janine: I think I bought Forbidden when I was here, actually.
Bea: Did you? Because we sell it to everybody.
Janine: I loved the cover. I haven’t read it yet, I need to read it.
Bea: Oh, it’s so good. I highly recommend eating while reading it, otherwise you’re going to be so hungry. She really describes the food.
Leah: That was so interesting. We hadn’t looked before.
Janine: This question comes from former Dear Author reviewer Angela (Lazaraspaste). Recently she committed to writing a paper on old gothics, only to find it difficult to locate the books, which are currently out of print. It’d be really nice to have a go to destination for out of print romances instead of having to hunt on random places on the internet, so she wanted me to ask whether you carry older, out of print books.
Bea: Okay, I’m going to make an offer to her and to the entire romance community.
Leah: Rare books expert Bea, go ahead.
Bea: I would love to look for your books. You call and tell me what you want and I’ll find it for you.
Leah: We don’t currently carry out of print stuff, but Bea is very knowledgeable about rare books and—
Bea: And I have, yes, I would love to do that for people. Happy to help in any way, shape or form find them. We would love to add used and rare books at some point.
Leah: We will. We will. Within the next year or two. It’s just–
Bea: We want to do everything in a metric way, we don’t want to take on too much and… not be able to perform.
Leah: Exactly. That sounded… very sexual.
Bea: Very sexual. [ Laughs] I apologize.
Janine: That’s okay.
Bea: [Cracking up] But you catch my drift.
Bea: But at some point we will have them in the store and people can come in and find them here. If anyone needs help finding a book, hit me up.
Bea: therippedbodicela at gmail dot com. Or call the store.
Janine: You’ve said before that you want to create a community here at the store. What kind of community events are you planning for the future?
Leah: Great question. Well, our aptly named Drop In Community Book Club starts in May. On May 5th is our first meeting. And yeah, we are really trying to create—we just get so many people, I would say for the most part they’re young women, who are looking to for people discuss the books they love with.
Lucky people have formed romance book clubs which is fantastic. We just really want to offer people the chance to make friends and chat with people who like the same things they do.
So, to that end, the Community Book Club is a non-membership book club. You just show up. There’s no—As many people as we can fit in the store can show up, and it’s very casual. And we only choose books that we can interact with the author somehow, so for our May book club we’re reading A Bollywood Affair and Sonali Dev is going to Skype with us to answer questions.
Janine: Oh nice!
Leah: And then our book for June? Yeah, June, is Eva Leigh’s new regency which is called Temptations of a Wallflower–is that the new one?
Bea: It’s in the Wicked Quills series. Yeah.
Leah: I think it’s called Temptations of a Wallflower. That might not be one that’s already out. Anyway, she’s local. She will be here in person in June. And we try to—we’re trying to create a very welcoming and relaxed environment. There’s lots of time to chat with people, then we talk with the author, then we have an informal discussion. So we’re really excited about that. It’s the first Thursday of every month.
And we have author signings which are great, and we’re very excited about that. But we’re also trying to do some more unusual, interesting events, so starting on April 21st, on the third Thursday of the month is Romantic Comedy: A Night of Stand Up Comedy, in the store.
Janine: Oh, nice!
Leah: It’s free of charge, there will be booze, and it’s organized by a great local LA comedian named Erin Judge, and she puts together a slate of different comedians every month, and—
Bea: Really great people.
Leah: Really great people, yeah. We were talking about who we’re getting for April, and–
Bea: I think it’s one of the writers for The Mindy Project.
Leah: It’s a lot of people who write for TV Shows, the late night–
Bea: We’re lucky to be in LA. We take advantage of that.
Leah: So Romantic Comedy, third Thursday of the month. And we’re always exploring new events, and you can find them on our website, when it’s new and fancy. Some of the things we’re talking about.
Bea: Any day now.
Another thing you can expect are writing workshops. Professional workshops. So editors, agents, people who are on the other side of the business will come and talk.
Leah: And wellness stuff — there’s a great woman who runs a wellness center. She doesn’t really have the space to do the kind of stuff she wants to do, so she’s going to come do workshops here on things like how to use essential oils in your home. Returning to your sexuality after having kids. Stuff for new moms.
Bea: She has a lot of great ideas.
Leah: So those will be happening soon.
Janine: Awesome. I know I keep saying that, but it really is.
Bea: We overuse that word a lot in here.
Janine: I think this you’ve already answered my next question. It was “What else can we look forward to from The Ripped Bodice in the future?”
Leah: It’s pretty much the answer. All of those events.
Bea: Used books, one day.
Leah: Yeah. I think growing our community. We’re excited to launch the online store because we hope to include more people in our community.
Bea: Yeah, I think figuring out ways to engage the community beyond Los Angeles. We can do a lot with the local community, but there are a lot of people in New York and around the country who are watching and want to be involved in some way so the more we can reach out to them, the better.
Janine: Name a book you love recommending to your customers.
Bea: I love recommending Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. Because a lot of people come in here and have preconceived notions about historicals. And I just think she does the most clever, wonderful thing in that book where she uses something that’s super familiar to a modern reader, like fandoms, and brings it into the Regency. And it’s so charming.
Leah: I don’t know. I guess, I mean, I really like [recommending] books on the theory, Beyond Heaving Bosoms [by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan] and Dangerous Book for Girls by Maya Rodale, because I think they don’t know that it exists and they’re excited to read them and find out more about romance.
Oh! Trade Me by Courtney Milan is my current rec for so many people. I mean, we get a lot of young women of color who come in and say, “Do you have any books where the characters are people of color?” And they really genuinely get excited when I show them that cover, because she shoots the cover specifically to feature the people that are in the books, and they say “Oh my God, there’s an Asian woman on the cover.” And they get very excited.
Bea: People also love the Sonali Dev covers. Gorgeous. They’re so beautiful and so evocative of exactly what… yeah.
Leah: Yeah, so that’s what I’m rec’ing right now.
Janine: Next question. Name a book you loved which your customers have recommended to you.
Leah: Somebody just… this is brand new. Somebody just came in talking about this book which is so cool. It’s not a romance but it’s cool. It’s the—Liz Goldwyn wrote a fictional sporting guide to Los Angeles from 1897, which is a guide to the brothels of Los Angeles.
Bea: It’s fictional.
Leah: But it’s fictional. It’s super cool. It’s, like, about the sex industry in the late 1800s.
Janine: [Giggles] That is the coolest thing.
Leah: It’s really cool and someone told me about that. We order books that people tell us about—
Bea: Every single day.
Leah: All the time.
Bea: I think my favorite is the one that I just started. Shades of Milk and Honey.
Leah: Oh, yeah.
Bea: Mary Kowal.
Leah: Mary Robinette Kowal.
Bea: It’s like this magical Regency series, and it’s just so beautiful. And really… I’m trying to pull myself away from my beloved regencies and read other things and this is the perfect way to get into paranormal. I love that like that I can get into paranormal.
Leah: Another one is Bec McMaster’s. We don’t have… we’re working on our steampunk section, and somebody—we ordered that book for somebody because they love steampunk, and we decided to carry the whole series because it looks great.
Bea: Yeah. We’re growing and looking for recommendations in steampunk and historical fantasy in general, and Medieval and Renaissance romance.
Leah: Somebody just brought us some stuff for that. Yeah, we’re always trying to grow–
Janine: Have you read Meljean Brook’s…
Leah: Yeah. Oh yeah. Love. Have it all.
Bea: Very popular. A lot of people come in for that.
Janine: I’ll have to think about medieval and…
Leah: It’s specific. And we’re always trying to grow the really niche sections.
Janine: I think that most of the medieval nowadays are Scottish, is that right?
Bea: Yes. We have a big highlander section, which we love as well.
Janine: It’s hard to find the medievals that aren’t.
And I think the last question I have is, “Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like Dear Author’s readers to know?”
Leah: I guess, I mean, we basically say some version of the same thing every time, which is just that… We are excited to share romance with people and of course most of your readers are very familiar with it. We love new readers, it’s wonderful getting people into the genre; however, it is so great when people who know a lot about romance can come in and I love solving people’s really niche problems and questions.
The more specific you can be about your taste, the better we can help you to find a book, so I love people who know exactly what kind of book they like, what they don’t like, and we can find them something that they haven’t read yet.
Bea: And something that Dear Author’s readers who are not in Los Angeles could do is, you can get that same recommendation over the phone. We have people who call us… who have called multiple times now.
Leah: You can call and say “This is what I like, this is what I’m looking for, what can you recommend?” We are happy to provide that, even if you don’t live in LA.