Independent Bookseller Turns Author

Previously published in Shelf Awareness April 12, 2011

… [I]n the front windows at Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, Calif., a certain title has pride of place: Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money by Dr. Kate Levinson, who owns the store with her husband, Steve Costa. “My own mini celebration for the book is taking over the storefront windows,” she said. “As a bookseller I get to do that.”

Along with being a bookseller and serving on the board of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, Levinson holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice in Oakland and also leads Emotional Currency workshops that encourage women to explore and understand their emotional ties to money.

Inspired by the powerful stories of workshop participants and patients in her practice, as well as drawing on her own experiences with money, Levinson began drafting a book proposal more than a decade ago. “I wanted to encourage others to become curious about their own money stories–stories that we often even aren’t aware of ourselves, let alone ever share with one another because it’s taboo to talk about money,” she said.

Levinson worked on the proposal intermittently and then looked for an agent, a search that proved unsuccessful. At Costa’s suggestion they bought the bookstore in 2002, after which her time was taken up helping to run the retail business and conducting her practice. “I thought I was over and done with the fantasy of writing this book,” she said. But the idea “kept coming to mind, kept returning,” and eventually she revisited the proposal.

“Despite not thinking about or working on the proposal for the first six years of owning the store, it was actually because of the store that the book got published,” noted Levinson. “Something I did only because my husband wanted to led me to something I’d been wanting in my own life–even though I couldn’t see the connection at the time.”

What happened next was “synchronistic,” Levinson said. In 2008, during the inaugural Geography of Hope Conference–a nature- and conservation-focused literary and arts event co-founded by Costa–she met Carl Brandt, the late author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner’s literary agent. He offered to read the proposal, and Levinson ended up signing on with Brandt’s business partner, Gail Hochman.

When Levinson hit a stumbling block early in the process of writing Emotional Currency, she turned to an acquaintance for assistance: former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who has appeared at Point Reyes Books to promote his own works. “I needed reassurance from someone who I wasn’t close with, and who I respected, that this was a worthy topic,” Levinson explained. “He reassured me primarily by telling me a story about his mother and money. I went home and started writing the book.”

A bookstore customer, Frances McDormand–who Levinson met when the actress came looking for The Joy of Cooking–has endorsed Emotional Currency, saying, “Finally! A beautifully written, straightforward guide to understanding money. Reading Emotional Currency evoked many of my own emotional memories about money. The book underscores that, for women, money provides both opportunities and choice.”

Many Point Reyes Books customers have ordered Emotional Currency in advance. Some readers have taken Levinson’s workshop and have an idea of what’s in the book, while others are interested in learning more about the author’s professional life outside bookselling. “They know me as the person who sells them books and puts on author events, and I think they’re really curious,” said Levinson.

…[N]ow it’s Levinson’s turn to be in the spotlight. So how is it being on the other side of the publishing process? “Scary and exciting and wonderful,” she said.

At this year’s Winter Institute she met booksellers from other parts of the country who invited her to promote Emotional Currency at their stores. Her tour stops include Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, the King’s English in Salt Lake City (Thursday, May 19, 7 p.m.) and Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis (June 12).

“Bookselling, where people share their wisdom with you, is so different from the field of psychology, where everything is hidden and private and you pay for information,” said Levinson. “I’m always amazed at the generosity and camaraderie of independent booksellers. We really are a community–booksellers, sales reps, authors, publishers. It’s a lovely tribe to belong to.”

Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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