“I was amazed by the number of science fiction titles written about, for and by Black women,” says Isis. “I wanted to build a community of readers to support these amazing literary works and authors.”
So Isis did what any bookworm would do, and started a book club. “One of my friends introduced me to authors like Nnedi Okorafor, Tomi Adeyemi and several others,” says Isis. “She and I started meeting monthly to discuss books and authors, including the ‘Inheritance Trilogy’ by N.K. Jemisin.”
“I felt so passionate about these books, where Black people were connected to a powerful future,” says Isis. By 2018, the book club evolved into something more. Thanks to collaborations with other book clubs, like SOULar Powered Book Club, Isis started Sistah Scifi — an online bookstore with a mission statement that includes lifting up literature written by Black women.
Though Sistah Scifi operates online only, Isis says the bookstore’s biggest source of sales used to be pop-up shops or science fiction-related events, making the store susceptible to the recent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We talked with Isis about what the last few months have looked like for the business and how she has never stopped championing Sistah Scifi’s mission.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, what was the immediate impact it had on your business?
In March, three of our four events were canceled or rescheduled and our revenue dropped 90%. We leaned into online sales and promotions, namely working on virtual author events, virtual book clubs, and driving exposure through Shoppe Black and Black Girl Nerds and press in April and May.
How did those efforts pay off?
Due to that early exposure, when lists of Black-owned bookstores started circulating in early June, Sistah Scifi was included on them. We were featured on lists from sites like Buzzfeed and syfy.com, saw a 20X increase in traffic and sold out of inventory in a matter of days. Sales have still remained high, and forming connections with our readers has been amazing. We love getting the love on Instagram when customers get their orders.
Can you tell us more about how you use your platforms to support and work with other organizations?
In late April, Sistah Scifi formed a marketing partnership with Black Girls Code (BGC). We donate $5 of the sale of each Sistah Scifi Author List shirt and Black Woman of the Future shirt that we sell through our store to the organization. Sistah Scifi’s goal is to sell enough shirts to donate $1000 each month. The students that BGC trained are the people that will build the future that I so passionately read about. It is core to the Sistah Scifi mission. In addition, we work with Self Love to Your Door, a grassroots organization that collects donations to purchase care packages for Black people from Black-owned businesses. Sistah Scifi donates a book for every three purchased by Self-Love. In the era of COVID-19 and of standing in defiance, creating rituals for self-love and self-care are critical. Sistah Scifi is so proud to be a part of this work.
What are you reading now?
I am reading “Pet” by Awaeke Emezi. “Pet” is set in the utopia of Lucille, and features Black and transgender characters. “Pet” is currently out of stock at Sistah Scifi, and demand for the title has spiked across the country, but you can sign up to get notifications when we are back in stock. I am also reading “One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” for our next virtual book club.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from running Sistah Scifi so far?
That Beyonce's grandma is right: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade....hehe.