West Virginia Book Company: telling stories of the Mountain State since 1995

By Matthew Young, RealWV

“I publish a handful of books a year, as well as distribute other publisher’s and author’s books – from people who just have one book, to Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the world. I’m guessing that currently there’s 350-or-so books that I carry, and they’re all about West Virginia.”

That’s what Charleston-resident Bill Clements told RealWV last week about the West Virginia Book Company, the business which he started back in 1995. Clements offers a wide array of “local interest books.” And with everything from West Virginia folklore and ghost stories, all the way to Mountain State history and children’s books, Clements prides himself on being a “one stop” shopping destination for local retailers, schools, and libraries. 

“One kind of nitpicky thing – just because someone wrote a book and they’re from West Virginia, I’m not necessarily interested,” Clements explained. “The book needs to be about West Virginia. I’m fairly picky about what I take, because there’s a lot of stuff out there that I just can’t recommend to my customers.”

Clements began publishing books in 1995, and quickly discovered that he also needed someone to sell them. 

“I wanted to make it easy for places like A New Chapter (Lewisburg-area bookstore) to pick up the phone and get a large part of their local section from one place, instead of dealing with individual authors and publishers,” Clements said. “I probably represent 50 publishers that they would have to go to by themselves individually.”

“It makes it easy for local stores to get local books,” Clements added. 

Throughout his years in business, Clements says he has published somewhere around 150 books. And while not all are still in print, many of them remain available both online and at retail locations throughout the state. 

“When I got started, I worked at a used bookstore here in Charleston,” Clements explained. “Way back then, there were very few books about West Virginia. People would come in and ask if we had a book on mountain biking in West Virginia, or a good traditional West Virginia cookbook, or a collection of ghost stories.”

“All these people who would come into our store and ask these questions, I’d have to tell them no – nothing exists,” Clements continued. “Eventually it dawned on me that maybe somebody should be doing that. So I found writers who were willing to work with me, and I started publishing the books. One thing led to another, and I’m still doing it.”

The West Virginia Book Company participates in the Vandalia Gathering at the State Capitol in Charleston, May 25. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

While Clements is currently his business’ sole employee, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had a long-term employee who worked with him for nearly two decades. And although the state’s number of independent booksellers has dwindled during the 30 years Clements has been in business, gift shops, tourist destinations, schools, and libraries remain a strong market for West Virginia-specific books. 

“The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame carries a children’s book about John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’ Clements said. “That sells really well, and it’s a perfect fit there. The West Virginia Mine Museum that opened up a couple years ago in Matewan – I have plenty of books on coal mining and labor history, and they carry those.”

“I love what I do,” Clements added. “It pays the bills.”

Although the majority of sales are made to retailers, Clements works with individual book seekers as well. The full catalog of books is available on the West Virginia Book Company’s website, wvbookco.com

“A lot of people also call,” Clements noted. “Maybe they have a question, or they just find it easier to talk to somebody. I have a lot of customers who don’t necessarily like to use the internet.”

“I’ve had an ad in Wonderful West Virginia Magazine for at least 20 years that lists a couple books,” Clements added. “People get the number, and any book they want about West Virginia, they call me. If I can help them find it, I will.”

The West Virginia Book Company is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be reached at 304-342-1848. For more information, visit their website, at wvbookco.com

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