Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Murder by the Book

Last Saturday I did a signing at Murder by the Book, a wonderful little mystery bookstore in Houston, Texas.

I suspect the publishing industry would be in much better shape if we still had more bookstores like Murder by the Book. These people know books, they know authors, and they know their customers. "Hand selling" is something that used to go on in bookstores all the time--a familiar customer walks in the door, the book dealer says, "I just got in a book that you're going to love!" and puts the new book into the reader's hands. This is how new authors find readers--by word of mouth. And no one is better at generating positive word of mouth than a bookseller.

But with the slow death of independent bookstores, hand selling is disappearing fast. The clerks at Barnes and Noble tend to turn over constantly. Many of them don't read themselves, and they certainly don't take the time to learn the reading tastes of their customers. So the disappearance of the independent bookstores is one more factor contributing to the disappearance of midlist authors and the dominance of the franchised blockbuster.

But Murder by the Book is doing just great. They've carved out a niche selling autographed books, so that about a third of their business comes from mail orders for signed releases. I was amazed at how many people turned out to listen to me talk and have their books signed. People actually had numbers. You know, like at a Sarah Palin booksigning (only there were about 30 people there rather than 2,000). Frankly, I was stunned to realize that I had so many devoted readers in the Houston area. This was my second signing at Murder by the Book, and I fully intend to go back again.

Photos by Marc Brubaker--I forgot to take pictures myself


liz fenwick said...

Sounds just like my type of book store. When we lived in Houston there was a wonderful children's one in a nearby mall that we loved....In Fulham our favourite was one called Nomad...simply brilliant.

So leased it was a successful signing.


Charles Gramlich said...

so good to hear. It is great to have such stores. It seems New Orleans right now isn't big enough to support such but we can always hope, and support the Tale of Two Sisters.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great store. I wish we had one here in the 'burbs of Seattle, as I would love it if you come out here. (I'm like a broken record, I know). Sabena

RevMelinda said...

We have a Murder By the Book store here in Portland Oregon, too ( Of course, we have the megalith but marvelous Powell's, too. Perhaps even more reasons for you to come to the Pacific Northwest, oh please?

Pax Deux said...

Sounds like a great experience, and a great store. After reading the other posts, I am assuming they are a small chain? I will look them up. There are a couple of small booksellers around here, but regretfully, they are a bit, should I say, snobby? Great for finding non-fiction, though.

Susan/DC said...

Washington DC has Politics & Prose. It has author talks almost every day (and two a day on weekends), many of which are carried on BookTV. I love it and they are masters at handselling. What I'm not so fond of is that they look down on Romance. What this means is that they carry C.S. Harris but would not deign to carry Candace Proctor. So very narrowminded of them, as all they need to do is do the same due diligence on romance novels as they do on all other genres.

cs harris said...

Liz, it's a dangerous place to browse.

Charles, Garden District is a good independent bookstore, although less so for genre fiction.

Sabena, perhaps the demise of Borders will allow some new independents to spring up.

RevMelinda, I would love to make a trip back to the Pacific Northwest. I lived in Medford for 5 years as a child.

Pax Deux, I don't think they're a chain. It just looks like other indie stores in Portland and Colorado just have the same name. And you're right, too many indie stores are a bit rarefied in their image, which may be one of the things that have hurt them over the past few decades.

Susan, several local bookstores that now have signings for C.S. Harris never even acknowledged Candice Proctor's existence. But Politics and Prose sounds like a fantastic store (despite their prejudices).

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