Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Texas Independent Bookstores are my Rockstars: Talking With Murder By The Book plus a contest!

The back stacks at Murder by the Book

Today I’m starting a series about my favorite Texas indie bookstores! You’ll not only get to read about these special stores, but you’ll also get the chance to win a free pre-order copy of my upcoming THE A WORD  AND a free pre-order pb of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE with the brand new retooled cover! Thanks to my amazing publisher, Soho Press for sponsoring! And MBTB for shipping! (giveaway is at end of this post)

So you can learn about the history and people behind Texas’s independent bookstores AND one of you will win a free, autographed book. I say that’s a good deal—definitely better than Government shutdown and the looming catastrophe of default, wouldn’t you? Yup.

And why am I doing this? Because indie book stores have helped me build my career. Yes, the chains- B&N and the late, great Borders—have done that, too. But as I’ve written, the indies have taken greater chances on setting up events and ordering and keeping my books in stock and have supported me by handselling my books and getting the word out. When I have big announcements, like my recent FINDING PARIS sale to Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, it’s those booksellers who get the news whispered to them early. Those booksellers who grin from ear to ear keeping my secrets and knowing that the support they gave has been for good reason! And I love them even more for that.

The Murder by the Book Staff
Up today is Houston’s Murder by the Book, located on the edge of Rice Village/West University and owned by McKenna Jordan. They specialize, as their name obviously hints, in mysteries and thrillers, but they also have a healthy YA collection and a grand generosity to local authors! Although I’ve been in and out of the store over the years, in the past year or so, I’ve gotten to know them better after an introduction through wonderful blogger/book lover/ Blue Willow Bookshop social media guru Maria Cari Soto. And thus a relationship with another wonderful indie and its people was born!

I sat down – laptop to laptop—with my friend John Kwiatkowski, their publicity manager since 2010 and also a kickass human, to chat about the store and its history and its influence on authors and how they are navigating and thriving under all the many swift shifts in the publishing world. Here’s what John had to say:
Joy: Tell us the short version of the Murder by the Book story—history of how this amazing bookstore came to be and how you came to own and run it. How did the store get its name? Has it always specialized in mysteries/thrillers?

JK: Martha Farrington was the original owner of MBTB.  She opened the store in 1980 because we wanted a bookstore where she could find the mysteries that she loved.  We've been a mystery bookstore since day one.  There are many books with the title, but our store is named after the Rex Stout title, Murder By The Book.  McKenna Jordan bought the store in 2009 after being the manager for many years. 

Joy: What’s a typical day for the booksellers at Murder by the Book? For management?

JK: One thing a typical day doesn't include is sitting around reading!  Our day is a mix of checking in and receiving new books, creating displays for upcoming events, and helping customers.  The helping customers part is the best part of the day.  We love suggesting new titles and helping them find new authors.  We also try to call customers when we know a new title by a favorite authors comes out.  Usually around 5 in the afternoon we start getting set up for that evening's author event.

Joy: What’s the process involved in getting all those wonderful authors to visit the store? Any crazy author visit stories you can share? Or just warm and fuzzy stories?

JK: There are several ways we get authors to visit.  Most of our events are set up by submitting proposals to the publisher, letting them know how we would market an event, how many people we think will show up, and how many books we think we'll sell.  Publishers will also get in touch with us to see if we're interested in hosting an author.   Sometimes we'll invite an author directly as well.  My favorite thing lately has been setting up fun pairings of authors for joint events.

A few weeks ago we had Louise Penny in the store for her new release.  Earlier in the day she found out that her book was going to debut at #1 on the New York Times list.  It was really special getting to celebrate that evening with her here in the bookstore.   I'm afraid I don't have any crazy author stories to share.  99% of the authors that come through the store are really wonderful people. 

Joy:  We read so much about the ‘death of print,’ but many indie book stores such as yours are thriving. Can you talk about this and about how you see the role of bookstores, especially but not limited to indies, in today’s publishing world?

JK: Since the eBook boom started, we've said that at some point the sales were going to even out.  People were going to find a balance between eBooks and print books.  It looks like that's really starting to happen now.   I don't think our role has changed much.  We still keep doing what we love to do, and that's helping people connect with their favorite authors and discover new ones. 

So much of reading is an experience, and our store is an extension of that.  Bookstores give you a place to discuss your favorite books and discover new ones.  A lot of our business is event driven now.  Author visits are what really bring people in, and give us a chance to show off our love of books.   Bookstores have to have a place in the publishing world.  Each bookstore has its own personality, and its own selection of books.  That variety helps give us so many diverse options for what to read.   Looking for something new to read online can be overwhelming.  Each book that we have in the store has been hand selected to sit on our shelves. 

Joy: What are you all reading now? Are you noticing any trends? Thoughts on what you’re seeing?

JK; I'm reading United We Spy by Ally Carter.  It's the final book in the Gallagher Girls series, and I can't wait to see how she wraps everything up.  McKenna just finished Never Go Back, the new Jack Reacher book by Lee Child.   Dean just finished the new Alan Bradley book that's coming out next year and loved it. 

As far as trends, one that we see and that we're excited about it is publishers taking chances on new authors and releasing titles as paperback originals.  Paperbacks are the easiest way to get someone to try a new author.

Joy:  As booksellers, what advice do you have for new authors?  How about advice for readers/customers? 

JK:  For to authors: Make friends with other writers.  The writing community is a great one to be a part of, and in my experience they're so supportive of each other. 

My advice for customers/readers is to not be afraid to read outside of your comfort zone.  I've spent some time this year reading some epic fantasy books.  I didn't necessarily love the books, but I loved the challenge of reading a new genre with its own set of rules.  You don't have to read something WAY out of your comfort zone.  Just stretch it a little. 

My advice for new authors is to make friends with your local booksellers.  If you're lucky enough to have an i

Joy:  And a brief lightning round:
a.     Coffee or tea?  Tea
b.     Wine or whiskey? Whiskey
c.      Book for the deserted island?
d.     Salty or sweet? Sweet
e.     Memorable line from a book? “The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming–an angry concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell.” - The first line of Valley of the Dolls. 
f.      When you’re not working or reading, we could find you taking in a musical or a concert.

And here’s a little about the MBTB Staff Members:

Dean James: Our former store manager, Dean now works full-time at the Texas Medical Center Library.  As Miranda James he is the New York Times Bestselling Cat in the Stacks mysteries.

McKenna Jordan (Owner): McKenna has her Bachelor's Degree in English and a Master's in Violin Performance from University of Houston. She's owned Murder By The Book since January 2009.

Brenda Jordan: Brenda's "Claim to Fame" is she is McKenna's mother.

John Kwiatkowski: In previous career incarnations, John has sold model and toy trains, and been a barista.  Prior to joining the Murder By The Book team he managed one of the local chain bookstores.

Sally Woods: Sally has been in the bookselling biz for almost 20 years.  She comes to MBTB via various Houston indie bookstores.  She did have a life prior to bookstores, but that seems long ago.

Thanks John, for speaking for McKenna Jordan and the rest of the MBTB gang!

And now for the giveaway:

Want to win a free pre-ordered copy of next year's SWEET DEAD LIFE sequel, THE A-WORD (Soho Press) AND a free pre-ordered copy of February's paperback edition of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE with its boot-tastic new cover? Both of them signed by me? Then comment here on this blog post and let me know what YOU love about indie bookstores!

CONTEST WILL RUN THROUGH THIS SATURDAY, October 12th, and I'll announce the winner of the two books on Monday, to be sent to you from Murder by the Book! (thanks again to Soho Press for sponsoring the prizes!)

Want to know more about Murder by the Book? Then visit them at their website:


Maria Cari S. said...

I love this post!!!!

Kari said...

I love my local bookstore Changing Hands because it has lots of amazing authors for signings all the time and they sell signed and used copies of books XD great contest XD

Jim Schmidt said...

Love this post and looooove MBTB...have been there to see Lyndsay Faye (twice)...Deborah Harkness...Alex Grecian...can't wait to the poisons and bottles behind the counter

Julie S said...

I love my local indies - MBTB, KBB, and BlueWillow. Awesome stores, fun events, and great owners. The only author events I've been to have been put on by these indie book stores.

Kim Hennessey said...

I love book stores because I love books!!! I love the feel of books. I love the smell of books. Book stores are few and far between anymore. I'll be so sad when they're gone. I know it's going to happen eventually. Hopefully not in my lifetime. Oh, and I love YOUR books!!!!

cwexy said...

Murder By The Book is a great indie book store - and they do events right! My only regret is that Houston is far away from my own sub-rural home.