Tag Archives: once upon a crime

Once Upon a Crime (Bookstore Spotlight by Carl Brookins)

Just down the street from Nicollet Avenue on Sixth Street, is an unremarkable three-story brick building of apartments. Its back door faces a poorly lit, unevenly paved alley, with a couple of narrow parking spaces. The basement houses two retail establishments with neon advertising in the half-windows. Over one flight of stone steps is a dark canopy covering steps that lead down half-a flight to a room filled with floor to ceiling shelves. The wooden shelves are crowded with books.

Nearly all of the 60,000+ books are works of crime fiction. This is the home of Once Upon A Crime, Minneapolis’s award winning premier mystery book store. It has been so for twenty-four years. Present owners are Gary Shulz and Pat Frovarp, two of the most knowledgeable people in the field. If you need a specific book, chances are they’ll have it. If they don’t have it they can usually get it for you.

If you’re looking for something in the field to read, Pat or Gary will ask you some leading questions and promptly point you to authors/books that are almost guaranteed to fill your needs.

I asked why they would invest in a bookstore of all things and Gary said he needed a change after 30 years and Pat suggested that the former owner, Steve Stilwell was ready to retire. The store filled an important need, therefore should be rescued. So, for nine blissful (their word, not mine) years P & G have done just that, admirably filling the mission and meanwhile, picking up a few important awards along the way.

The mission of Once Upon a Crime, along with breaking even financially, is to promote local mystery writers and to maintain as comprehensive a backlist as humanly possible. Along the way they love exposing great midlist authors that readers might miss.

Awards? Yes, they’ve managed to collect a few, in 2009 CrimeSpree Magazine’s favorite bookstore award and “Best Hole in the Wall,” from Metro Magazine. Then just this year, Mystery Writers of America awarded Once Upon a Crime a Raven.

Among the many crime fiction writers who have commented:

Author PETER MAY said: “Pat and Gary are two of the nicest and most knowledgeable folk on the subject of mysteries that you are ever likely to meet!

Along the way, Pat and Gary have experienced some interesting events. They got married at the store a few years ago, and more recently acquired Shamus, a three-year old Store Dog.

Author WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER said: “I think OUAC is a really good bookstore because they usually know what I want to read even before I walk into the store. And even if they aren’t exactly on target, by the time I walk out, I’m always happy with what they’ve convinced me I should have wanted when I came in.”

Next year the store will celebrate 25 years in business and the tenth anniversary of WRITE OF SPRING, a massive annual one-day gathering of local authors, readers and assorted hangers-on. WRITE OF SPRING is a terrific event and lots of fun besides. An anthology of short crime fiction will debut at about the time of the tenth. The stories are all written by past attendees with profits from sale of the anthology to be donated to local Memorial Blood Centers.

Author ELLEN HART said: “All indie bookstores have a specific character. OUAC is no different. It’s cozy, funky in a Minnesota kind of way, comfortable, and always welcoming. It’s not only a good bookstore, it’s a great one because the people who run it (Pat & Gary) love books and share that passion with their customers.”

Although, because Pat was already working there and Gary was a frequent customer, the store lost two good customers when they bought the place, their dedication, hard work, and expertise has made the store a warm and welcoming place for authors and readers alike.

Along with WOS, of course, Pat and Gary host many book events for visiting and local authors. The schedule can be found at their website, http://www.onceuponacrimebooks.com/.

Their phone number is 612-870-3785, and their email address is onceuponacrime@earthlink.net. Next time you are up our way, drop by and join the thousands who find warm and welcoming hosts behind that door under the canopy.

Carl Brookins:

Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Brookins was a faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He has reviewed mystery fiction for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and for Mystery Scene Magazine. His reviews appear on his own blog and on several other Crime Fiction blogs and Internet sites. Brookins is an avid sailor and has sailed in many locations across the world. He is a member of Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave. He writes the sailing series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney,(Devils Island)  the Sean Sean private investigator detective series,(The Case of the Great Train Robbery), and the Jack Marston academic series. (Reunion) Several short stories published by Echelon Press are available for download.



Who Wants to Sell Books?

Today’s topic was a very tough choice for me. I had to decide if I wanted to jump on the Amazon incest wagon, or if I wanted to discuss something that really mattered. I chose the latter. Let me begin by stating my usual disclaimer when talking about independent bookstores. I love them independently. I do not love them all, nor do I respect them all.

I would like to congratulate Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, IL and Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, MN for their outstanding achievements and recognition by Mystery Writers of America with their Raven Award. These stores are by far exceptional and are the examples that all bookstores should aspire to emulate. Kudos!

However, not all do. It was brought to my attention by one of my authors this week that they are unable to work with one (or more) of their local independent bookstores because…wait for it…they are associated with Amazon.com! My blood boils just to think about it.

I have looked at every avenue I could, and even had two bookstores go into their systems to check and the only connection we can find is that we sell the book at Amazon.com. Really? A bookstore won’t sell a book that is being sold by Amazon.com? Is this good business?

Little do they know that this particular author is one of our best-selling authors. The author sells 30-40 copies at most events and actually promotes the book, sending people to the stores that do stock it. These other stores don’t seem to be threatened by Amazon.com. Nor do they use Amazon.com as a weak crutch for not dealing with independently published authors.

Click Cover to Buy Now!

Okay, I have to ask this. Do these small books stores who are NOT carrying our books really think that we are going to stop doing business with Amazon.com on the off chance that one of them MIGHT decide to carry ONE of our books? How can they possibly think this makes sense?

How can they possibly justify whining that Amazon.com is STEALING their business when they REFUSE to carry books that actually sell? Amzon.com is NOT stealing their business, those bookstores are simply not practicing good business. When you have a demand and someone is willing to supply you products to meet those demands, if you say no you have no one to blame except yourself for the loss of sales. Amazon.com is offering a service that those stores are NOT. So stop whining because you can’t pay your bills.

And what about their readers? Don’t they owe it to their readers to keep them FULLY abreast of what is avaialble on the market? Readers deserve to see what’s new and glorious in the book world and some of the brightest stars shine from independent publishers.

I would like to thank a few of the stores who do work with us and who enjoy the benefits of selling our books.

The Mystery Bookstore: Los Angeles, CA (featuring LINCOLN’S HAND by Joel Fox at #9 on their 2010 Best Seller list.)

Once Upon a Crime: Minneapolis, MN (recipient of the MWA Raven Award 2010)

Centuries and Sleuths: Forest Park, IL (recipient of MWA Raven Award 2010, featuring THREE STRIKES YOU’RE DEAD by Robert Goldsborough on their 2010 3rd Quarter Best Seller list, THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER by Luisa Buehler and A PRESIDENT IN PERIL by Robert Goldsborough on their 2009 Best Seller list, and THREE STRIKES YOU’RE DEAD by Robert Goldsborough and CASH & CARRY by Tim Broderick)

The Mysterious Galaxy: San Diego, CA (featuring MADNESS AND MURDER by Jenny Hilborne on their Best Seller list)

Independents at what cost?

Who loves Independent bookstores? I’d really like for you to take a moment after you read this note and tell the rest of what the name of your favorite Independent bookstore is and why. I’d also like you to tell us where that store is. They deserve to recognized! But before you do that, I want to share my current thoughts with you. This comes on the heels of a week of phone calls, e-mails, and one snail mail letter regarding Independent bookstores. 

Okay, I’m going to speak freely and hope not to get kicked out of the industry, but I have to ask. 

How are the Independent stores going to survive if many of them have taken on the attitudes of the superchains? We, authors and publishers, are constantly driving ourselves insane with ways to market, many times focusing on marketing to the Independent stores with the sole purpose of supporting them as Independents. 

What the heck for? 

I don’t direct this at all Independent stores, just the ones who feel the need to: 

1. Forgo good customer service.

2. Refuse to do author events.

3. Treat most authors like second hand muck.

4. Refuse to think outside the box when picking books to sell. 

These are just a few of the things my authors and I Have faced over the last two weeks with more than a dozen Independent stores in 4 different states. 

When we call to talk to them, they are rude. We leave messages, they never return calls. We drop by with promo materials they hold them like they are infested with bacteria. (One Independent store actually dropped the materials into trashcan as author was leaving store–gosh how good that author must have felt seeing that.) 

It seems to be becoming common practice to charge authors to do events? They call it co-op, but it is far worse. Two stores this week, claimed they only work with Self-published authors if–I explained we are an Independent publisher, they insist this is pretty much the same as self-publishing-um, side note: why are we consider self-pubbed (and not in a good way) because we are Independent, and yet they are Independent and are convinced they deserve to be worshipped and adored. Back to point: we pay a certain amount to be on the shelf, on consignment, they won’t order through distribution channels, we pay a higher price to be in store and mentioned in newsletter, and another twice as high price for an event. PLUS we have to give them 50% discount. Um, and this wasn’t just one store it was two in as many days. Two different states. 

When did it become okay for Independent stores to look down upon other Independent businesses with total disdain. I had one author go back to a store several times. She asked who the owner was, was given a name and told she wasn’t in. Went back a few days later, asked for owner, was told by “customer service rep” wearing name badge with the same name as the owner that the owner was not in. Okay, it could have been the same name different person, but what are the chances, really? 

Augie Aleksy, World's Greatest Bookseller!

And what happens to Independent stores when they refuse to bring in anything but the bestsellers and everyone already has all the best sellers? The best seller list has been known to keep the same books on it for weeks at a time. 

Doesn’t this cut into potential sales when customers buy them up the first week? What do they buy the second week? 

There are authors out there who are marketing their butts off to readers and doing everything right, but still can’t sell books because they want to support their Independent stores but the Independent stores won’t carry the books the readers want. Those same Independent stores get furious when we Independent pubs and authors promote the likes of Amazon. It is traitorous, they tell us and they aren’t going to support us if we do that. Problem is we do that because they won’t support us. 

I ask again, why is it demanded that we support a business that refuses to support us? 

And the poor readers. I often visit bookstores when I travel. I rarely tell anyone I am a publisher, I am usually visiting to buy books or just enjoy the feel of a cozy bookstore. The last ten Independent bookstores I have been in were dreadful. I was never greeted, not once in any of the ten stores. I asked for help in a couple and while the responses were varied, only ONE bookseller was willing to help me, and that wasn’t until after she finished talking to her daughter about her grandson’s upcoming birthday party—15 minutes. Glutton that I am, stayed just to see how long it would take. 

Several of the stores did not have the books I was looking for and one refused to even try to get it because it was not from a real publisher. Really? 

Once Upon A Crime, Minneapolis, MN

I LOVE Independent bookstores. I used to own one, and I miss it dreadfully. But I can say with pride that even the nastiest most disgusting and rude customers were treated with respect and my staff and I did everything in our power to ensure they were satisfied, we were even nice to the creepy guy who sat in the back corner of the store reading the romance novels and making scary moaning noises. Why? Because he was a customer and after his little sit downs, he always bought books. 

I beg of you Independent booksellers out there, don’t put yourselves up on pedestals and think you are better than everyone else and should be treated special. Give us the good customer service our loyalty and money earns us and let US put you up on the pedestals. If you treat us well, we will adore you. 

Now, because I ask you to do it, I will tell you my favorite Independent bookstores. 

First and foremost is Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, IL. If you’ve never met Augie Aleksy, you should make the trip. He is a delight and he loves his customers. I honestly think he is my favorite bookseller ever. 

I also give huge kudos to the folks over at Olde Towne Books & Tea in Oswego, IL. These people are just plain cool. 

Another store in Woodstock, IL that earns my praise is Read Between the Lynes, I’ve never been there, but have worked them repeatedly and they are nice as pie. 

Ooh, and the Pat and her gang at Once Upon a Crime in Minnesota. Now, those are some nice folks who really know how to treat their customers. 

Mr. Shaw who owns Books Plus in Amelia Island, FL is a doll and his store caters to their customers. 

There are plenty more, but I would like to know who YOUR favorite stores are and why. Don’t they deserve your praise?