What makes one small bookstore stand out from another in my estimation? Several things come to mind and are best explained in the context of a specific example.
The Seattle Mystery Bookshop is a venue I cherish highly. The shop is located underneath the southwest corner of Second and Cherry in historic Pioneer Square. They specialize in mysteries – a genre I love to collect. Many of their customers come to them for the latest mysteries, but their shelves also include collectible copies of older books, from good reading copies of out of print material to truly rare volumes. Their inventory of new material is consistently varied and of far greater depth and scope than can be found on the shelves of your local chain bookstore; their used inventory is extensive, eclectic, and dependent upon whatever serendipitously comes their way. You can always be certain to find something of interest in the new inventory; you can never know what you might find among their used books. This blend of certainty spiced with serendipity makes it the perfect venue for a collector of mysteries.
Here is what the Seattle Mystery Bookshop has that cannot be found anywhere else in the greater Seattle region:
• Focus – While they can order any book in any genre you like, their passion is for mysteries. They focus specifically on the genre and know the publishers and authors active in the genre better than anyone else in the region. • Knowledgeable, Friendly Staff – Their staff knows their subject matter well, and different staff members have specialized knowledge of various sub-genres. It isn’t unusual to find yourself dealing with one staff member who eventually invites another into your discussion because of the other’s greater depth of knowledge as to a particular sub-genre. Each member of the staff reads mysteries for personal pleasure, so their involvement with their inventory is personal and passionate. • Extensive Inventory – As noted, they have an entire store – 1500 square feet – devoted to mysteries. I don’t know of another bookstore in the city with this much space devoted to new and used books within a single subject area. Their books are arranged alphabetically by author, so finding books is easy. If you are looking for new authors, the staff will point you toward possibilities based upon your likes and dislikes. And they won’t press you to buy something you don’t like the looks of; rather, they will offer two or three suggestions for you to explore, and offer their own take on what each suggestion brings to the table. • Depth of Inventory – Not only does the store have the latest volume by your favorite author, but they most likely will have several of his or her earlier volumes as well. So when you first discover an author new and dear to you, you will often find his or her earlier material readily at hand in their inventory. • Collectibles – For a crazed bibliophile such as myself, the availability of rare books – first editions, limited editions, and the like – in a store carrying the most current inventory is a true bonus. Within this inventory lies the serendipity I spoke of, for these items come along only when their previous owners decide to sell. The store often has new additions to their collectibles inventory, so each trip in to pick up a current new book can be spiced with a romp through the rarities. I bought my first Raymond Chandler first edition from the store and well remember the day I walked back to my office carrying it tightly under one arm while I savored the pleasures it promised. • Quality of Collectibles – You will never find a collectible book in their inventory which is falling apart or lacking pages. The condition of older books will, of course, vary in accordance with how well they were treated by the previous owners, but the staff does not purchase used books which are in poor condition. And a visit to their store will not leave you disheveled or dirty, because they keep things neat and clean – ok, maybe some dust here and there. • Ordering – What they don’t have, they will find or order. They can always order current material which they don’t presently have in stock, and you can leave a list of older titles you are searching for with them and they will keep an eye out for them. If you aren’t a collector of first editions and are simply searching for a good reading copy of a particular older title, they are well versed in which publishers republish older authors and can quickly identify what is currently in print. • Quarterly Newsletter – They publish a quarterly newsletter of upcoming publications that frequently extends to five or more pages and covers both large publishers and small presses. This is very helpful to anyone who loves mysteries. In my own case, I read each new issue of the newsletter carefully and email them a list of upcoming titles I want to purchase, and whenever I visit the already published books on my list are waiting for me – leaving me time to look through their remaining inventory. • Author Signings – They offer frequent author signings by both well-known and relatively unknown authors. Author signings are published in advance in the newszine, and, on occasion, by email. Where else could I have shaken the hand of Ellis Peters, John Straley, Jayne Anne Krentz, Dana Stabenow, or Ian Rankin and his wife? Where else could I have shown an upside down bound volume of White Jazz to James Ellroy and have him fuss with it, only to laugh when I revealed the mis-binding – and to have him sign that volume and a correctly bound version with the hand written advice to read one upside down and the other right side up? Where else could I have been privileged to have Ian Rankin teach me the correct pronunciation of the Gaelic toast ‘sláinte’? Authors like the store because the staff is friendly and makes their appearances easy and efficient, and frequently return when they could be spending their time in a large chain store.
So why patronize bookstores like The Seattle Mystery Bookshop if price is one of your goals? While it is true that you will pay the full list price for the books you buy there, your purchase will come not only with the benefits I’ve listed above, but also with the ability to inspect, handle, and hold each book you buy before you pay for it. If, like me, you are a true, dedicated bibliophile, you will instinctively understand the joy and comfort this adds to your life.
Without your support, book stores like The Seattle Mystery Bookshop will not succeed. They have rent, staff and books to pay for, and they cannot do so without a sustaining group of regular patrons. Invest in friendly folks who are likely to become some of your best friends.
Steve Ellis is a long-time and cherished customer. Over the years, it's fair to say he's become a true friend of the shop in all definitions. As we prepared for our Go Fund Me drive, he asked if he could write something about small bookshops and us and we gladly answered yes.
The Charms of A Small Bookstore, Vol I
Vellichor n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
I am a bibliophile and I find small bookstores frequently challenging. While I prefer stores of modest size to the large chains, most small bookstores have inadequate inventory and many deal primarily in used paperbacks of every conceivable genre and in every imaginable condition. I find the hunt through such a store frequently exhausting, often despairing, and usually disappointing – to say nothing of the dirt. For someone who loves the look and feel of a hardbound book as I do, these sorts of used bookstores, when first located, always promise more on the outside than they are able to deliver within. What older hardbound books they possess are usually priced based on age, but almost never upon age and condition. In such a store, a first edition with a broken binding and missing pages is frequently seen by the proprietor as equal in value to a first edition of the same book in fine condition complete with a dust jacket.
I love nothing better than finding a new bookstore that satisfies my tastes. And while the search for a previously unknown used bookstore can always be used to justify a day traipsing about the Northwest, I admit that the chance of a successful purchase is minuscule. In reality, such a search usually is, for me, little more than an excuse for enjoying the scenery and sampling new cuisine. By contrast, I always cherish my return to a tried and true small bookstore I’ve come to know and regularly patronize, simply because I understand how unique and scarce such venues are.
The request from Thomas Abbot, the Augur of the Sub Rosa council, couldn’t come at a better time for James Stark, aka Sandman Slim. For a man who’s most recently met Death—and death’s killer—a few months of normal life is more than he can handle. He needs a little action, and now Abbott wants Stark and Candy to investigate the disappearance of a young boy—and help uncover council members who might be tied to Wormwood’s power brokers.
Stark’s plans change when he meets a dying angel who gives him a vial of a mysterious black liquid that could be a secret weapon in the ongoing war between angels who want to allow human souls into Heaven and rebel angels willing to die to keep them out. When one of Stark’s closest friends is poisoned with the black liquid, Stark and Candy have to go to the only place where they might find a cure: Hell.
But standing in their way are the damned souls who, even after death, still work for Wormwood. The secret deal they’ve struck with the rebel angels is darker than anything Stark has ever encountered. Not only does the fate of the world hang in the balance, but so do the souls of everyone in it. Stark has to find a way to break the stalemate in the angel war, score the Perdition cure for the black poison, and make it back to LA in one piece—where an old enemy waits to finish him once and for all.
Sheila’s friend, larger-than-life Eva Jackson, has returned to the village of Taviscombe after losing her husband, Alan. A foreign correspondent, Alan reported on dangerous stories around the world from Libya to Afghanistan—but the cause of his death was more mundane: kidney failure in a London hospital. Still, he led a storied life, and much of his past lies in his writings, papers, and books now boxed away in Eva’s garage.
After Eva decides to compile a book of Alan’s unpublished works, a fire mysteriously breaks out in the garage. Then Eva meets a suspicious end, leading Sheila to wonder if there’s a killer at large in their charming Devon countryside…
- For $500: Juliet will personally critique a query letter and the first 50 pages of a manuscript (3 available). - For $1500: Juliet will write you an editor’s memo for your entire crime novel. (1 available) - For $175: Soho will donate the complete Passport to Crime collection--21 titles (The first books in 21 series set around the world; here are the titles: sohopress.com/series/passport-to-crime-series/) (10 available!)
Huge thanks to all at Soho Press publishers of: Martin Limón, Cara Black, Tim Hallinan, John Straley, David Downing, Colin Cotterill and many, many other fine writers.
Juliet Grames is Associate Publisher at Soho Press, where for the past six years she has acquired and edited the Soho Crime imprint of international and multicultural crime fiction. Over her twelve years in publishing, she has edited a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. She is famous for her ruthless ten-page editorial memos and, perhaps as a result, she has many fictional villains named after or inspired by her. Juliet likes noodles, martinis, pie, and the color green. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her fiance, Paul Oliver, publisher of Syndicate Books, in a one-bedroom apartment that contains 16 bookcases and still has piles of books all over the floor everywhere. She has never had the privilege of working at an independent bookstore like SMB, but before moving to book editorial she spent five years working at her local Borders, so bookstores are very precious to her.
Walter Mosley’s indelible detective Easy Rawlins is back, with a new detective agency and a new mystery to solve.
Picking up where Rose Gold left off in L.A. in the late 1960s, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins finds his life in transition. He’s ready to—finally—propose to his girlfriend, Bonnie Shay, and start a life together. And he’s taken the money he got from the Rose Gold case and has, together with two partners, started a new detective agency. But, inevitably, a case gets in the way: Easy’s friend Mouse introduces him to Rufus Tyler, a very old man everyone calls Charcoal Joe. Joe’s friend’s son, Seymour (young, bright, top of his class at Stanford), has been arrested and charged with the murder of a white man from Redondo Beach. Rufus tells Easy he will pay and pay well to see his nephew exonerated, but seeing as how Seymour was literally found standing over the man’s dead body at his cabin home and the racially charged motives behind it, that might prove to be a tall order.
Between his new company, a heart that should be broken but is not, a whole raft of new bad guys on his tail, and a bad odor that surrounds Charcoal Joe, Easy has his hands full, his horizons askew, and a life in shambles on the ground around his feet.
You know us, we're old friends. We're Seattle Mystery Bookshop, a specialty store dedicated to the art of the mystery novel. We're also quite fond of thrillers, suspense, espionage, traditional cozies, culinary, pet and even urban fantasy mysteries. If there's a crime, we're interested! You, of course, are our dedicated and loyal friends, whom we adore. And we have a request.
Over the last 25 years, we've introduced new authors to you, brought in big names to meet with adoring fans, reviewed countless books, and provided personalized and non-algorithmic service (and sometimes even cookies!) to our beloved friends.
And we want to continue on doing all those things. We love our shop and our books and our customers and our authors!
However, this digital age - and that pesky recession - hit us kind of hard. We need your help to build back to our former glory.
We want to be able to carry all the obscure books that you've come to treasure. We want to be the meeting place for both new and upcoming authors as well as old friends and big names to visit with fans and friends.
We've set up a GoFundMe account, and our target goal is $50,000. That's an awful lot of money, we know, but if you can pitch in even a little, it'll help a whole lot!
Our plan is to use your donations to make sure the rent is completely paid off, all our suppliers are happy, and to restore missing titles and depleted series to our shelves. Some books are hard to find, but we're up to the task - with your help!
Our aim to is get to a stable financial footing so that we can continue to be the place where you can reliably find the books you want, as well as a resource to answer the questions you have. Should we massively exceed our goals, we'd love to look into establishing our own publishing house. Or maybe even (*gasp*) move the shop to a more accessible location!
We've got some nifty rewards to thank you for your gifts. We'll put those in a second blog post, but we wanted to let you know what we're up to, and how you can help.
Basically, we want to be here for you, and this is our way of getting our feet back under us.
Whoever donates this amount will receive our beloved sculpture! There's only the one, though, so grab it now. We'll even ship it!
Poe Level - $2500 - One Only!
An original painting by owner, JB Dickey. It's a triptych of small, red-themed abstracts, oil on canvas. Contact us about shipping.
Holmes Level - $1000 - Three Only!
Three signed sets of debut novels, 1 from Pacific Northwest Authors, 1 set of women debut novels, and 1 set of male debut novels.
1: GM Ford, Where the Hell is Wanda Fuca, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Sue Henry, Murder on the Iditerod Trail, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Roger Hobbs, Ghostman, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Martin Limon, Jade Lady Burning, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
John Straley, The Woman Who Married a Bear, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
2: Susan Wittig Albert, Thyme of Death, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
M. W. Walker, Red Scream, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
S. J. Rozan, China Trade, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Sandra West Prowell, The Killing of Monday Brown, hardcover, first edition, signed on half title page
Louise Ure, Forcing Amaryllis, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
3: John Connolly, Every Dead Thing, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Robert Crais, The Monkey's Raincoat, mass market paperback, first edition, signed on title page
Barry Eisler, Rain Fall, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Dennis Lehane, A Drink Before the War, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Thomas Perry, Vanishing Act, hardcover, first edition, signed on title page
Chandler Level - $750 - One Only!
First edition of Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder.
Christie Level - $550 - Three Available
Through the years, authors have come in and we've had them sign anthologies. Some are Advance Reader Copies, some are finished hardbacks. Trust us to choose whichever one is in best shape with the most signatures; we'll do you proud!
Carr Level - $250 - Two Available
Each staff member will choose a Signed First Edition for you! You'll get three books, no telling which ones, but they'll be ones we've loved and we hope you'll love as well!
Hammett Level - $100+ - Four Available
For a donation of between $100 and $249, we'll send you a single Signed First Edition of our choosing. Again, we can't tell you which one you'll get but we promise to send something special!
Upfield Level - $50+ - Unlimited
For every donation between $50 and $99, we'll send you a canvas book bag. Not the one you're used to us carrying, no, no! We've had a specially designed black canvas book bag available ONLY through this fundraiser!
Sayer Level - $25+ - Unlimited
For every donation between $25 and $49, we'll send you our special coffee mug, an elegantly designed black mug, again special only through this fundraiser!
Marsh Level - $10+ - Unlimited
For every donation of $10 to $24, we'll choose a signed paperback for you. Could be trade, could be mass market, but it'll be a first edition and signed. Again, trust us on this one!
Cain Level - $5+ - Unlimited
For a donation of $5 to $9, we'll send you one of our unique postcards with a big "Thank You!" signed by all the staff members. There are several, so collect a whole set!
Roberts Level - $1+ - Unlimited
For any donation under $5, we offer you our sincerest and deepest thanks. Do not hesitate to believe that small amounts add up quickly, and you are most appreciated!