Thursday, July 20, 2006

INTERVIEW: Mystery Bookstore Owner Augie Aleksy on the Realities of Publishing, Signing Etiquette and the Best Signing Ever.

Hi, Augie. Thanks for letting me ask you some questions for my blog. Since people might not know this, I should mention that I have gone to your store, Centuries and Sleuths, for almost twenty years, and it used to be right across the street from me. Now you’ve moved to a new location and I was lucky enough to have a signing at your store.

Now the questions:

Why did you move from across the street from me?

I needed a location with more foot traffic. I had done all I could to market it, but the location wasn’t convenient to many customers. Also, the grants and plans that Forest Park had for the Madison Street business area were quite inviting. I have NO REGRETS about the move. It was probably one of the best decisions Tracy & I ever made. Art Jones (retired now) Vice President of Forest Park National took me on a tour of the area before I decided and specifically told me what the business community could do for me if I relocated. They fulfilled all their promises. The residents, business owners, government, police, fire dept, etc all have one goal, “to make Forest Park the best it can be!”

What’s the most successful book signing you’ve ever hosted?
Sara Paretsky in February, 1992 for her book, Guardian Angel was our most successful event... The place was packed. Sara spoke about her writing, V.I., the recently made movie of V.I. played by Kathleen Turner, and she answered audience questions. Everyone came away happy & satisfied. It is still my biggest single sales day ever.

Your store features history, mystery, and biography. Does one genre sell better than the others?
Mystery does the best in terms of sales by book and dollars. I think it’s due to the availability of inexpensive mass market books starting at $5.99 (for now) far more so than in either history or biography. However, as our History Discussion Group and Meeting of Minds and other historical performances prove both history & biography can hold their own. Even some titles cross both genres, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City… and Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time are good examples of such works.

I remember that once your store hosted Sir Peter Ustinov and the line went around the corner and down the street. Was he the most “famous” figure ever to sign at Centuries and Sleuths?
I think that Steve Allen and Sir Peter Ustinov are tied for “most” famous guest. Both were very delightful people. Both came early and stayed until the last person left. Both took the time to speak with my son A.J. who was about ten at the time. But Tracy and I had debriefed A.J. on both personalities and their performances. They were very professional as demonstrated by the fact that they were up and speaking to the audience at whatever time was announced for it to begin. Both Great Men.

How many books do you read in a year?
I probably read in excess of 50 books a year. I should read more; however, as many people don’t realize, bookselling is a business, and daily activities take of much of an owner’s time during, before, & after store hours.

You host many writers all year long. Is there one thing that you would like visiting writers to know? Maybe a little book-signing etiquette?
I think almost all the authors I have had behaved appropriately. It’s probably not polite to put down a competitive author when promoting one’s book. Maybe, a bit more understanding about the difficulty a small independent has in operating a business like bookselling. Also, that author’s loyalty to a given independent over a chain store is most appreciated.

What can writers do to help independent booksellers?

Make their fellow writers aware that good independent booksellers exist. Tell them, if they had an enjoyable experience at that store, who the owner is and what they did to make the event good. They should promote independents everywhere because they keep an author’s good books selling after they’ve left the “bestsellers” lists.

Do you have a favorite mystery writer? Do you favor the hard-boiled over the cozy, or do you just like a good read?
Besides Julia Buckley’s The Dark Backward, I have a weakness for Sherlock Holmes mysteries and historical mysteries. But a good writer like Bob Goldsborough, Max Allan Collins, John Connolly, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Barb D’Amato, Andrew Vachss, Sara Paretsky, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Donna Leon, etc. always make reading mystery enjoyable & worth the time spent.

You have impeccable taste. :)

You’ve had P.D. James in your store on more than one occasion, and once it was for an intimate little gathering where she discussed her memoir and reminisced about giving birth to one of her children while bombs were falling on London. This was fantastic! How do you get big name authors to leave the big downtown Chicago chains and come to your store?
Quite frankly, excuse the expression, by “bitching and moaning” to the publisher’s sales reps and publicist. Once the author is here and has a good time they become somewhat leverage with the publisher. However, many times the authors are only directed about the country by the publisher’s people. So, again you have to keep nagging the publisher with pictures of past programs, details of what you can do to make the event a success and, also, your past sales figures for various authors. But even than it doesn’t work most of the time. So, if you think it’s a good book & a good author & I want them to have the Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore experience, I just keep pushin’.

Will you be at Bouchercon this year?

You shall be missed, I’m sure.

Which history books are hard to keep on the shelves? How about mystery?

The Speckled Monster: Historical Tale about Battling Smallpox by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Intimate Voices from the First World War Edited by S. Palmer & S. Wallis
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer

Donna Leon’s Italian mysteries with Commissario Guido Brunetti
Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries
Will Thomas’ Cyrus Barker mysteries

Your son is older now; are he and your wife very involved with the day-to-day running of the store?
My wife is very involved as I need her for special programs & signings. My son is away at college now, but when I need him to help and it coincides with his busy schedule, he does fill in. However, for the most part it’s a one-man operation, and I am that one man.

And a fine man you are. Thanks so much, Augie!


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