Before publishing my first novel in 2013, I had only ever interacted with independent bookstores as a customer. I knew very little about how book events worked or what to expect from signings. I started reaching out to local bookstores, initially with some trepidation, and quickly found the owners and staff members to be gracious, friendly, and welcoming. They also helped me develop professionally as a published author.
For example, The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn (IL) gave me great suggestions on how to help promote my book. Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor, MI (sadly closed now) had an amazing newsletter with book reviews and news. The Book Stall (Winnetka, IL) connected me with other authors and helped me think through effective interview and panel questions. Mystery One in Milwaukee (also closed now) showed me which page to sign and date my books.
Collectively, independent book stores provide community, connecting readers and authors, around the books we all love. I appreciate how many, like The Book Bin (Northbrook, IL), Lake Forest Books (IL) and Scene of the Crime Books (Toronto) will travel to libraries, conferences and other venues to ensure that the author has books available to sign.
Some offer valuable space and time for writing communities to meet. For example, Centuries and Sleuths (Forest Park, IL) has generously long allowed Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and Sisters in Crime Chicagoland chapter to hold their meetings for the local crime-fiction writing community. 57th Street Books on Chicago’s south side hosted a “Murder at the Mic”, allowing both published and unpublished authors to read from their works in progress. This offered a wonderful opportunity for writers to learn and grow, and for readers to be exposed to new works. I also appreciate the niche bookstores, such as those in my genre of crime fiction, Mystery to Me (Madison, WI) and Once Upon a Crime (Minneapolis, MN) do so much to promote specific authors and books within the crime fiction genre.
Through independent bookstores, I’ve had some amazing opportunities to connect with the larger literary community.
- I participated in the “Readers’ Apothecary” at the Book Cellar in Chicago, where authors suggested good books to readers that will help them with different “ailments.”
- I contributed to World Book Night Pick Up Party at CityLit Books (Chicago), reading a passage from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to encourage the discovery of great books;
- I’ve joined other authors to do “meet and greet” events, such as at Barbara’s Books (Vernon Hills) and Prairie Fox Books (Ottawa, IL), which is a wonderful way to meet new readers. Prairie Fox books even hosted a very entertaining 1920s murder mystery dinner!
I’ve even contributed a short story to “Between the Covers: A Bookstore Erotica Anthology”—with a follow-up cringe-worthy reading—to support Volumes Bookcafe (Chicago).
Overall, I deeply value the community that independent bookstores forge, for readers and authors alike, and I appreciate their commitment to the written word.
SUSANNA CALKINS became fascinated with seventeenth century England while pursuing her doctorate in British history and uses her fiction to explore this chaotic period. Originally from Philadelphia, Calkins now lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two sons. A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is her first novel.