By Matt Cost
I am an author who once owned a mystery bookshop. It was called The Coffee Dog Mystery Bookstore, named after my chocolate lab of the time. I also work very closely with my publisher in marketing and promoting my books. And I read. One could say that I have seen the business of books from every angle.
For me, people coming into my bookstore fell into two camps. People looking to browse and find something to entertain, and those with a particular book in mind.
For the browsers, it was essential to be very knowledgeable about the books filling the shelves in my store and have the ability to match the person to what they would enjoy. This involved quickly assessing the customer to create that compatibility, unless of course, they were a regular, which was the most rewarding aspect of owning a bookshop. There are few things in life finer than getting to know a person and speaking of books with them.
The second group of people, those knowing what they want, is the critical thorn in the side of the brick-and-mortar bookshop. No offense. I fall into that camp. Of the infinite number of books in the universe, it is hard to have stocked the book being looked for, unless of course they are merely looking for the latest New York Times bestseller.
It is at this place that Amazon stole a huge chunk of the market. It became far too easy to sit down at the computer, look up the title, and two days later get it delivered. I went down that dark path for years and realized that I’d lost the soul of purchasing, interacting, and reading. I now go to my local bookshop, browse, and if they don’t have the book in my mind, I order it through a live human being at the counter. And I usually buy a book off the shelf as well. It seems that many other people have returned to bookshops as they have made a resurgence over the past few years.
As a writer, there are many paths that one can follow. An author can chase the trend, what is hot, what is selling, and get lost along the way. Usually, by the time they write it and get it into the publishing pipeline, that trend is gone. Other writers will try to match their writing to reader categories. People want romance. People want fantasy. People want…. This can drive a writer slightly more insane than we already are.
I have chosen to write what I enjoy writing. If I am going to spend a considerable block of time out of my life with a book, I am going to have to be fascinated with the topic. And I am not going to be dictated to by readers who (hopefully) knock down one of my books in a few days and then have an opinion. I know far too many writers who are devastated by a few bad reviews, often the criticism of the book was simply that it was not to the reader’s taste.
I have two passions in my writing. As a history major in college and a former social studies teacher at the middle grade level, I have a love for bringing the past to life by writing historical fiction. And in this, I pick topics that enthrall me. Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. New Orleans during Reconstruction. Digging into these topics, visiting these places, researching and writing about them, was a joy for me. And I am certain that this wonder will be transferred to many readers. But not all. That can’t be helped, as we are all different in our likes and tastes.
My second passion is mysteries and thrillers. Starting with the Hardy Boys, and continuing through literary mavens such as Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, Carl Hiaasen, Michael Connelly, and many lesser-known artists—I have always loved a good mystery.
And this is also one of the merging points of my life as a bookshop owner and as a writer. While the physical doors of The Coffee Dog Bookstore have been closed for some years now, they remain open in my Mainely Mystery series. Goff Langdon is a private detective and also owns The Coffee Dog Bookstore, a mystery bookshop, in Brunswick, Maine.
What is most important to me in a mystery is well-fleshed out colorful and vibrant characters, a complex plot full of moving pieces, and at its very core, a captivating and riveting premise. By this, I mean a basis of something that I’m enthralled by, will be delighted to learn more about, and hopefully this joy will be passed onto the reader, if not all readers.
Thus, I have written mysteries about nuclear power plants, big lobbyists, political action groups, heroin mixed with fentanyl, cults, genome editing, and unidentified aerial phenomena amongst other things. And every one of these topics has garnered my interest for months at a time and kept me coming back for more.
I have put these two loves of mine, history and mystery, together for an upcoming release of Velma Gone Awry. It is a historical PI mystery set in 1920’s Brooklyn. And my passion was of the time and place, as I doubt there was ever a more captivating time and place than the Roaring ‘20s in Brooklyn, New York. Prohibition. Jazz. Speakeasies. Gangsters. Movie Stars. It was a marvelous and glamourous time and place and I gladly spent many months between the pages of 1923 Brooklyn.
Bookshop owners have to engage with readers. Writers have to do the same. How we do it is the variable. I would put forth that the most valuable component in accomplishing this task for both bookshops and writers is to love what we do and hope that is enough to appeal to enough people to be profitable. And then? Write on.
Matt Cost writes the Mainely Mystery and the Clay Wolfe/Port Essex Mystery Series. He’s also written several books of historical fiction. This is his first jaunt in combining his two loves of histories and mysteries into a historical PI mystery. Cost was a history major at Trinity College. He owned a mystery bookstore, a video store, and a gym, before serving a ten-year sentence as a junior high school teacher. In 2014 he was released and began writing. And that’s what he does. He writes histories and mysteries. Cost now lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children: Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A chocolate Lab and a basset hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer, writing. Find out more about him at https://mattcost.net.