Interview with a Bookseller: Karen Spengler and Becci West from I Love a Mystery
     Victoria Grossack

 Victoria: Who are you and how long have you been selling books?

Karen: My name is Karen Spengler (seated in image at right); I own the store, and I have been involved in bookselling since 1991. I started with used books in an antique mall 15 years ago, and opened I Love a Mystery as a full service retail bookstore (selling both new and used books) in 2000. I worked as a CPA until I retired for health reasons three years ago. I don't work at the store, but luckily, my best friend since we were 19, Becci West, is the store manager. Although she came to mysteries later in life, Becci has always loved retailing and she's now far-surpassed me in her knowledge of mystery titles and authors.

Victoria: What is the name of your store and where is it?

Karen: The name of the store is I Love a Mystery. It is located in Mission, Kansas, a small suburb just across the state line from Kansas City, Missouri. Our website is, and my email address is [email protected] Inquiries about books should be sent to [email protected].

Victoria: Does your store have a particular focus? If so, what is it?

Karen: Our focus is on giving our customers excellent service and a unique experience. We sell only mystery books.

Victoria: What's the biggest change you've seen in bookselling in the last year?

From Becci West, the store manager: "The advent of the $9.99 oversized paperback. We hate them--they don't fit our existing shelving-- and the customers don't like them either.

Victoria: What's the biggest change you expect in selling books in the next year?

Karen: It's hard to predict, but the big trend right now--at least at I Love a Mystery--is international mysteries. By that I mean mysteries that were initially published in another country. They're huge right now. We're also emphasizing smaller, but well established specialty publishers like Rue Morgue Press, Poisoned Pen, Hard Case Crime, etc.

Victoria: How should a would-be writer approach a bookseller, say, for example, for a reading or signing, or simply for advice?

Karen: I wrote an article about this subject that was published in the March, 2005 issue of InSinC: The Sisters in Crime Newsletter. You can read the article on our website at

Victoria: What is your opinion of the POD books from places such as Booklocker, Publish America, and so on?

Karen: Let me count the reasons why we don't like them! Becci says, "They are difficult to order, take longer to receive, quality is frequently poor, bad cover art and they are usually more expensive." I would add that we don't carry the books in the store and don't like to special order them unless we have to, because the discounts are usually less than what we get on other books (sometimes non-existent), and they are frequently not returnable.

Victoria: What is the greatest frustration that you have with mainstream publishers?

Becci West: Tracking orders. We have been having a terrible time lately with publishers dropping our orders. For example, I ordered a 6-copy counter display of a new paperback release. The publisher decided not to issue the 6-copy display, and failed to submit a new order for the six books that would have been in the display, as they should have. We didn't know that the order was dropped, and as a result, we didn't receive a popular book that customers were asking for.

Victoria: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Karen: Hold out for a mainstream publisher if you can. Be nice to your fans. Be especially nice to independent booksellers. Find a way to stand out from the crowd. And read my article.

Victoria: Thank you, Karen and Becci, for sharing your time and expertise! And to all the readers out there – if you have any interest in this subject at all, do yourself a favor and click on Karen’s link above and learn some more very important information!

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.


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About the Writer:

Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the author of Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother-Wife of Oedipus, which, by the way, is an excellent example of a book with plot-driven chapters and cliffhangers. There's exciting news about Iokaste: even the Greeks are reading it! Learn more about Iokaste and other books in the series at Tapestry of Bronze

Victoria was a moderator of a critique group for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the From Leaves to Forests and Writing Historical Fiction workshops for Coffeehouse for Writers.