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Newsletter #58 June - August, 2002

Award News

        The nominees for the Hugo Award for Best Novel are The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold ($25.00 signed hardcover), American Gods by Neil Gaiman ($26.00 signed hardcover or $7.99 pb), Perdido Street Station by China Mieville ($18.00), Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod ($7.99), Passage by Connie Willis ($6.99), The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson ($23.95, $6.99 pb due early June).

        The Nebula Award for Best Novel went to The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro ($7.99). The other finalists were Eternity's End by Jeffery A Carver ($7.99), Mars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis ($24.95 signed hardcover 2nd printing or $7.99 signed pb), A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin ($26.95), The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy ($24.95), The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip ($16.00), and Passage by Connie Willis ($6.99).

        The Philip K. Dick Award for best U.S. paperback original science fiction novel went to Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo ($6.50). The runner-up was Divine Intervention by Ken Wharton ($6.99). The other finalists were Compass Reach by Mark W. Tiededman ($16.00), In the Company of Others by Julie E. Czerneda ($6.99), The Ghost Sister by Liz Williams ($5.99), and Meet Me in the Moon Room by Ray Vukcevich.

        The Edgar Award winners for best mysteries of 2001 include:
        Best Novel to Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker ($7.99);
        Best First Novel to Line of Vision by David Ellis ($7.99);
        Best Paperback Original to Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria ($13.95);        
        Best Fact Crime to Son of a Grifter by Kent Walker ($7.99);
        Best Critical/Biographical Work to Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z by Dawn B. Sova ($17.95).

        The Mary Higgins Clark Award for the book written most closely in the Mary Higgins Clark tradition went to Summer of Storms by Judith Kelman ($24.95, $7.50 pb due early July).

        The Lambda Literary Awards included:
        Lesbian Mystery to Merchant of Venus by Ellen Hart ($13.95 );
        Gay Men's Mystery to Rag and Bone by Michael Nava ($24.95);
        Science Fiction/Fantasy to Point of Dreams by Lisa A. Barnett and Melissa Scott ($15.95).

        The Agatha Awards are voted on by the members of the Malice Domestic mystery conventions. The nominees include:
        Best Novel: The winner was Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen ($22.95); other finalists were Arkansas Traveler by Earlene Fowler ($6.99), Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris ($5.99), Shadows of Sin by Rochelle Krich ($25.00), and The Bride's Kimono by Sujata Massey ($25.00).
        Best First Mystery Novel: The winner was Bubbles Unbound by Sarah Strohmeyer ($6.99); other finalists were Innkeeping With Murder by Tim Myers ($5.99), Mute Witness by Charles O'Brien ($23.95), A Witness Above by Andy Straka ($5.99), and An Affinity For Murder by Anne White ($8.50).
        Best Non-Fiction: The winner was Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir by Tony Hillerman ($26.00); other finalists were The History of Mystery: Art Fiction Series by Max Allan Collins ($45.00), Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional by G. Miki Hayden ($16.95), Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery by Jeffrey Marks ($21.95), and Food, Drink, and the Female Sleuth by the Sisters Wells.

        The Book Sense Book of the Year award for best adult fiction title went to Peace Like a River by Leif Enger ($24.00). This novel was widely promoted as a "first novel", but many mystery fans are aware that Leif and his brother Lin co-authored several mysteries as L. L. Enger. All those mysteries are now out of print, but we frequently have used copies.

Tough Times in the Book Biz
by Don Blyly

        On Tuesday morning, April 30, most of the employees of The Bookmen learned for the first time that the local book wholesaler was "merging" with Ingrams (one of the two huge national book wholesalers) and that most of them would soon be out of work. The news quickly spread through the local book community, shocking everybody. The Bookmen had been around for 40 years and was considered one of the best local wholesalers left in the business. They had been through economic downturns before, but so many independent bookstores have gone out of business and so many libraries have had their acquisition budgets reduced that they couldn't survive this downturn.
        What will the impact be on other members of the book community? Things will be a little tougher for the Uncles, but we won't be hurt as badly as many others. When a publisher failed to send our order of new release paperbacks (or substituted 25 copies of a romance title for a title that we actually ordered), it was very convenient to be able to drop by The Bookmen and get the new titles we needed the same day instead of waiting 7 to 10 days for the publisher to straighten out the mistake. And there are some smaller publishers that don't publish enough books in our specialties for us to do business with them directly, but if I saw at The Bookmen that they had put out a new horror title or a techno-thriller or a "paranormal romance", I'd pick up a copy or two and see how our customers reacted to the titles. Now, we'll have fewer of these fringe titles from smaller publishers because the sales volume doesn't justify a great deal of effort to try to track down what's available and find a way to get them.
        The librarians will really miss The Bookmen, especially the children's librarians who loved a chance to actually look through the illustrated kids books before deciding which titles to add to their collections. Also, the librarians often would get towards the end of the fiscal year and find that they had $200 left in a particular fund that they had to spend by a certain date or the money would disappear. The two national book wholesalers weren't very interested in such a small order, but The Bookmen was always happy to make small sales to the libraries. (Librarians should be aware that Uncle Hugo's and Uncle Edgar's are always happy to take your money, and we have a far larger selection of science fiction, fantasy, and mystery books than The Bookmen carried.)
        Most of the mid-sized and smaller publishers are sold by sales representatives who work on a commission basis. Things have been getting tighter for these sales reps as more and more independent bookstores have been driven out of business by the chains. Now the commission reps that serve the Twin Cities have just lost their largest customer. Will they continue to serve what remains of their old territory for less money, or will they have to expand their territories and spend a lot more time on the road in hopes of getting their income back to what it used to be, or will some just decide to look for another way to make a living? I expect that it will become more difficult for many publishers to get represented in the Upper Midwest.
        Perhaps the ones that will be hurt the worst are the small publishers of books of regional interest that used The Bookmen as their primary means of distribution. Suppose you decided to do a book on the historic downtown buildings in (name your favorite small town) or on scenic bicycle trails in Iowa--you wouldn't take that kind of proposal to a New York publisher. You'd take it to a small local publisher (or your uncle who knows somebody with a printing press), and perhaps 1000 copies would be printed. The Bookmen could handle the warehousing, sales, and billing for you, and all the area booksellers and librarians would at some point go through The Bookmen's warehouse and have a chance to flip through your book and decide that they wanted it for their bookstore or library. And very few booksellers or librarians that didn't go through The Bookmen would have any interest in your book, anyway. I have no idea how those small publishers are going to distribute their books now. Even if they could get the orders, they probably wouldn't want to be filling orders for one copy each from a bunch of little libraries, not to mention all the paperwork needed to collect payment for all those single-copy orders. And I doubt that either of the national wholesalers would be interested in stocking books of such limited interest.

        The Bookmen is not the only one with problems. LPC was a small press distributor that we did a lot of business with, especially for nautical adventure novels for Uncle Edgar's and graphic novels (including Lone Wolf & Cub and Sailor Moon) for Uncle Hugo's. Then, things got strange. Apparently, business was growing so fast that they decided to close their Chicago warehouse and offices and have all the shipping and billing done by another company in Tennessee. Then, the books we had already ordered stopped coming and we had no way to order new titles. Then, LPC went into bankruptcy when a bank seized the bank account with the money that was supposed to go to the small presses. Lawyers for LPC claim that neither the books nor the payments for the books were ever property of LPC, but rather both the books and the payment for the books were on consignment from the publishers and thus should not have been seized by the bank as assets of LPC, and supposedly this argument has worked in the past in similar cases. But for now the small publisher still can't get paid for their books, and thus can't pay their suppliers or employees. And we can't get new books we want, and we can't return books that have not sold.

        I've heard rumors of problems with our source of Dr. Who books, but haven't seen confirmation in print from a reliable source. But the supply of Dr. Who books was frequently undependable even when there were not rumors of problems.

        Walker and Co. has been a major factor in the mystery field for several decades, and they've discovered and promoted many mystery authors over those decades. They've announced that they will no longer publish mysteries after this summer. We'll miss doing business with them. They were always helpful with regard to author appearances, and they never tried to shaft us when we returned unsold books to them--which made them practically unique in the publishing industry. (They were also a major factor in the science fiction field for a while from the mid-1960s and to the mid-1970s, including Poul Anderson, Ben Bova, Anne McCaffrey, and many others.)

        In the mid to late 1990s, when the chains were driving so many independent bookstores out of business, it seemed that the specialty stores were more insulated from the negative impact of the rapid expansion of the superstores. Here at the Uncles, we had been used to double-digit increases in sales during good economic times, and single-digit increases during bad economic times. That ended after 1994. Our annual sales volume peaked in 1994, and has bounced up or down a bit below the 1994 level ever since. But, we've adjusted in various ways to deal with that. We've been ordering more new books directly from the publishers instead of through wholesalers, which gets us slightly better discounts. Some publishers who used to charge for shipping are now providing free shipping. As the cost of new books has gone through the roof, a larger percentage of our sales has been in used books, where the profit margins are better. Several years ago we raised the minimum price on used books from $1.50 to $2.00. All little things that have added up, allowing us to hang on even as expenses have gone up. And until the last couple of years, it seemed that most of the other specialty stores were also finding ways to hold on. But over the last couple of years it seems that lots of the other specialty stores have either had to close or beg for business in order to hold on a little bit longer.
        I'm constantly tracking sales and comparing this period to the same period the year before and two years before. Sales can fluctuate for a number of reasons, including the weather (especially in Minnesota), the presence or absence of "big" titles (such as Lois McMaster Bujold's latest Miles book, Diplomatic Immunity), general economic conditions that might make people more or less tight-fisted, things that might impact the amount of time people spend reading books (such as everybody being glued to their TV right after 9-11, followed eventually by a need for some escapism), etc. While aware that fluctuations are expected, I still watch sales patterns fairly closely, partly so that when a publisher's credit department calls and asks when to expect payment I'll be able to give a fairly dependable answer, and partly so that I can figure out when I can afford to give a raise to the people who work here (all of whom deserve to be making more than they are currently making--and that includes me).
        This year, January was up by a tiny amount, February was up more, and March was down some, for a total of a 1.75% increase for the first quarter--not bad for the current economic conditions. Then, April hit. We had the worst drop in sales in April that I've seen in 28 years in business. Some of it was because of the weather, of course. When you go from heavy snow at the beginning of April, to 91 degrees, and then back to more snow, it's going to mess up people's normal patterns--including shopping for books. But mail order sales dropped even more than in-store sales, so it wasn't just the weather. And we had some "big" books come in late in April--in addition to Lois's new book ($25.00, signed), we also sold a lot of the new Jean Auel hardcover Shelters of Stones ($28.95), and the new Elizabeth Peters signed hardcover The Golden One ($25.95) and Michael Connelly's City of Bones ($25.95) also did very well. In spite of that, the drop in sales volume was shocking, and sales continued to plummet for the first third of May.
        In the short term, I can handle the problems by dipping even further into the business ready reserve line and by sending less money and more un-sold books to publishers to pay the bills. But eventually the sales will have to go back up or else we'll be in real trouble--and I don't want to have to send out a "We're hanging on by our fingernails" notice, like so many other specialty stores have done recently. (And the fact that our cost of insurance increased by over $1000 after the two break-ins last summer doesn't help the cash-flow situation.)
        What can you do to help? In the short run, come in and buy some books. In the long run, if you appreciate the depth of selection that we offer, show it by shopping here more, instead of just occasionally for a title you can't find at your local chainstore. (I know that some of you are very loyal to the Uncles, but there are a lot of others that this applies to.) Give and/or ask for Uncle Hugo's/Uncle Edgar's gift certificate when appropriate. And recommend the Uncles to people you know who read science fiction or mysteries.


Uncle Edgar's Non-Fiction
by Jeff Hatfield

        I'd like you to consider, the next time you swing into Uncle Edgar's, a neglected portion of our inventory: Non-Fiction; True Crime; Fact-Crime--whichever genre moniker you prefer. A quick count confirms Uncle Edgar's has over 250 different non-fiction titles in new hardcover and trade paperback. This number doesn't include new mass market paperback "true crime", our selection of books on writing, nor critical titles about crime fiction and authors. Then there are second hand books.
        The promotional up-hill climb (relative to fiction) that non-fiction faces at Uncle Edgar's is due to a small handful of reasons. Usually, trade non-fiction titles are carried in such small quantities (very often ones and twos) that it's not feasible to give the space, even a single line, in this quarterly newsletter. Such titles also don't enjoy the same in-store display as fiction. Instead of two month's worth of jacket-up attention as most new arrival trade fiction receives, the non-fiction titles are generally relegated to a spine-out bit of space around knee level. They are elbowed out of their "New Arrival" area by even newer titles sooner--usually six weeks. And then end up in an island in the center of the maze (but still alphabetical by author) that is Uncle Edgar's sales floor.
        Not surprisingly, there's broad variation in what's on the shelf. Some examples of types and titles: Historical, Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Lead History's Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash ($25), Midnight Dreary: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by John Evangelist Walsh ($14.95), The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden ($15); Contemporary Crime, Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original "Psycho" by Harold Schechter ($14.95), Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed by Robert Graysmith ($24.95); Forensics, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death by Jessica Snyder Sachs ($25); Biography/Autobiography, Elliot Ness: The Real Story by Paul W. Heimel ($16.95); Law Enforcement, The Men Who Wear the Star: The Story of the Texas Rangers by Charles M. Robinson III ($14.95), Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police by John O. Koehler ($18); Terrorism, Saddam's Bombmaker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda by Khidar Hamza ($14), Jackal: The Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal by John Follain ($14.95); and Espionage/ Counter-Espionage, The Wizards of Langley: Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology by Jeffrey T. Richelson ($26), Spooked: Corporate Espionage in America by Penenberg/Barry ($16).
        A short stack among a treasure trove. If you primarily read fiction (like myself) it's not bad advice to compel yourself to mix in a non-fiction title once in a while. Reading non-fiction will amplify and illuminate the fiction you read--and vice-versa. Of course, if you hear something on the street, and it's a title in print you're after that we don't have, we'd be happy to order if for you.

Signed Books

        Since the last issue of the newsletter, Uncle Hugo's has gotten the following books signed: Lois McMaster Bujold's Diplomatic Immunity ($25), Shards of Honor ($22), The Warrior's Apprentice ($25), and Dreamweaver's Dilemma ($12), and we still have lots of copies of Curse of Chalion ($25); Emma Bull's War for the Oaks ($13.95) and Double Feature ($13.95, also signed by Will Shetterly); Geoffrey A. Landis' Mars Crossing ($24.95 hc 2nd printing or $7.99 pb) and Impact Parameter and Other Quantum Realities ($24.95); Lyda Morehouse's Fallen Host ($6.99); Will Shetterly's Chimera ($14.95) and Dogland ($15.95 packaged for adults or $5.99 packaged for young adults); and Dan Simmons' Fires of Eden ($22.95, small mark on the bottom of the book).
        Uncle Edgar's has gotten the following books signed: Lee Child's Without Fail ($24.95); Harlan Coben's Gone for Good ($23.95, 2nd printing); K. J. Erickson's The Dead Survivors ($24.95); Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair ($23.95, 2nd printing); Margaret Frazer's The Clerk's Tale ($22.95); Elmore Leonard's Tishomingo Blues ($25.95); John Lescroart's The Oath ($25.95); Chuck Logan's Absolute Zero ($24.95); Anne Perry's Cain His Brother ($22.95), Funeral in Blue ($25), Slaves of Obsession ($25), Southampton Row ($25.00, 2nd printing), Tathea ($23.95), and The Whitechapel Conspiracy ($25); Elizabeth Peters' The Golden One ($25.95); Matthew Reilly's Area 7 ($24.95) and Temple ($24.95, 2nd printing); Dan Simmons' Hardcase ($23.95) and A Winter Haunting ($25.95); and Les Standiford's Bone Key ($24.95).


Neighborhood Update
by Don Blyly

        Everybody is interested in what's happening, if anything, regarding the former Sears site across the street from the Uncles. As many of you will recall, Ray Harris was supposed to redevelop the site, but the city would not put their agreement into writing regarding the construction of enough parking ramp spaces to allow for the leasing of the full space, thus preventing him from getting the financing to move forward with the project. When it became clear to everybody that the city would continue to block redevelopment as long as Ray Harris was involved with the project, the city started negotiating with various parties to get control of the property transferred to MCDA. Ray Harris reached agreement with the city in February, 2001, regarding terms for the transfer of his interests, but it took until December, 2001, for the city to reach agreement with all parties. There were two immediate indications of the change in ownership. A sign on the corner of Chicago and 28th Street was changed to show that Ray Harris' company was no longer involved. And the American flag which Ray kept flying from the roof of the Sears tower as long as he controlled the property stopped flying when the city took control of the site.
        A major party was the bank that had financed the mortgage on the property. In a complicated agreement, they temporarily transferred control of the property to the city, but in exchange the property was to be managed by United Properties, which is owned by the bank. United Properties is the largest property management company in the state, but most of the property they manage is newer commercial developments in the suburbs. United Properties had an exclusive 6 month window to present the city with a redevelopment proposal for the site, but various other people were looking over the site and throwing around ideas during this period.
        United Properties' proposal divided the site into two parts: North of the railroad tracks there is a huge warehouse (rented, but not historically significant) and a large parking lot (rented), while south of the tracks there is the original Sears building (empty but historically significant) and lots more parking lots (rented).
        The city plans to sell a big chunk of the parking lot north of the tracks to the hospital so that they can build a large parking ramp, which the city is forcing them to build before it will allow them to go ahead with a planned $120 million expansion to the hospital. At least the parking ramp, and perhaps the other construction, could start as soon as this fall. United Properties' proposal calls for blocking the hospital from building the new ramp. Instead, they propose forcing the hospital to retrofit the huge warehouse into a parking ramp, at much greater expense than building a new ramp, since the steel supports are not protected from the salt that would drip off cars during the winters, the floors are flat instead of slanted, there are no ramps to get from floor to floor, etc. It would also require throwing out the companies currently renting the warehouse space, but United Properties calls the warehouse building "very dysfunctional for most industries requiring this type of space" and doesn't seem to believe that anybody would want to rent it anyway. South of the tracks, United Properties doesn't want to have anything to do with redevelopment unless the city is willing to demolish to existing building and let United Properties to building a new office building in the space.
        I don't know if the city has taken an official position yet regarding the proposal. At a meeting in late April the representative of MCDA made it clear that the city would not express an opinion on the proposal until the top people at MCDA sit down with top people from United Properties to discuss the proposal in person. But it was clear to everybody else at the meeting that this proposal won't fly. United Properties indicated that if the city rejects their proposal, they would no longer hold the city to the 6 month exclusive window for presenting a plan, so other prospective redevelopers could immediately make proposals to the city.
        In other area developments, the grain elevators just to the east of the Sears site have closed down, are now owned by the county, and will be studied for possible redevelopment or destruction. That was the last thing blocking the use of the railroad right of way for an extension of the Greenway, a bike path that will eventually go from the lakes on the western edge of Minneapolis to the Mississippi River. Construction on the second segment of the Greenway, from a few blocks west of the Uncles to Hiawatha, will begin this summer and probably be completed next year. While the bike path will fill the north half of the rail right of way, the south half is supposed to have a trolley connecting downtown Hopkins to the Light Rail Transit station at Lake and Hiawatha, with a stop across the street from the Uncles.

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