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Every Friday night from the first week of June to the middle of September, the city of North St. Paul, a small suburb of Minneapolis, packs 8,000 people into a two-block area of downtown. The event: the History Cruzer Car Show. 

But for the community of readers and writers in the greater Minneapolis area, this car show in North St. Paul is also a literary event—Friday Night Book Signings at the Paperback Plus bookstore in downtown North St. Paul. 

“The book signings started as a seed in my mind in the middle of winter four or five years ago,” said Kathryn Harris, who has been running Paperbacks Plus, a secondhand book store, in the same North St. Paul location since 1988.  “Wall-to-wall people in downtown North St. Paul on a Friday night is too fabulous an opportunity to waste.”

With the germ of an idea bouncing around in her head, Kathryn reached out to members of the Midwest Fiction Writers Club, based in the Minneapolis area. Each Friday night she sets up four stations where featured writers share their work and sell their books. Although the Cruzer Car Shows don’t start until the first week in June of each year, Kathryn starts reserving spots in January. By the time the cars start rolling in on the first Friday in June, authors are signed up to appear throughout the summer, and there is a waiting list.

“These are mostly indie authors,” says Kathryn. “Over the years many of them have taken off. I like to think that the Paperbacks Plus has helped their careers. I like also to think we enhance Friday nights here in North St. Paul by bringing a literary aspect to it.   

“The event is a blast,” said Barbara Longley, a fiction writer who has been featured at the book signings for the last two years (you can find her at www.barbaralongley.com). “Kathryn is amazing. Even if I didn’t sell any books I would enjoy it, and most of the time I sell out my inventory.” 

The only payment asked of any writer is a copy of their book that goes into a gift basket that grows throughout the year, along with any other swag that writers want to donate. At the last event of the year, the overflowing basket is raffled off to a lucky winner.

Harris added that she gets good coverage from the local newspaper. She also promotes the Friday Night Author Signings with social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She uses social media to maintain a constant flow of literary news, author quotes, and bookstore events. 

“There are other social media platforms out there, but those three are the ones that my customers follow,” said Harris. “I like to think that my social media streams fill a gap in the literary community. It is time-consuming if you want to make it matter, but I am very thoughtful about it.” 

Before social media, Harris maintained a portion of her website for selling books online. 

“The only reason I did it is because I felt I needed an online presence,” she said. “I didn’t make money on it and it was a lot of work, and the ability to interact with folks was limited. Now I use social media to list books, and it gives me much more interaction my customers. 

One of the other treats at Paperbacks Plus are Mario and Flash, two bookstore dogs that accompany Kathryn to work every day. 

“Mario even has his own Facebook site where he does book reviews,” said Kathryn. “People love to come to the bookstore to visit the dogs, and they always buy a book.”

What is the secret at Paperbacks Plus?  Possibly it is in the approach to life that Kathryn Harris has. 

I’m too high strung and aggressive say I really subscribe to Taoism,” she says, “but I like to take a Taoist approach to life and to running this bookstore. Until they closed, the other used bookstore in town had a link on my website. I referred people to them all the time. According to the Taoist, if you don’t compete, then you have no competitors.”

 

by Timothy Sunderland  (TopShelf Columnist)

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