Last year I took a part time job at my local independent bookstore, Annie Blooms Books. I spend seven to twelve hours a week on the floor, restocking books, handling special orders, ringing up sales and helping customers find books. I spend another three to ten hours a week working on author events both in the bookstore and off site. Annie Blooms is a general bookseller with a strong children’s section so I’ve particularly enjoyed broadening my horizons beyond children’s books. Here are ten things I’ve learned from bookselling that have broadened my perspective as an author.
2. But on a related note, Blockbusters are hard to predict. Sometimes a book gets a ton of hype, a fat advance, even a celebrity author and it just doesn’t connect with readers even if the bookseller happens to love it. Sometimes a quiet title surprises everyone.
3. Indy booksellers love it when an underdog takes the prize, whether the prize is an actual literary award or just strong sales. Indy booksellers are at a disadvantage in the marketplace dominated by Amazon and the big chain stores so we have a fellow feeling for small publishers and debut authors and often go out of our way to recommend underdog books.
4. Reviews matter. Without fail when a book is mentioned on NPR we sell out of that title by the end of the day. Probably we only had 1-3 copies of it in the store, but still, that’s impressive. Sunday is a good day for us because people come in with the newspaper book review section looking for something specifically. I always cared about the loss of regular book reviewing in the local paper. Now I care even more. If you are lucky enough to live in a town that still puts book reviews in the paper, give your newspaper some praise and attention.
5. Libraries are a bookstores best friend. Lots of parents & grandparents come in looking for the book their kid has checked out 500 times from the library. A long hold list at the library tends to encourage people to buy rather than wait. A strong library system feeds avid reading and encourages library goers to buy the best of the library books they’ve read.
6. Often people are buying a book gift for a person they don’t know well. So a bookseller who can spend 10 minutes chatting with them about what 10 year old girls, who like horses and magic but nothing to scary, are loving this year is a huge help. It’s one of the things that most sets a bookstore apart from an online book vender.
7. Book gifts reflect both the pleasure of the reader and the values of the giver. I find this especially true of grandparents. They often go for the nostalgia read which is why we still carry book like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. They also want something that reflects Oregon to send to distant grandchildren. Or something that reflects their family history which is why historical fiction and immigration stories appeal to them.
8. A white book buyer is often choosing books for a child who is not
white. This was a very happy discovery and I’ve learned to be bold about suggesting diverse titles to white buyers (grandparents especially) who are thrilled to see kids on the cover who look, not like them, but like the beloved children in their lives.
9. Often people are not there for the books. A bookstore more than most shops is a place people come for a little oasis in their busy life. We have families who make it the after soccer game treat every Saturday, friends who meet up before going to the pub next door, people who stop every afternoon on the way back from the dog park and teenagers who come to hang out with their pals. Most of these people don’t buy every time. Sometimes they are just here to pet the store cat or rock on the store dragon.
10. Passion matters. Booksellers tend to gush over their favorite books. They squee happily when someone brings it to the counter. Engage in lengthy patron chat about what else the favorite author has written, and brainstorm similar books. We don’t get paid to care and the books we care about are often not best sellers nationally, but sometimes booksellers can bring to light a book over looked by the big awards and reviewers and make it a star.