Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Being a Bookseller

Hello readers!

We had some very fun and lovely customers come in to the store and ask us–what are the top five things you need to know about being a bookseller?

Once we got started, we couldn’t stop. Some of these are a little cheeky, but they are our most common questions or situations that we find ourselves in daily. We love our customers, and we wouldn’t be able to do what we love without them. But there are some misconceptions about what we do and do best, and there are a lot of starry-eyed myths about bookselling. So we’re here to debunk a few.

(And I promise, this is my last Top Ten list for a while!)


It’s Not Just Reading All Day

As much as we wish our jobs included hanging out surrounded by books and reading them while waiting for customers to come in so we can talk to them about books, there is so much that happens every day in a bookstore that we could probably make a whole separate blog post about it. Receiving shipments of books into our inventory, shelving, creating displays, making signs for the displays, answering calls, replenishing stock, managing social media (hi!), pitching for events, taking special orders, submitting orders of new books to publishers, answering emails about events, writing book reviews…all that and–of course–selling books to customers, from recommendations to running the register. There’s always something to be done!

We’ve Brushed Up Our Google-Fu

I can’t count the number of times a customer has come in and said, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t remember the title or the author… the cover was blue and I think it came out last summer?” While we’re no librarians (who I swear are research magicians), booksellers need to be pretty dang good at knowing what terms to search to figure out what book a customer is looking for. We get lucky if you heard about it on NPR, so we can just search there!

We Read Widely–or At Least Read Reviews Widely!

You’ve probably noticed that I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy. But if a customer comes in asking for a non-fiction recommendation and Kelvin isn’t here to step in and talk up some science books, I need to be ready. Even if I haven’t read the latest biography, I need to be able to say with confidence that I’ve heard good things about it and manage to sell it to a customer. So there’s a lot of looking at reviews–by coworkers and by outside sources like Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus–so that booksellers know 1. what books are popular, 2. what books are good, and 3. something about those books beyond what’s on the cover. It’s great to rely on coworkers who read other genres, but it’s also a good idea to read a few books in some genres we don’t normally read so we’re armed for any handselling situation!

We also have to know at least something about the bestsellers–a majority of questions come in the form of, “Have you read [insert bestselling title] yet?” Even if we have no intention of reading the latest NYT Number Ones because it’s not to our taste, we have to know something about them so we can assure people that they’re bestsellers for a reason–or have a comparable alternative ready if they’re bestsellers for controversial reasons!

Jacks-of-All-Trades

While it seems obvious that booksellers need to know the alphabet (and if we have to sing the song to ourselves every time we’re shelving, no one should judge us!), we always surprise people with the other basic skills you never associate with books. Arm strength is necessary for hauling all that heavy paper, and having a high Tetris score will help with shipping as many books in one box as possible. Carpentry is a bonus for sudden shelf surgery, graphic design a must-have for signage and webpage maintenance, IT for catastrophic computer issues…pepper in some light counseling for those customers who need a sympathetic ear, janitorial floor-mopping, and interior design for holiday decor. We once even had to be dog-walkers.

Oh and, unfortunately: math. For running the register, of course, but for surprisingly many other things.

You’re Not Bothering Us, We Promise! 

People often apologize for asking us questions–“Sorry to bother you, but can you help me pick out a book for my aunt?” Listen: that’s the best part of the job. It’s our favorite thing in the world to offer recommendations and find the just-right book for you or whomever else you’re buying for. The more information we have, the better (do they like science or science-fiction?), but the reason we’re here is to help you buy books.

On the flipside, we don’t have infinite time (there are other customers waiting!), so we can’t give infinite recommendations. And if we do give a whole bunch of personalized recommendations and you end up leaving them all in a stack and buying the latest bestseller (or writing them down and going home to buy them on Amazon), that is the most disheartening thing. Obviously, we don’t expect you to buy only our recs, and if nothing’s clicking, we understand. But we love it the most when you buy books we love and we think you’ll love, too.

Paperbacks Come Out the Next Year

It’s fairly standard, industry-wide–and of course there are deviations–but generally speaking, the paperback/softcover version of a book comes out about a year after the hardcover does. Sometimes it’s less time–closer to nine months. Sometimes the book is selling ridiculously well in hardcover, hasn’t left the bestseller list in over 18 months, and will never come out in paperback (looking at you, Educated–it took Gentleman in Moscow four years, but this might break the record), but that’s abnormal.

We Really Do Hate Amazon

We get it. We do. They’re easy, they’re convenient, they’re fast, you don’t have to get out of your PJs, and you can pay with one click. And we can’t stop you. We understand. But please don’t tell us that you’re doing it. If you call and we don’t have a book in stock and offer to order it for you (no extra charge, and it takes about 3-5 business days!), you’re welcome to say, “ah, no thanks!” But please, please don’t say, “No, I’ll just order it from Amazon.” We know that’s probably what you’ll do, but it’s genuinely disheartening.

Same goes for if you’re in the store. If you’re taking pictures of the books you want to buy later, we understand. But showrooming is one of the hardest things to see happen, when we know that it’s not only cutting into our sales, but it’s actively hurting the community we live and work in. The more money that funnels to Amazon, the less there is coming back to Fort Collins. The more people buy books on Amazon, the less likely we are to bring amazing authors to town. Amazon can’t host Tamora Pierce or CJ Box. We can, if you help us.

You Don’t Even Have to Ask…

The most common question we get (after “do you have a bathroom?” (answer: no)) is: “Do you have [classic and/or bestselling book]?” While it’s always good to ask, as we might have sold out, we can promise that it is more than likely the answer is yes. And yes, we have heard of that little book called Game of Thrones, did you want the small paperback or the large one?

“You probably don’t have it in stock, but have you heard of Infinite Jest?” always makes me laugh. Of course we’ve heard of it. Let me show you where it is on the shelf.

Bibliowizard Skills at Maximum

This goes with the Google-fu point from earlier, but sometimes, we just have to be a mind reader.  We have to know that when a customer asks for “that crayfish book”, they actually mean Where the Crawdads Sing. If they’re looking for Cormac McCarthy’s On the Road, we lead them gently to Jack Kerouac (or to The Road). And if they insist that Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Eyre, we bring them both books and let them figure it out.

We Have Infinite Reserves of Patience

This goes for most, if not all, retail positions, but if booksellers were video game characters our number one stat would be patience. Waiting for the books we’re most excited for is just as excruciating for us as it is for you, and even though we sometimes get them early thanks to Advance Reading Copies, then we have to wait to share them with you. Which is almost as bad (you probably don’t believe me, but it’s true!).

But we also have patience with the customer service aspects of our jobs. We’ve heard the joke about the bar code not scanning meaning the book is free (it’s still not really funny, but we always laugh). We’ve heard, “So, you’ve read every book in the store, yes?” more times than we care to count (and of course we haven’t–we never will, our to-be-read piles are insanity and we are drowning in pages, send help). We always find it in ourselves to smile, though, and that is bookselling’s greatest secret strength: we love what we do, we want to share it with you, and we’ll put up with every bad dad joke in the universe if we get to sell you the magic words that fill ours hearts with such joy.


Happy reading!

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