Close Mobile Menu

The wonderful thing about booksellers is that booksellers are wonderful, unique creatures. Depending on the shift, you can encounter a variety of booksellers, each with different answers to “So how was your day at work, honey?” Read on to better know the life and livelihood of professional book fans!

Crack-o-Dawn Booksellers are early birds. Getting up early isn’t a problem, and they get to be in the store an hour or two before opening. They can shelve books, catch up on setting up a couple displays (dibs on the Gone Girl display! Never-Ending-Midday Bookseller can get the 50 Shades display, mwahaha!), and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with not having to play music over the sound system.

Never-Ending-Midday Booksellers are multitaskers. They’re the ones answering a phone call, talking to three in-store customers, carrying a pile of books in one hand, and setting up a display with the other. They thrive off the hustle and bustle of the day. Sometimes they pull an Oprah (a book for you! A book for you! And yes, a book for YOU!), and sometimes they seem to be running off an IV of caffeine, but they’re also the ones who don’t mind multiple people asking for various books on their to-read lists.

Closing-But-Really-Cleaning Booksellers are excellent with people. They handle the chaos of Never-Ending-Midday Booksellers’ tail end of the shift, as well as the quiet late evening shift where the entire populace of the store is squatting in the café with piles of unread books and magazines. They’re organized, polite, a bit compulsive. You can sometimes find them humming along to the store music – they’ve heard it so many times during the late hours.

But every bookseller, no matter the time of shift, experiences these moments at least once with each day:

1. Being tasked with finishing a small project that is supposed to take no more than 10 minutes – and finishing two hours later. That tiny display for fans of Gone Girl? Only needed to grab 10 books and put up a sign. But a customer asked for help in the business section. And a customer there asked for help in the teen section. And a customer there asked for help in the travel section. And a customer there asked for help finding books similar to Gone Girl.

2. Being tasked with setting up a display of the most recent publications, but getting distracted. I mean, it’s my favorite section. How can you tell me to set up this area and make it look appealing to readers when I myself am a reader and love this area? How can you expect me to not stop what I’m doing and read the jacket summary (or first chapter…fine, three chapters)? It’s hard! Wait – no – don’t give this project to someone else! They’ll do it wrong! It won’t look good! I got this!!!

3. Knowing where a book was because it was in this section an hour ago. We just passed this section or display. Maybe we even touched the book recently because we were shelving it. We like to let customers think our brains know the exact inventory of the store – but really, our brilliance comes from seeing something recently.

4. Being asked why This Book isn’t in the store. The customer heard it on the news. It was in the paper. They heard it on the radio on some show a month ago. You’re a bookstore, aren’t you? So where’s the book? Ah, yes, and then there’s the attempt to explain print-on-demand, self-publishing, e-book only, stocking a store based on customer buying habits. Sometimes that conversation never happens. Let’s have that conversation. We might be able to get it for you. Heck, we might also be able to give you a similar title to take home now!

5. Being asked for book recommendations for a brilliant six-year-old reader / a mature 12-year-old reader / an elderly reader who wants something entertaining – but no, that recommendation right there won’t work at all. Booksellers can be just as frustrated as a customer when the right book isn’t found for the reader. We want to help find the perfect gift. What does the reader enjoy or what have they tried before? Anything and everything you know about this person helps narrow down the perfect book! Let’s go find it. Maybe it’s on that 50 Shades table Never-Ending-Midday Bookseller is setting up right now!

6. Walking through a section and found one whole area with books face down, moved from one shelf to another, turned around, piled on top of one another, and resting above displays. Is this a game between booksellers and customers? Seeing how fast the bookseller can clean up an area? Am I on TV? Will I get store credit if I clean this up in under two minutes? Challenge accepted.

7. Finding books that need to be sent back to the publisher, but the books still sell well. Shoot. Do I send it back and risk customers asking for it? Maybe the paperback is coming out soon – is it? Hmm, the publisher shelf it needs to go on is full. Is that a decent excuse to wait before sending it back? Crack-o-Dawn Bookseller would hate it if I put it back on the book floor, though…Decisions. Oh! There’s the manager. Publisher shelf it is!

8. Discovering books customers have been looking for for days in the back room. Well geez, why didn’t the other booksellers spot this? This needs to go out, pronto! It’s on the James Patterson display! (With everything else!) Never-Ending-Midday Bookseller will be so pleased I found this!

9. Answering multiple phone calls while also working with customers in-store. Every customer matters. Sometimes a store is understaffed. Sometimes there’s a rush of people in the span of ten minutes. Whatever the case may be, the bookseller’s attention is divided – and believe me when I say we’d really like to spend equal amounts of undivided attention and time with every single customer. It’s these moments that it doesn’t quite turn out that way. We thank you for your patience, and apologize for any offense!

10. Finding a customer so incredibly enthusiastic about a particular genre or category that lunch breaks, phone calls, and other customers are…well, forgotten. I mean really, how are you supposed to stop talking to your bookish soul mate?! She’s read all these books and I’ve read all those books too, and oh my gosh, she hasn’t read this book so I have to add it to her pile, and I haven’t read a book she suggested so I need to write that down for later and – oh, bugger. Closing-But-Really-Cleaning Bookseller is giving me a death stare.  

The biggest thing booksellers can relate to above all else? That one time it took more than two seconds to open a plastic bag…

Check out “A Simple Guide to Bookstore Etiquette” for more bookseller inside information!


Laura Crockett's picture

Laura Crockett

Laura received her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College and now works as a bookseller and literary agent. She's an avid Anglophile, tea devotee, musician, and book hoarder. Follow her various obsessions on Twitter (@LECrockett) and book interests on her blog Scribbles & Wanderlust.