A Simple Guide to Bookstore Etiquette
(image via the awesome Blue Willow Books)
Shopping in a bookstore is a bit like shopping at a hardware store: if you’re there for something specific, you need to know a thing or two about the item you’re looking for before attempting to find it in the aisles. If you’re there to browse, the world is your oyster.
As a bookseller, I’ve often heard people ask for a book they saw several weeks ago, on that table near the café (you know the one!), that had a blue cover. But lots books go on display every week, on many tables, and some of those books were published two, five, ten years ago! Feeling helpless and apologetic, all I can do is point out general sections of the store where they might find a blue book. So to correct future sadness, arm yourself with bookstore etiquette and prepare to fill your arms with all the books you could ever want!
Before you leave your home . . . you must decide: 1) are you just planning to browse, or 2) are you going to look for something specific? If you’re planning to browse, you’re usually in the clear. Ask a bookseller for the genre you’d like to explore, and they’ll happily point you in the right direction—and even offer some of their favorite books for you to peruse! (This is one of the many reasons it's better to buy books from human beings). If you’re looking for something specific, write down everything you know about the book that’s searchable: author, title, ISBN (those fun numbers on the barcode that start 978-la-di-da), genre, publication date, publisher. It will help you and the bookseller narrow down that book.
You’ve entered the bookstore . . . and you’re overwhelmed with all the books and displays and sections! That’s okay. A bookseller is always nearby to help. If they’re working with another customer, wait patiently. The attention they’re giving that customer is just the sort of attention they’ll give you once they’ve finished: undivided, enthusiastic, and determined! (See? People power!)
You’ve found your book(s) . . . but you’re not sure if you really want it. Will you read it? Will you like it? Any bookworm will tell you that, if you’re wavering, and in order to make such a big decision to build a connection with a book, you need to read the first few pages (or chapters!) to know whether you’ll like it. Some say open it in the middle and start reading. Others say start at the beginning. Some employ the page 69 test. Me, I always read the first 50 pages when I’m unsure. If I’m still hooked, I buy the book.
You’ve found your book(s) . . . and you notice the price(s). The price the bookstore offers is typically the price the publisher wants for the book (unless, of course, you’re in a used bookstore). With the changing economy, booksellers know money can be tight and that books may be pricey. Never complain about the price to a bookseller, or that it’s cheaper on Amazon (we're human beings! We have feelings!) Denying a purchase in-store means the death of the bookstore and the loss of a job! Well, maybe not that day, but eventually. And who would want bookstores to disappear forever? Not the bookworms! If the price still bothers you, ask about discount programs. Many bookstores offer discounts to customers! A bookseller will happily explain the program for you. And if you're really hard-up, try browsing a used bookstore—the books are worn, but loved!
Head on over to the cash registers . . . and purchase those lovely books!
Go home . . . and enjoy the written word! Feel free to come back to the bookstore and gush all about the book to a bookseller – they love hearing your thoughts.
(image via flickr)
But let’s say your visit doesn’t quite follow this pattern. What should you do?
You thought you knew what you came for, but forgot . . . it’s okay. You know you saw it in the New York Times, or it was on Good Morning America this morning, or that it had “Angels” in the title and you think the author’s name was “Brown.” That’s still enough for a bookseller to find what you’re looking for. If you know it’s going to be a movie this fall, or that the book belongs in History, or that it was published in paperback in January and it is a Young Adult retelling of HG Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, the bookseller can Google those key ideas and find it for you. Every little searchable thing helps – except the color of the cover or the location of the display.
You have something to return . . . so you know the bookseller behind the cash register is hoping against all hope you have a receipt dated within the return policy. You’ve read the fine print on the front or back of the receipt about dates and returns. Your book within the return policy and it’s in good condition. Gratefully accept whatever form of return the bookseller can offer – cash, credit return, or store credit – and find another book to take home!
But let’s say you are outside of the return policy, don’t have a receipt, or the book is damaged. No one wants to be grumpy, and nothing ever runs smoothly when the air is filled with negativity and tension. Calmly explain your scenario, and the bookseller will give you the best return policy option available.
You read some books in a comfy chair or in the café/coffee shop . . . and decide you don’t want them. You don’t remember where you found them, so you find a bookseller and ask for the books to be put away, because your grandmother always said, “Clean up after your mess!” This makes a bookseller happy and it gives an opportunity for a future customer to find the book. Piles of forgotten books throughout the store only cause anger and mayhem – two words that should never belong in such a haven.
You’re enjoying the atmosphere of the café/coffee shop . . . and you purchase a coffee, tea, scone, or cookie. That’s excellent! You would never walk into a restaurant carrying a McDonald’s bag, taking up table space and eating food from an outside menu, right?
If you’re still curious about bookstore etiquette, peek into the mind of booksellers by visiting Minions of Isidore or cracking open Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops – funny, charming, and entirely too accurate.
Make a bookseller’s day with your charm, intelligence, politeness, eagerness, and etiquette!
Laura Crockett is a graduate student, bookseller, Anglophile, tea devotee, musician, and book hoarder. Everything good in her boils down to her Midwestern upbringing. Follow her Downton Abbey obsessions on Twitter (@LECrockett) and book interests on her blog http://scribblesandwanderlust.wordpress.com