Monday, August 11, 2014

Shut up and listen, and other bookselling tips from an almost-alum

Friends, you have no idea how much fun I've had blathering at you about kids' books every other week. But two weeks from now, I'll be settling into a new job at The Horn Book. Only a venue for even more blathering about kids' books would get me to leave the Booksmith, where I've learned so much and gotten to know so many people worth knowing. In my parting post, I thought I'd share some advice for current and future booksellers.

Shut up and listen. When I started, I thought "being helpful" meant "letting information pour from my mouth as fast as possible." Sorry, customers who encountered me in my first few months. If I had paused when you said, "I'm looking for a gift for an eight-year-old," you would probably have told me more, whether it was "she loves funny books" or "I don't really know him, but I remember loving poetry around that age, so maybe that would work." We would've arrived at a better gift, and probably faster.

Be ready to switch gears. You might find yourself discussing The Hunger Games and Moo, Baa, La La La! in the same breath. You also might find your day going from sleepy to crazy in the time it takes the door to swing open and the phone to ring (simultaneously, of course).

Language barriers aren't immovable. Most people will get the gist of, and appreciate, a friendly "Finding everything okay?" And here, at least, books are physical objects that you can show people. One thing I've noticed, very anecdotally: "How many years?" makes more sense than "How old is (s)he?" to speakers of a lot of languages.

When in doubt, handsell like Clarissa. This involves jumping up and down, hugging the book, and declaring, "GAAAAH! THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! SO GOOOOOOOOD!" It works.

Or literally handsell, like Amy. This involves getting a tattoo on your forearm of a quote from the book you'd like to recommend.  (In Amy's case, the book is Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley.) 

Twitter likes puns. The store's social media platform is a great place to mistweet the English language.

Know whom to ask.  You're probably surrounded by experts in every niche of the book industry. Getting to know people's tastes, including but not limited to the sections they run, gives you access to a wealth of information.

Know how to figure it out for yourself. That perfect person to ask won't always be available. Pay attention to what you're ringing up a lot. Pay attention at rep nights. Pay attention to back room conversations. Try to know what the bestsellers are, and know that everything can be Googled, including "If you liked [bestselling title]."

Do not get emotionally involved with the eight-by-eight spinner.  Pouring your heart and soul into the organization of the Barbie, Thomas, Spiderman, Spongebob, Caillou, Clifford, Dora, Disney, Pixar, Batman, Superman, Power Rangers, and Scooby-Doo books will only result in heartbreak.

Wear comfortable clothes on Tuesdays, especially in fall and spring.  There will be new releases. You may find yourself building cardboard displays, destroying old ones, and bringing huge quantities of overstock up and down ladders.

If you attend a store event, hang out until the end of the signing line. A bunch of us got to chat with Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan. We're totes besties now. No biggie.

Don't let fall stress you out. People may be a little on edge as they prepare for The Holiday Season. You may find yourself thinking, "If we're stressed now, what will The Actual Season be like?" But once The Season starts (November), bookselling gets a lot more fun. Oh, it's busy and exhausting. But for the most part, everyone's in a sugar-fueled good mood as they push their favorite books out the door. And if you're lucky, you might even have a boss who hires a masseuse for her aching employees!

Try to eat something besides sugar in November and December.

When award season nears, don't shrink-wrap anything eligible for a Caldecott. If it wins, you'll want to put it up on display, and customers will want to check inside to see if you have a first printing.

Pay attention to the larger book community. You might just get clued into something like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement or its bookselling-specific baby, the Great Greene Challenge. 

Pay attention to your own community. Local schools play a major role in our kids' section, particularly when summer reading lists come out. If you suddenly get two or three requests for a title that's not normally a bestseller, ask if there's a school reading it or discussing it or putting on a play about it. If there is, get more copies as fast as you can.

Shop local. Dude, you get a discount. 

Always offer help, unless it's July and the customer is searching for Waldo.

Get to know your coworkers. They are awesome.

Stay in touch with departing coworkers. This is more a request than a tip.

Thank you, Booksmith, and thank you, Brookline.

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