Working in a bookstore was always something I wanted to do, regardless of for how long it would be. I’ve been fortunate to work as a Seasonal Bookseller, two Christmas’ in a row, at a high-street bookstore, and I thought I would share some of the things I learnt during my time there.
HOWEVER MUCH YOU THINK YOU READ, IT’S NOT ENOUGH
It’s pretty self-explanatory that you have to read a lot of books. But no matter whether you read 10 books a month, or 10 books a week, it is NOT ENOUGH. The book industry is constantly moving and unless you grow fifty pairs of eyes and arms, it’s pretty hard to keep up with.
THERE IS HOMEWORK
As someone who is very rigid when it comes to genre, you have to do a lot of relying on what other booksellers are into. If someone asks about cookbooks, it’s easily to palm that person off on your co-worker that spends all their free time baking cakes. But when a customer comes up to you with a book from the new releases section and wants to know whether it’s any good, reviews are your best friend. I spent a lot of time when the store was quiet just reading summaries and reviews of the latest releases I had no interest in reading, just so I would look like I knew what I was on about.
SENIOR BOOKSELLERS ARE WALKING ENCYLOPEDIAS
I lost track of how many obscure questions customers asked me where I stared back at them blankly, not sure they were talking about something real, only for a co-worker to go “oh yes I know all about that, let me show you out selection.” If you get to work as a bookseller, or the next time you go into a store, take time to talk to them. They have an endless supply of knowledge about books and various topics. I’m convinced some of them aren’t human.
PREPARE FOR BIZARRE INTERACTIONS
Following on from my previous point, I have my fair share of odd stories to share. My personal gem is a woman who told me she was looking for a book (handy as she was in a bookstore) and told me she “didn’t know the name of it, or who wrote it but it was on tv as a serial killer drama at the moment and she thought the cover was a light green colour.” Hoping I could narrow the search down, I asked if she knew what channel the show was on. To which she said “how the bloody hell should I know?” And walked off.
YOU WILL WANT TO TIDY EVERYTHING
Long after you’ve left your position (if a temporary one), and knowing the secrets of brand standards, you will struggle to avoid reorganising in stores. I have a bad habit of putting books in series order on a shelf, tidying tables before that horrible “I don’t work here” moment dawns over me and I scamper out of the store to safety.
SHELVING IS HORRIBLE
Is this 5-8 fiction or 9-12? Is it a biography? Travel? Am I going to leave it on this trolley for someone else to deal with? Absolutely. The only way to solve this problem is by paying attention to your surroundings and learning where everything is. There is no shortcut and it’s often a struggle to shelve books when the store is open. Also, you’ll probably get something wrong and see a senior bookseller grumbling to themselves as they move a book to the right place.