As I mention in my little introductory ‘about me’ page, I work at one of London’s largest bookshops as a part-time bookseller. Now we all know that retail work can be a little… trying… at times. But having worked in other retail jobs before I have to say that although some aspects are the same, there is something wholly unique about working in a bookshop. From very strange characters to crazy expectations from customers; it is a world of its own. I absolutely adore working in my (not so little) bookshop, but gosh dang it, there is a list as long as Tolstoy’s War and Peace of things I wish bookshop customers would know.
So here we have 10 Things your Bookseller wants you to know.
1. Please respect the books.
This has to be my NUMBER ONE PET PEEVE. How you treat your own books is your own business. But if you do not own the book yet then for goodness sake please treat it with respect. I see so many customers picking up a book to read a few pages and bending the cover all the way back as if the book has requested a curly blow-dry for prom. STOP STOP STOP. That book will now never close properly or lie flat and we will struggle to sell it on; likely we will have to discount it. We are more than happy for people to read a few pages or a chapter. But please just be careful when doing so. It isn’t yours yet so treat it with some god damned…
2. Put unwanted books back where they came from.
As booksellers we have SO much work to do and more often than not we are understaffed. Dumping unwanted books around doesn’t help things in the slightest. It’s lazy and disrespectful. I will never wrap my head around the people who discard a book about three inches from its correct place, when it would have taken exactly the same amount of energy to put it back where you literally picked it up five seconds ago. Are you just trying to be petty? Do you want to see the world crash and burn? Picture this: it is two minutes until your shift is up. You’ve spent hours shelving all of the day’s delivery and made sure the books that were behind the till are now back in their shelfy little beds. The shop floor looks good and you feel like you’ve done a great job. You round the corner to go and get your bag and coat and spot…A PILE OF TWENTY BOOKS ABANDONED IN A READING NOOK. Absolutely heart-breaking. Don’t do it folks.
3. Booksellers don’t know every book in existence.
The bookshop I work at has five miles of shelving and upwards of half a million titles. I do not know every book, I am not familiar with every section and it is unrealistic of you to expect that from me. Firstly, you do not have the right to sneer at a bookseller because they do not share your passion for ‘submarine’ books or they aren’t familiar with your favourite author. I don’t stick my nose up at you for not knowing well known authors within my area of expertise.
Secondly, a bookseller admitting they are not familiar with the book/genre is NOT an invitation for you to educate us. I have things to do, sir, and those things do not include reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
4. We are not a personal shopper service.
Again. Booksellers have a lot of work to be getting on with. So if you march into the shop brandishing a list of fifteen titles that you expect me to source and fetch for you, I am not going to be willing to help. It’s a revolutionary idea I know, but how about you try using your eyes and brain first. Then if there are a couple you cannot find – I will be more than happy to help. You wouldn’t walk into New Look with a list of clothes you want brought to you for your fitting pleasure, so why is it acceptable in a bookshop?
5. If we say we can’t get a hold of your book, we mean it.
There are a lot of ways we can get a hold of a book for you. We can order it from our Hub or Wholesaler. We can call other branches and try to track it down. We can request a copy to be sent from the publisher. But sometimes we just aren’t able to get a hold of a book. This could be because we don’t have a trading relationship or quite simply the book is out of print. So if we say that there is nothing we can do. Please believe us. We aren’t trying to spite you. Do not stand there for ten minutes making suggestions to what can be done. We can offer tips on where you can look, but at the end of the day I am not here to do ‘googling’ and ‘ebaying’ for you; do that in your own personal time.
6. Do not say the A word in front of me.
Now I understand. Amazon has some great prices and has access to books that we can’t stock within UK bookshops. But you have to understand that Amazon is a huge part of what is destroying brick and mortar bookshops. So, it’s absolutely fine if we don’t have the book you want in stock and you plan to go home and buy it on online instead. It’s just that there is no need to announce it in front of me. Did you know it is entirely possible to have a thought and not say it out loud? Shocking.
7. Do not crack crappy retail jokes in front of me.
The main offenders here are middle age to elderly men. For mine and my colleagues sanity, these need to stop. Now, I hear all these jokes multiple times a day. Guess what. It wasn’t funny the first time. So if you ever feel the urge to say one of the following examples to a bookseller: turn around, walk out the building, get on a plane, go far far away.
“This book doesn’t have a price – it must be free haha”
“You don’t sell books here do you? hahahaha”
Said to me whilst I have an armful of books and trying to shelves with the other hand: “Don’t suppose you work here do you? HAHAHAHA”
Handing over cash to me: “Just printed that this morning HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA”
8. No we don’t sell Kindle.
9. If you are searching for a specific book, have all the information ready.
This goes back to No.3…if you don’t even know what you’re looking for, it is unlikely we will either. So many people come in expecting to find a specific book without knowing the title, or the author, or really what it’s even about. Oh but they do know it was published by ‘Oxford University Press in 2008’ and the cover is ‘blueish’. NOT HELPFUL SHARON. They then either expect you to google what-the-hell they’re talking about, or stand there while they google it themselves for five minutes ~insert major eyeroll~. The most helpful piece of information you can have for a bookseller is the ISBN number. This is the nine digit number that is unique to each and every book in the world and can be found very easily online. If you come into store with an ISBN number, it is likely your bookseller will give you a big sloppy kiss and thank you profusely for making their job just that little bit easier.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations.
Let us end on a positive note here. I have had a few people sheepishly approach me to ask for recommendations. I say approach away baby. The reason I became a bookseller is to be able to recommend and discuss my favourite books with other like-minded folk. Don’t feel embarrassed at all to do this. Chances are you’ll be making the booksellers day, especially if your favourite genres align.
TA DAAAAA 10 things your bookseller wants you to know. This is no way the end of my list and I will likely continue this thread of thought in the future. But for today, I hope you enjoyed it and remember – use your local bookshops responsibly.
(Originally posted 13th March 2018 on former blog)