Friday, December 7, 2007

Putting the "Selling" Back in Bookselling

In yesterday's Shelf Awareness, Robert Gray offered up some tips on the art of handselling a book that you don't personally like.

His suggestions are all workable (my personal favorite is "I'm so behind on my too-be-read stack that I haven't gotten to this one."), but I think the key to his essay is the idea of not making someone feel bad or uncomfortable about their reading choices, however different from yours they might be.

So many people come to bookselling because of their own love of books and reading. Knowledgeable, passionate employees are any bookstore's greatest strength. But there is a tendency among booksellers to see their job as kind of a sacred calling: rescuing obscure titles and authors and leading readers to the True Light of Literature. Now I'm not saying that this isn't a fabulous goal, and I'm certainly not claiming that I'm not guilty of the same thing. But as a business model, it's quite a challenge.

We booksellers need to always remember that this is, in fact, a business, and if we want to have the freedom to stock those obscure titles and authors that we desperately want to sell, then we have to have the popular selections that people want to buy. You may personally despise Deepak Chopra, or think that Patricia Cornwell is an over-rated hack, or even rail against the teeming hoards who rush out to buy whatever book Oprah talked about today, but the fact that you can sell multiple copies of these books allows you to bring in some titles from Dalkey Archive or Monkeybrain Books and keep them around long enough for your fervent prosyletizing to convince your customers to give them a shot.

The customer may not always be right, but he or she is trying to give you money, so try not to make him or her regret that decision.

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