Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I Learned Working At A Bookstore: Guest Post By Mary Ann Fraser

Mary Ann Fraser

About two years ago, while in the midst of a book signing, the owner, who was a friend, asked if I would be interested in working at one of their discount bookstores. When I asked what I would be doing, she replied, “Everything.” With a deep-rooted passion for books and three boys in college, I saw it as a nifty way to help fill the coffers. I accepted. Little did I realize the impact that job would have on my work. (And, as my husband would later point out, on my earnings. After a while, I could hardly afford to work there anymore even with my employee discount!) But as far as lessons, the job couldn’t be beat.

Here are five things I learned working at a bookstore:

1. People buy what they know – I now see why the classics continue to top the indie charts for sales. With so many books to choose from, people (parents in particular) will invariably go with a book they know either through experience or numerous recommendations. And with the current trend of gifting favorite childhood books for baby showers, this is even more the case. Very often the theme for such events is “books from your childhood.”

2. Characters, especially licensed characters, are tough to beat. This is even more the case for easy reads. If those characters appear in a series, so much the better. And so often humorous traits trump super powers.

3. To my surprise, seasonal books are not as big a seller as you would expect. Who buys the ground hog and valentine books? Predominantly teachers and grandparents.

4. Book signings have lost their novelty. These days a book event has to be extremely well-planned and offer something unusual to be a success. And although you might expect a panel of authors to bring in more people, often that is not the case. If you’re planning a store event, it’s best to figure that you’ll have to bring in the bodies. And nothing is more annoying than a pushy author or a prima donna. Remember, a book signing should be of mutual benefit.

5. Never underestimate the power of hand-selling. So often people come into a bookstore unsure what to buy and will go with the recommendation of a knowledgeable bookstore employee. All the more reason to get to know your local booksellers—not as an author, but as a customer. What more can you do to introduce yourself to the staff? Offer to do a reading. Many stores feature a regular storytime. Come up with a simple craft and offer to read your book along with a couple others. The store will love you.

BONUS: And if you are looking to buy a children’s book and need a recommendation, it’s the ex-librarian, or moon-lighting author who will be your best bet. They will be the person tucked back in the kids’ section waffling over which books to buy with their next paycheck. And yes, that was me.

Mary Ann Fraser is the author/illustrator of over sixty fiction and non-fiction books for children, including her latest picture book, NO YETI YET (Peter Pauper Press). Other titles include HEEBIE-JEEBIE JAMBOREE (Boyds Mills Press), the OGG & BOB books (Two Lions) TEN MILE DAY (Henry Holt), and WHERE ARE THE NIGHT ANIMALS (HarperCollins). Her books have received a Junior Library Guild Selection, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Book Links Book of the Year, IRA Young Readers Choice Award, and American Booksellers "Pick of the List." She is a regional advisor for SCBWI, and a member of the California Readers Association, Children’s Authors Network, and the Children’s Literature Council, and when she is not writing, illustrating, or giving school presentations, she is painting murals, playing her hammered dulcimer, or in her garden talking to her turtles. To learn more visit


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing. Even though book stores seem few and far between anymore, it seems like all the more reason the ones that exist would want attention. Also, it seems like much of this would apply to local librarians both at local schools and public libraries. These are wonderful tips. Thanks again for sharing your valuable knowledge!

Laurisa White Reyes said...

My first "real" job (30 years ago) was as a bookseller at Once Upon A Time in Montrose, CA. I loved that job! Even now, when I am in my local book store, people mistake me for an employee and ask my opinion on what they should read. Luckily, I always have great recommendations on hand and have seen people at the cashier buying the titles I suggested. I never do tell them I actually don't work there. I guess my love of books is written on my face.