Booksellers are some of the publishing industry’s most important partners: these are the people that put the books in reader’s hands, literally! They have a lot of experience interacting with readers on a platform that is unique to them – in a bookstore, surrounded by books, all of them within arm’s reach. Everyone in the store is looking for a book, and the booksellers are on hand to share their expertise in a way that customers respect and often enjoy.

As someone with almost ten cumulative years of bookselling experience prior to my time with the Kobo Writing Life team, I want to highlight the ways the mindset of a bookseller can help you sell more books.

Here are a few key concepts that are very familiar to booksellers:

Handselling – handselling refers to a very familiar customer interaction, wherein a bookseller chooses a book or books and walks the customer through the draw of the title, whether it be the author, the plot, or how relevant it is to the customer’s interests. Handselling is a one-on-one interaction, one where the bookseller is often sharing one of their favourite reads with the customer in a passionate, personable way.

To read some handselling blurbs, and get a sense of how booksellers talk about books, check out this article! Book Marks runs a series where real booksellers submit their favourites in a handselling-style for anyone and everyone to read without needing to set foot in a bookstore.

Pitching – much like in the publishing world, booksellers pitch books to customers, their coworkers, and their bosses (or whoever oversees ordering books) all the time. Pitching is a little different than handselling: pitching is all about why the book is a good investment, whether it be a customer investing reading time or a bookstore owner looking to get a new, successful title on their shelves. Pitching is more pointed, focused, and less about the way a book might make one feel and more about how this book could benefit the reader or the workplace.

Recommending – often a natural part of the handsell, recommending titles (whether they are currently available at the store or not) is a huge part of being a bookseller. If a bookseller has ever piled your arms high with books, that was because they had a lot to recommend! Recommendations are made when a reader comes in and says, “I really liked X, do you have anything else like it?” and the bookseller responds in kind with “Oh, definitely! This is Y, which is like X but with a little bit of Z…”

Recommendations lead readers down a rabbit hole of similar titles that expand their reading scope and, often, introduce them to new authors.

We’re going to break down how you can use these techniques in your newsletters, on your social media, and in your daily life to get readers interested in your work:

  1. Start with a catchy summary – start with a great summary of your book. Make it more interesting than “this is a contemporary romance” or “it’s a new fantasy series.” Try something like… “This contemporary romance features a grumpy barista falling for an upbeat new lawyer who just started at the firm down the road…” or “My new fantasy series focuses on a world where magic was recently made illegal, and the main character comes from a long line of magic users…” Basically, get a little more detail in there, but don’t go into too much detail! Keep it to a sentence or two, and let it spark your readers’ desire to know more.
  2. Tell your readers it will make them feel… something – don’t tell them how to feel, but do tell them how it might make them feel. Use direct and clear emotive words, such as “moving”, “unnerving,” “exciting,” “bright,” “enlivening,” and so on. You can tell readers how it made you feel, too – as the author, you have the best understanding of the emotions involved! If it made you feel sad, excited, or overjoyed to write, it’s likely that your readers will feel similarly.
  3. Compare it to another book or two – as always, don’t neglect including comps. A great handsell will feature one or two, but avoid going for more than that, lest you head into recommendation territory.
  4. Ask a thought-provoking question – as in, ask a question that the book poses to the readers. Think along the lines of something like, “this book asks us, how do we relate to others?” or something more concrete like “have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a witch in a world where witches are exiled?” Asking a question that the book itself will implicitly ask is a great way to get potential readers thinking and interesting.
  5. End with an affirmative – of course, end on a high note! Finish with something funny, interesting, or return to another emotive note. Sometimes wrapping up the handsell by simply saying “hope you enjoy!” is a great way to seal the deal.

Here are some more ideas for incorporating handselling into your marketing techniques:

  • Another great way to get into the art of handselling is to highlight the books of others as well. Consider including a feature in your newsletter where you handsell the books of other indie authors in your circle, and see if they are interested in doing the same.
  • Get on a podcast, TikTok, or an Instagram or Facebook live event! One of best part about handselling is the spoken word aspect – it can, and most often does, spark a conversation between bookseller and avid reader. Replicate that conversational tone by using your voice. Use your handselling script or totally wing it in the moment and see where your passion for your project takes you.
  • Another tip: treat your backlist like a bookstore – don’t neglect it for your new release! Booksellers know more than anyone how well older titles can sell, especially if someone is already interested in a new release by the same author. I can’t tell you how many times someone has walked away with a whole stack of books by the same author, simply because I introduced them to said author’s backlist. Consider bringing older books to the forefront again in the form of a handselling spotlight.
  • Know a bookseller in your life? Ask them to help you out! Alternatively, go to a bookstore in your area and strike up a conversation with a bookseller there to get an idea of how they do it – just make sure to purchase a book, or two, or three, during that trip.
  • Some of the best times to handsell are during the summer (everyone needs a new summer reads), the months of August through October (new releases abound during this season) and, of course, the myriad of holidays in December, when readers are not just buying for others, but for themselves, too. Keep that in mind when prepping your handselling projects.
  • And, lastly, don’t forget to think like a reader. Booksellers began as readers, too, and carry that experience into their work. Thinking like a reader is what will make your handselling feel approachable, genuine, and exciting. Consumers know when they are being sold to – leave that for the pitch part of publication. For handselling, focus on being yourself, and letting your books steal the spotlight.

I hope that these tips and ideas regarding handselling can help you try out new ways of marketing your books to new and existing audiences. As always, happy writing, and best of luck bookselling!