Bookselling: for some people, it’s their life’s work. Working at or operating a bookstore isn’t easy, but it can be very rewarding work. Nothing beats the feeling of getting a new book into an eager reader’s hands, or encouraging a reluctant reader to try something new. Sales is a demanding job that requires patience, expertise, and a myriad of skills to succeed – especially in an industry as storied as bookselling!

Authors can learn a lot from booksellers when it comes to book sales. Whether they are employed by a large, national chain bookstore or work out of an independent and local shop, booksellers have a wealth of information on how to successfully market books, increase book sales, and get books into (sometimes reluctant or apprehensive) reader’s hands.

Read on to gain insight into how booksellers and bookstores operate day in and day out, and how their experiences can help you market, advertise, and sell more of your books.

Start of your shift – new releases

Physical books will almost always be released on a Tuesday, but digital books have a little more leeway. Regardless, keep tabs of your new releases! Focus on pushing those forward and getting them into the hands of your existing audience.

Think like a bookseller: what goes on the new release table today? Should this go in the window display? Turn that into a newsletter blast on the day of publication and plastering your social media with images and links relating the new title.

Lunch break – time to read (and research)

Phew! You’ve got so much work done, and it’s only just hit noon. Time to take a much-needed break with a book, a nice meal, and maybe a second cup of coffee. During this time, booksellers often grab a new book off the new release pile or take out a book they’ve been meaning to read for ages. This helps expand their knowledge of what’s on the market while also engaging in an activity they love: reading!

As an author, make sure you are always reading, too. Not only is reading a great time, but it also helps you keep in mind what is out there in your genre or area of interest. This could be called research… but let’s just keep in mind that it’s some relaxing downtime as well.

The afternoon – sales, sales, sales (and sustainability)

Now it’s time to focus on the rest of the store’s stock. This means dusting those shelves, rearranging displays, helping customers who aren’t looking for that new release, and generally, keeping up with the care of the shop.

As an author, this means taking care of your backlist. Never, ever forget about it! Periodically refresh it by updating metadata, changing the covers, or simply reminding your readers that it exists. Backlists are evergreen ways of making income, and can be important in the sustainability of your writing career. Even if you feel as if they aren’t selling as well as they were when they were new, guess what: even one backlist sale is one more sale!

Bookstores – and booksellers – rely on older books and backlist titles to keep the store operating. If it were only new releases, all the time, they’d be in a bit of a pinch while waiting for new books to come out or if there were to be a lull in publishing for a brief period. Never forget the importance of backlist books, even as the allure of new releases continues to grow and evolve!

End of the day – pitch to new audiences

As the shift winds down, booksellers leave the rest of the day behind them and may focus their energy on more passionate and personal conversations with customers, bringing their own interests to light. Pitching to new or unfamiliar readers requires patience and personability.

As an author, you can utilize this aspect of a bookseller’s job by being your own expert. This might seem obvious already, but what it really means is, be cognizant of all aspects of your work that potential readers might want to know about. Tropes? List them. Content warnings? Consider them with care. Overall plot arcs? Have them ready to lay out in front of you.

When we talk about the content of books, we talk about what holds our interest. What interests you about your work might be the time it took you to write it, or how many revisions it underwent; but for a reader, they want to know more about the finished product.

BONUS – working at a book fair, trade show, or conference!

These kinds of events require the bookseller to be on top of everything, sometimes for twelve or more hours a day! From set up to tear down to everything in between, a bookseller at a book fair is slinging titles for hours at a time, trying to draw in interested customers with a friendly demeanour, passion, and easily understandable summaries of the titles on display.

Think like a bookseller at a trade show: how would you “display” your books online to grab people’s attention? Once they are interested, what are you going to say (or write) about the book that will keep their interest? Like a fair, trade show, or conference, everything online moves quickly: how are you going to keep a potential reader’s attention long enough to get them to buy that book?

  1. Be passionate – in your writing, let your passion for your own work shine. Don’t shy away from the strong feelings you have about the work.
  2. Be approachable – that is, be friendly and welcoming. Avoid being condescending or standoffish in your copy. Make sure your writing comes across as an invitation to readers to learn more about your book at their leisure.
  3. Be a book lover – at the end of the day, the reader is looking at your work for the same reason you started writing: because you love reading! Don’t be a salesperson; be a reader, just like them. Tell them how the book might make them feel, what they can expect, and compare it to the works of others or even your own other titles.

Treat each book as its own unique experience. Readers want to know, most of all, how the book will make them feel. Many people are mood readers, but others know exactly what they want, and notice trends in their own reading interests, or are simply dedicated fans of a certain genre, trope, or literary convention. Many more readers want to read a book to learn something – and it doesn’t have to be a non-fiction title to offer some form of education. Keep all of this in mind when writing copy for your books: who do you want to appeal to the most, the mood reader, the dedicated fan, or the researcher?

When approached in a bookstore, one of the questions I was asked the most was: “I’m looking for something like X, do you have anything else that’s similar?”

As an avid reader and someone with over a decade of bookseller experience, it was easy for me to sift through my mental catalogue of books-like-other-books and help these customers out. This is an example of using comps – or comparison titles – outside of the realm of publishing and into the world of sales.

Readers LOVE comps, and are their main point of understanding when investigating new books. As an author, you absolutely need to use comparison titles to your advantage: include that comparison in every ad, every pitch, every post, every newsletter, every listing imaginable! The traditional publishing industry has done this for decades – indie authors need to use comps to their sales advantage, too.

Remember: visiting your local bookstore can do more for you and your writing career than just providing inspiration or offering some market research. Pay attention to the way booksellers succeed in their field, and see what techniques are transferable to yours!

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