I once had a survival job* at a brick-and-mortar mega-bookstore. Authors would sometimes come in to see how their books were doing, where their books were displayed and so forth. Those of the narcissistic variety were sure to posture and try to throw their weight around. They would want to talk with the manager and a bookseller or two, hoping to get sales stats and to bully staff into recommending their books to customers. There was little trust. They were sure their publishers weren’t reporting sales honestly. This last, of course, would affect royalties. These writers were condescending as well as rude.
As you might imagine, strut-and-push strategies achieve nothing. Bookstore management and staff are forbidden to share sales data with anyone, including authors. Staff don’t have control over the placement of books in the store. That’s dictated by corporate, which has negotiated contractual agreements with publisher regarding book placement.
Having said that, it’s actually a good idea to go into bookstores and talk to staff. If it’s not a busy day, introduce yourself. You might ask about their jobs, how they like them, what kind of books they read. Show some interest in booksellers. Remember the adage about honey vs. vinegar.
“I did discover that if you’re interested in low wages, a bookstore ranks below retail clothing sales, except the hours are worse.” Sue Grafton, American novelist (detective stories)
Working in a mega-bookstore might sound romantic to a bibliophile, but it’s hard work. It’s pretty thankless and it’s not well-paid. It involves lifting and moving heavy boxes of books, pushing H-carts, dragging hand trucks, dealing with demanding customers and stressed managers. There are no civilized corner offices with windows. There are shabby lunchrooms and rushed-half-hour lunches, two ten-minute breaks. There are sore feet and aching backs. Our regional manager used to say that if you didn’t hurt at the end of a shift you weren’t doing your job.
Resetting the store after closing is not the sweet enchanted thing illustrated in the video below. It’s fast paced and onerous. Everyone is tired. Some people will close the store late at night and have to be back early in the morning without having had enough sleep.
If you do visit bookstores, say “thank you” for all the hard work. Congratulate the booksellers on the store’s appearance. Drizzle a little honey. Booksellers will remember you as kind and be more inclined to read and recommend your books.
* a survival job is not a career position just something taken to pay the bills until more appropriate work is found
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This post is dedicated to booksellers everywhere.
© 2016, Jamie Dedes