Sunday, 30 June 2013

In Praise of Booksellers - Lari Don

It’s Independent Booksellers Week, which is probably not a surprise to many readers of this blog. And I’ve just spent a day being a bookseller! Well, not a day. A bit of a day. I was one of several local authors invited to be a bookseller yesterday at The Edinburgh Bookshop, the city’s very friendly independent bookshop, to celebrate IBW13.

I love my local bookshops (not just The Edinburgh Bookshop, because Edinburgh is lucky to have a handful of lovely Waterstones, a brilliant Blackwells, and several other excellent independents like Looking Glass Books and Wordpower) and I also love my local booksellers.

I appreciate the booksellers even more now I know what they do all day. The first thing I learnt is that booksellers don’t spend all day reading books. If you just lounge about reading, you keep getting interrupted by customers…

In my short but instructive shift as a trainee bookseller, I sat on the floor with a five year old and her mum and looked at picture books. I chatted to a seven year old and her mum about the exciting move into chapter books. And I pulled out half a dozen of my favourite adventure books for a nine year old and his dad, and sent them off to sit on a couch to read the first page of each, so see which one they wanted to keep reading.

And I’m happy to say that each of those kids went away with at least one new book!
Getting excited about a box of books

But I didn’t spent all my time having fun with customers. Along with my fellow new-starts Viv French and Cat Clarke, I also opened a box of just-delivered books, which was really exciting. Then I ticked them off on a bit of paper. (An invoice? A billing sheet? A despatch form? A delivery note? I’m sure there’s a technical term. But it was definitely a bit of paper.)

Then I registered the new books on the shop’s computer, by pointing a red light at the bar code until it went BEEEEP! That was exciting too. Then I called the customers whose orders had come in, which was exciting for me and for them.

I even put some books on shelves. Though that is a bit of a challenge for someone who has to chant the alphabet under her breath for any letter after “E”.

None of it was rocket science (the real booksellers didn’t let me near either the till or the kettle) and I worked in shops when I was a teenager, so despite the more complex technology (BEEEEP!) it was essentially all the usual shop stuff. But it was all the usual shop stuff about books, and books are my passion in a way that leggings and chewing gum never were. So it was genuinely exciting to chat to people about books I loved. It was genuinely exciting to handle new books, and to tell customers that their books had arrived just in time for their summer holidays.

I didn’t even try to sell anyone my own books, because that’s not what the day was about. I just wanted to share the books that inspire me with customers who had come in hoping to find the right book for them.
Booksellers for the day: Viv French, Cat Clarke and Lari Don

And that’s why writers and readers need booksellers. Because a recommendation from real person who knows about and cares about books, and who wants to match the right book to the right reader, is far more powerful than any computer-generated recommendation.

So make a trip to your local bookshop and have a chat with your local bookseller. Though if the bookseller is wearing a Tshirt saying “Careful or you’ll end up in my next novel,” you might be talking to an author, moonlighting for the day…

Love your booksellers, because they love books!

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 
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Sue Purkiss said...

That sounds like great fun! I've often though I'd like to work in a bookshop.

Lari Don said...

It was fun! Though it was mainly fun because there was no pressure to sell anything, to make the business sustainable, or to hoover up at the end of the day. We got given the fun stuff deliberately. I suspect running your own bookshop can be quite stressful. Which is why we need to love our booksellers!

Penny Dolan said...

Glad you highlighted Independent Booksellers week, Lari! I've heard of that remarkable "Edinburgh Bookshop" - even down here in Yorkshire - and it's on my list for when I next visit the city.

A great post and an enjoyable temporary employment - impressed by that book-scanning! - though I fear that some people only see the "fun" side of bookselling and not the stress of running it as a business.

Lari Don said...

Oh, you must visit next time you are in Edinburgh. The best thing about the bookshop is the staff. They know so much about books, and care so much about the customers leaving with the right book. And yes, I'm sure the fun bit is working with books and booklovers. The difficult bit, as your post today shows, is the business and money and staying afloat. Let's hope that weeks like this one remind us all to visit bookshops!