Insights from a Past Bookstore Employee

July 23, 2014 by Kylee Unrau


Being an avid bookworm, I worked for a nation-wide bookstore chain while I was finishing up my English degree. With my current position at Word Alive Press, I’ve now seen both sides of the publishing spectrum and I’m able to give some unique insights when working with authors.

The best advice I can give to authors as a former bookstore employee is to go to your local bookstores and make connections with the managers and staff. Stores will be all the more likely to support you and recommend your book to customers if you are friendly and considerate to their employees!

Most stores have local interest sections that your book might end up in (if it is in your hometown, that is) that will draw people’s attention to your name if they are looking for local authors. Once, there was a local author who saw his books on the shelf and asked if it was alright if he signed a few copies of them. Since there were quite a few signed copies, we were able to place a “signed by the author” sticker on them and face them outwards on the shelf so they’d be more visible. Of course, if you’re an author and your books are on the shelves, you should ask the managers first if they’re alright with writing in the books, but it often is a good selling feature.

When shelves were getting a little sparse, we would turn books so that their front covers were facing outwards (this would fill up more room on the shelf). As staff, we had the freedom to pick our favourite book covers to showcase, so having a marketable cover really does make a difference. These books were then seen by more people and picked up more.

While working there, I noticed a few different types of customers. Some customers will know what book they’re looking for and go straight to the computer system to look it up and find it or order it, but for the most part, people come into bookstores in order to browse through the stacks and pick out books based on their cover design or staff recommendations. So if you can convince stores to get your books on the shelves, this is a great selling point for a local author.

Our store also had tables of books on display that would grab customers’ attentions right as they walked by. Of course, the way books are displayed on these tables is often luck of the draw. Sometimes books are on display because they’re popular and the store ordered so many of them that there isn’t enough room on the shelves. Sometimes it’s because the books match with a certain colour scheme or theme that the store is going for, and sometimes they fit in with purchases for a specific season or gift.

My favourite section to work in was the kids section because I had read pretty much everything there at one point or another. Most employees would recommend books that they had read and loved, so a huge thing that the store encouraged was to read their books as much as you could so you would be familiar with the product to give recommendations.

Some of the above factors contributed to what I read, and I know quite a few kids bought books that weren’t in special displays because I told them about how much I loved the book. Word-of-mouth recommendations work! Authors, get as many people as you can to read a copy of your book (even if you have to give it away) so that you get more word-of-mouth recommendations.

Like working in any retail job, I have a lot of different stories about working with customers; some great, some not so great, but I really enjoyed working in bookstores for the most part, and now that I work in publishing, it just gives me a full picture of how a book is made and what happens to it after the glue is dry. Some of these factors are things that you can’t control as an author (for example, whether your cover will match the fall scarves or bracelets, or the fact that James Patterson’s newest book is now taking up half the store space and hiding everyone else’s book), but there are some things that are really important, such as having a marketable cover and getting your books into as many people’s hands as possible so that it becomes a book that the store orders and customers can see.

About this Contributor

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Kylee is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg with majors in both English and Theatre. She enjoys fantasy and science fiction, horseback riding and video games, tea and coffee (most people prefer one or the other. I say, “Bring on the caffeine!”). Kylee hates Winnipeg winters and loves bonfires and camping.