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Lessons Learned as a Bookseller

Buried in the Slushpile

For many years, I spent most of my days in a bookstore. First for one year at Barnes & Noble, and later more years than I can remember at BookPeople in Austin.

I have always believed that everyone in publishing from the author to the publisher would benefit from spending time working in a bookstore. There’s so much, not just about the industry, but books themselves that you can learn there. For example:

How to write catchy copy. You get to see firsthand what books people pick up and what leaves them confused or uninterested.

How to pitch a book in one sentence or left. When you only have the time it takes from pulling a book off a shelf to placing it in the customer’s hand, you get good at making that book as appealing as possible in as few words as possible.

To put your barcodes on the right side of the book, by the spine. Not on the left side. Not in the center. Right side by the spine. When you’re having to scan book after book for inventory checks, you want to pull the book out as little as possible.

To never do white covers. They just look filthy.

To never do black covers. They also manage to look dirty. Solid covers in general don’t hold up that well.

To never, ever, no matter how cool they are, have some sort of cutout on the dust jacket or cover. They just get ripped. Then they get sent back to the publisher for pulping. It’s just a waste.

How much readers truly love to talk about books. Of course, there are all sorts of places these days for book lovers to come together. There are all kinds of online communities. But there’s just something about geeking out with a complete stranger over a book you love that bonds you in a way you don’t find online.

I realize that it’s unrealistic for everyone to spend time like that working in a bookstore, but there are libraries to volunteer in, book festivals, and other ways to connect with books and readers in a similar way. If you get the opportunity, definitely take it.

I can’t recommend it enough.

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