Stuff Booksellers DON’T Know

Booksellers get a lot of questions on a daily basis. Where can I find this book? Who wrote this book? When was this book published? Is this in paperback? When will this author’s next book be available? Most of these questions are pretty typical (and normal), but there are still plenty of things that a bookseller won’t know and, unfortunately, can’t help you with.

The questions people ask that we don’t have answers to are, as one would expect, because the answers are only that other folks have, such as publishers, authors, or the guys running the store. Remember, booksellers are there to help you find things as well as suggest reading ideas and so forth. They don’t actually make the decisions, so if someone says they don’t know, try not to follow up with a demand that they change things or that they contact those in power and tell them to change things. It doesn’t work like that. So what are some of these questions?

Why isn’t it in print anymore?

A book can be out of print for any number of reasons. We can even suggest a few of them to you, but as to why a specific title is out of print, we’ll likely never know. The most common reason is simply because the book is old — often with the combination of few to zero sales. You may have loved that mystery book from 1993 and think it’s the best ever, but you’re one person out of millions; not a large enough number to keep the book in circulation. Unless the demand is massive and abrupt, or if an author’s other books get very popular all of a sudden (i.e. L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries resurfaced due to the TV show, due to Twilight, and many of her other books followed suit).

Even books that don’t seem like they should be out of print can still be gone. Books from 2006 may no longer be available. Some authors can get dropped in the middle of a series. This happened to Jill Myles, who later self-published the final book through CreateSpace. (I had no idea and was quite confused when a trade paperback arrived in my package rather than the mass market I expected.)

Other cases include a new edition is available and thus the old version is no longer in publication (a common problem with educator orders), or pulling a book on purpose in anticipation of future sales due to a movie/re-release/other publicity, such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

When will it be available again?

Unless it’s a special case like Fantastic Beasts, chances are it won’t be. However, there are cases where a book is new and requested by customers, but is simply not available. Not even sold out — just not available. In which case, I have no idea.

The book was released today — why don’t you have it?

I see this happen most frequently with mass markets. Usually it’s because the shipment of that particular book hasn’t arrived yet. Publishers focus on strict-on-sale titles first — those are the big names and big titles that can’t be sold until their specific release date. 99% of the time those are ready to be put on the floor that day. Other books may just be packed up later and shipped later. Sure, it may say that it’s out 11/22, but it may not be in the store until 11/25.

For other books, the publisher may have discovered an error or printing issue, which means re-printing hundreds to thousands of books and a longer wait time for the title to hit stores. Sometimes the book just never makes it into the store because no copies were ever ordered for that particular store. Maybe the buyer didn’t think it would sell well in a particular region. Maybe they could only order a specific amount and had those sent to specific stores instead. Your guess is as good as ours.

aloneWhy has the release date been pushed back?

This is why for a while I hated the paperback release (trade and mass market) of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons. The date for both started in March. Then got continuously pushed back until the end of October. The change was abrupt and even took us by surprise. There was nothing we could offer customers as to why the change happened. Maybe Martin needed more time to finish editing. Maybe they wanted to wait on something with the TV show. Maybe the hardcover sales were still just too good to ignore (which turned out to be the correct answer — but at the time none of us little booksellers knew).

Another reason is the publisher’s desire to do more marketing, which is the current case for Scott Sigler’s Alone, the final book in his Generations Trilogy. Originally set for an October 2016 release, they decided they wanted more time to publicize, and thus the release date was pushed back to March 2017. (Grrrr….)

However, these reasons vary and with so many titles, there’s no way we can keep up and it’s not like anyone tells us. The best way to find out is, if they have one, to check the author’s website, as most of them will keep their fans up to date that way.

Why don’t you just call the publisher?


That’s not how the book business works. We don’t directly call publishers over one book. Even when publishers are contacted, it’s not by a bookseller, it’s not for one book, and it’s actually their distribution centers that stores work with. Sorry, but Harper Collins doesn’t exactly care that you’re mad they stopped printing one mass market. They’re too busy marketing that brand new hardcover in that promotional spot at the front of the store. That’s why if you ask what the phone number of a publisher is, you’ll just end up with a very confused bookseller.

So you don’t know?

No, we don’t. And trust me when I say it frustrates the bookseller as much as it does the customer. It’s awful not having books in stock because it means a loss in sales as well as a loss in happy customers. A good bookseller will do everything in his/her power to discover the reasons behind something in order to put the book in your hands. I know we may seem like gurus when we figure out the title of that one blue book you saw 2 weeks ago, but sometimes we just don’t have all the answers.

Except 42. We do have that one.


  • maggiedellarocca January 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    This brings back memories of my years at Borders – about 2004-2011. The changes in technology due to the internet was staggering. It is far easier to find an out-of-print book (second hand) than when I started. I think the Children’s books section was the worst – customer expectations were very high. We happened to be lucky and had a super specialist in our kid’s department but still…teachers and parents are the worst when they find out their favorite book went out of print fifty years ago. Like you said, some books regain popularity – especially with children’s titles since it is adults choosing the books more often than children. I miss my store and co-workers but never miss the customers.

    • Nicole Taft January 7, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      Indeed. Teachers are especially frustrating because they want one specific edition of a book that just does not exist and has not existed for who knows how long. And yet they refuse to change or figure out how to change. The book is gone – you need to think of something else!


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