How To Make A Bookseller’s Life Easier

Booksellers may seem like they live the good life, working in a bookstore, surrounded by books and dragon plushies and hosting the occasional Harry Potter party. But bookselling isn’t always fun and games. Sometimes it can be difficult when you have a customer who just doesn’t have the title right and you’re unable to figure out what it is they really want, or when you come around the corner of the fiction section only to see a massive pile of magazines on the floor with no one in sight.

But there are some people who do make an effort to make a bookseller’s life easier, and we thank you for that. Even if it isn’t to your face, understand that your efforts do not go unnoticed. Unsure of what you can do to make a bookseller’s day better? Try some of the following and they’ll love you forever.

1) Know the ISBN.

Don’t know what an ISBN is? Look at the back of any book and find the barcode. There will be a number that is either 10 or 13 digits nearby, often accompanied by “ISBN.” This stands for International Standard Book Number. I describe it to customers as a book’s fingerprint. The number is unique to the book, and having that on hand makes it ridiculously easy for us to find the exact book you’re looking for. You can find ISBNs just about anywhere. Have a library book you want? Just check the barcode area. Already on a website featuring the book? Check out the book’s product details. Even if the book with that ISBN is no longer available, it provides the bookseller with all the information needed to try and find an updated version of a different format because they’ll already know the exact title and author of said book. So don’t be surprised when a bookseller sounds really excited when you offer them an ISBN for a book search.

2) Put it back. (Or give it to us.)

Leaving a book by the wayside is one of the more annoying things that people do. Their thinking? “It’s their job, they can put it back.”

Okay. Fair point. Putting books back is a part of my job, but that’s when I have them to put them away. Leaving a book in some random spot on the floor or under a chair doesn’t help me put it away, nor does it help the poor customer who might be looking for that book. If I can’t find it, that customer can’t buy it. We’ve lost a sale, a customer is disappointed, and you’ve basically just made everyone sad because you’ve got a lazy attitude.

If you want to be a decent human being, put the book back where you got it. Don’t know where it goes? That’s totally okay. Simply bring it up to a bookseller or whatever sort of main desk the store might have and leave it with them. They’ll be pleased you did so, trust me.

3) Do NOT pull an entire shelf.

Some customers, for whatever reason, feel that it is acceptable to pull out an entire shelf of cookbooks or manga and take hours to look through them/read them. Yet once again, bookstores are not a library (something I cannot reiterate enough). By taking all these books, you’re effectively keeping someone else from purchasing. It’s even worse when you have zero intention of buying any of them. This awfulness is compounded when you become the customer from #2 above and leave them all there once you’re done.

Bookstores are a place of business. Take 1-3 books at a time and look at them. You’re already going to take your time, so why let another 4-10 books sit there for no reason while you thumb through the first few? We’re here to sell books, so leave those other books on the shelves for people to actually buy. And when you’re done, please refer to point #2.

4) Stop bringing up Amazon.

We’re booksellers. We sell books. It’s literally in our job title description. So yes, we’re aware that Amazon is probably cheaper. Yet for some reason people still feel the need to bring this up (and in the case of Barnes & Noble, some people still think the two are a single entity and not massive competitors).

Bookstores have to deal with something called “overhead.” Not familiar with the term? These are all the business expenses that are associated with running the business. They include: employee salaries, office equipment/supplies, property rent, repairs, telephone bills, utilities, and more. So that free WiFi that you’re not paying for? The water at the water fountain? The air conditioning you’re enjoying? The employee that helped you find the book you wanted even though you had the title wrong? All of these are going into making the business run. It’s why many bookstores not only don’t, but can’t sell books at Amazon’s prices. True, Amazon has overhead too, but smaller bookstores rely heavily on the profit they make from book sales since it’s the only thing they sell, whereas Amazon no longer sells just books but pretty much everything. In essence, they’re the Walmart of the Internet.

I’m not saying don’t shop at Amazon. Not at all. Just stop complaining about Amazon being cheaper and why can’t the bookstore match their price, or throwing in a bookseller’s face, “Well, I guess I’ll just go buy it on Amazon then.” Fine. Go buy it. But don’t be a jerk about it. We’re living on selling books (and so are authors!) and provide you with a lovely air conditioned, free WiFi, free bathroom, free water, and a building in which to browse all of your favorite subjects. Where you can touch them, smell them, and sit down and read them. If you’d really rather pay $12 instead of $15 for a paperback, by all means do it. But don’t act like the bookstore has any obligation to provide you with Amazon’s price.

While there are other aspects to making a bookseller’s life better (such as don’t try to ask them to try and find a book when your child is screaming at the top of his/her lungs and the bookseller can barely hear you), these are the basics. Stick to them, and perhaps the rest will follow. At the very least, you’ll be a better customer, and you’ll be the bookseller’s favorite person — even if you don’t realize it.


  • Lane Robins September 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    I would add, if you’re shopping for a gift book for someone, have multiple back up ideas. I can not tell you how many times I had a customer come in and ask me for a book that wasn’t out yet or out of print and then say ” well now what am I supposed to do?” And shoot down all suggestions I made. Bookstores don’t always have what you want! Or as Nicole points out they might have them only someone’s randomly moved them around making it impossible to locate in the five impatient minutes you allot.

    • Nicole Taft September 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      YEP! Excellent point! Especially since folks will come in the day before said birthday/special event. Some things can be ordered but if you come in the day before you need the book? Yeah, no, that’s your fault.

  • Kelly McCarty September 8, 2017 at 12:43 am

    I genuinely feel that it should be common sense that a clerk in a store is not the person who sets the prices and that if you’re being a jerk to them about the prices, you’re just a jerk.


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