Anatomy of a Day, Or, Why We Haven’t Yet Answered Your Email

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 27, 2013

When most people imagine a day working in a bookstore, they have a somewhat idyllic notion of a quiet workplace involving customer service, shelving, and a little paperwork. Perhaps there’s a cat, and a comfy chair, and some reading during the quiet moments. The real thing is more like handling triage in a lively E.R. without (one hopes) the life-or-death consequences.
Yesterday was a busy day at The Flying Pig. There were three of us on the afternoon shift from 2-6 pm, and the constant, if mostly controlled, whirlwind of activity made me wish everyone knew what a day at the store really looked like from the inside. At the end of the day, I mentioned this to my cohorts on the floor, Sandy and PJ, and asked them to try to remember all of the things they had done during their shift.
The following is what we actually remembered doing. Note: this is an incomplete list; the task was much like trying to name all of the contents of one’s refrigerator. We got the majority of items, but there are of course bunches of parsley and half-limes and hunks of Parmesan and foil-wrapped lasagne leftovers and A-1 sauce forgotten on the backs of shelves and the corners of drawers.
Sandy’s list was from a full day; PJ and Elizabeth’s lists each covered a four-hour period.
Sandy’s list

  • Pick books for Story Hour
  • Recommend for 5-year-old girl with older brothers a book that “has beautiful language and illustrations and is good for girls but not too girly”
  • Recommend great vacation read that is “very well written but not too heavy” for a woman “who has read everything”
  • Give directions to Massachusetts (Mapquest, print out)
  • Track down why a customer’s order did not come in as expected
  • Talk with drop-in magazine writers about why Shelburne is a great place to live and visit
  • Read to children at Story Hour
  • Help a mother find where her daughter had dropped her toy
  • Receive a book order shipment
  • Shelve the books that have come in
  • Call customers to let them know their orders are in
  •  Recommend birthday gift books for a husband “who already buys everything he wants to read”
  • Ring up customers
  • Wrap gifts
  • Change burned-out light bulbs
  • Help a visiting family locate a nearby playground
  • Field promotional cold calls for “owner or manager”
  • Answer multiple calls asking about book availability
  • Call Ingram to find out when they expect to get in a backordered title
  • Help a group of children who love books and have read many of the best ones find new volumes
  • Try to figure out why inventory says we have 2 (negative 2) copies of a title when we actually have 3 on the shelf
  • Help a father find books for his preteen daughter who “hates to read” and automatically loathes anything her father suggests
  • Make recommendations to a young woman who wants “a good romance.” After getting excited about several books, she states she does not want any today, just wanted ideas
  • Clean up the mess left by a large group
  • Try to figure out the order of a series that has no numbers and a child wants #8-10
  • Help a customer find a massage in the area
  • Print out this week’s bestseller list
  • Rearrange bestseller shelves accordingly
  • Code discounts for books new to bestseller list and remove code from those not on bestseller list any more
  • Check on-hand quantities of all bestsellers and place books from the list that we are in short supply of on purchase orders, deciding how from the distributor and how many from publisher
  • Find good choices for the holes in: Book Group Picks, Great Summer Reads, Staff Picks, adult, youth, and picture books
  • Research best audiobooks to have on hand for the summer
  • Check the cash, credit card, check, and gift card numbers and make sure everything adds up correctly
  • Take trash to dumpster
  • Close

PJ’s list

  • Re-did four window. displays: spring reads to summer, spring kids picture books to summer picture books, grad gifts to outdoor books and gifts, recent fiction to great books for camp
  • Helped customer find book for two-year-old (loved Flora and the Flamingo)
  • Re-shelved tons of picture books left out by two large families
  • Rang up customers
  • Helped a great-grandmother find a book for her great-grandson (Loren Long’s illustrated version of Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could)
  • Called publisher to report receiving 4 copies of a book we’d ordered 2 of
  • Shelved receiving
  • Wrapped gifts
  • Re-did display on Flying Pig table and front case by window
  • Recycling to dumpster

Elizabeth’s list

  • Review applications for events and marketing position to determine next steps for each candidate
  • Talk with author dropping in to sell hiking/nature books
  • Recommend books to well-read kids looking for new fantasy titles
  • Get catalog online from puzzle vendor; sort through puzzle styles and difficulty ranges to build opening order; email rep to ask about per-style minimums and pricing
  • Take three avid, articulate, enterprising young readers to ARC shelves to choose books to take home and read, then share their opinions with us
  • Open and receive six envelopes from publishers, each holding two copies of various titles we’d ordered
  • Call publisher to report paperback damaged in shipment
  • Peruse Above the Treeline to look at indie top sellers for April-June 2013 and place titles we’re out of and want to restock on orders — titles we need by the weekend on distributor order; titles we can wait a few days for on publisher orders
  • Welcome longtime customer who lives two hours away, chat about books
  • Edit series titles in database to make recent series additions consistent with title and volume information
  • Help customer figure out title of book she heard about on the radio
  • Call sideline vendor to get our freight charge for a received order to reconcile and post
  • Fix price gun (labels sticking)
  • Review day’s customer online orders, place titles on purchase order and tag for customers
  • Finish pricing greeting card order
  • Check on-hand availability of books for phoning customers
  • Intervene with new customer whose two children are teetering on tantrum because they are allowed one book each but want several, by offering to children to record the titles of all of the extra books they want in a wish list for future reference; offer accepted; peace ensues
  • Gently redirect unsupervised toddlers pulling books off shelves; reshelve books
  • Look up and share with customer reviews for two books staff had not yet read that customer was interested in
  • Field summer job inquiry by high school student
  • Field inquiry by local author about number of copies of their books sold
  • Set aside Game of Thrones series for customer Josie ran into at the grocery store and called store about

As you can see, working at a bookstore is a little like making a Chinese papercut; you snip away at  dozens of disparate areas and hope by the end of the day you’ve unfolded something that holds together, something you hope, disregarding the bits on the floor, that’s maybe even a little bit pretty. And as you drive home, your mind is filled with tomorrow’s partially planned papercut: the event fliers and press releases you hope to design and post, the new book orders and teacher requests that will be coming in, emails and phone calls that need answering, titles to request from Netgalley, reviews to read, sections that need updating, series book that need restocking before the influx of weekend tourists, and so on and so forth, until the end of time. Suffice it to say, if there’s a comfy chair in the store, it’s unlikely to be occupied by the bookseller. We are more than delighted to see you in it, enjoying a book.

7 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Day, Or, Why We Haven’t Yet Answered Your Email

  1. Marion Abbott

    Fabulous. We could add here the drop-in self-published authors and artists wanting us to carry their work, explaining to them our submission policy; the multiple phone calls from credit card merchant services people offering new rates, the rep meetings . . . and on it goes!

  2. Carol Chittenden

    …and you could have an equally long list of entirely different items tomorrow! Lease negotiations! Press releases! Staff training! Website maintenance! Insurance reports! Spruce up the flower bed! Untangle a paper jam! THREE self-published author visits. Und so weiter, weiter, weiter…
    Oh, and you haven’t yet read the eight ARC’s that arrived this morning? Well!

  3. Karen Vail

    Wow, so true. Every day is a whirlwind and completing all tasks by end of the day usually only happens in our slow season. Those self-published authors visits/calls are now coming in multiples daily and really slow things down.Great to commiserate here!

  4. Jill

    SO TRUE! People used to comment to me, “you must do a lot of reading around here, huh?” and I was thinking: I wish! A day in the life of a bookseller is a day running around for eight hours straight…

  5. Joanne Mattern

    Love this! It sounds a lot like my day working in our public library. Everyone thinks I have such a “relaxing, peaceful job.” If they only knew what really went on…!


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