How Folks Order Books

Josie Leavitt - July 1, 2014

After owning a bookstore for 18 years, I have seen special-order requests come in many ways. Normally, special orders come from customers who are actually in the store, or calling up. But as lives get busier the special orders have been coming to us in a variety of clever ways.
Let’s face it: people multitask just about everything now. Often this means when they see me, they remember that there was a book they wanted to order. Funnily, or irritatingly (depending on my mood and available time), they will follow me around the supermarket describing the book(s) they’d like me to order for them. Do not misunderstand me, I love that folks want to order from us and don’t just go online and order when they think of the book they need. It’s just odd to be doing bookstore business while I’m buying toilet paper and dish soap.
I think people have been ordering this way long enough that they know I might need some memory aids. Occasionally, I will write a note in my phone and hope that I remember to actually order the desired book. Some people, who have my cell phone number, will text me random book requests when they think of them. Often, these come in late at night (why is it we most remember these things after 11 p.m.?) waking me up. I do my best to remember. But you know, I don’t text the owner of the wine shop at night asking him to set aside that bottle of Pinot Grigio I love. But somehow, books are different.
When someone realizes there’s a book that she needs, that desire has to be conveyed immediately. emily specialIt’s not a lack of memory of thing: it’s an anticipation thing. Books create longing that needs to be remedied. Our job as booksellers is to get these books for folks. But, I am human and I take a lot of notes in my phone, so I can forget that five notes back there is someone’s special order request. One friend got very creative about getting me her book title. She works at the coffee shop across the street.  She knew her friend was picking up his book at the store, so she sent him over with the above note and an iced latte.
What I love about this note is the little heart in the corner. And she says, “Please.” How charming is that? Plus, she’s got  the title and the author right! That’s huge.
This system worked and the books are due in today and rather than call, I’ll zip over to the coffee shop with a post-it to let her know they’re here.
Booksellers: what’s the strangest way you’ve been given a special order request?

3 thoughts on “How Folks Order Books

  1. Laura

    In line at a McDonald’s near the bookstore. I remembered what she needed but forgot what I came in to order. lol

  2. Carol Chittenden

    Shameless bookseller that I am, I’ve even taken orders at Tuesday exercise class, and delivered the item, giftwrapped, on Thursday. The sale was just one cookbook, but a) it reminded everyone in the class that we gladly order; and b) it helped dispel the lingering image that we have only children’s books.

  3. Sarah

    Okay, my favourite story… one night, long ago, I’m walking along a dark city street when a police cruiser slows down next to me and pulls up in front. I’m quietly freaking out, wondering what I have done. A cop opens the window and sticks his head out, saying, “You work at Chapters, right? I saw a book on owls on the main floor- do you still have it? Can you put one aside for me?”
    I was totally dumbfounded (and I’m afraid to say I actually forgot to do so…well, he didn’t give me his name…)
    I also recently received a letter in the mail, with $30 cash enclosed, requesting a particular book be shipped to his home address. It wasn’t totally enough to cover the shipping charges but we didn’t mind!


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