The Most Dreaded Task?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- March 7th, 2017

First order of business: awarding the prize from last week’s contest. The person who guessed which Jason Chin book was the next bestseller after Grand Canyon was Linda, who aptly reasoned, “Island: A Story of the Galapagos because kids like big tortoises.” I’m thinking she might have a future as an acquisitions editor! Linda, send me an email as per contest instructions, and we will send you your signed copy of Grand Canyon. Heck, or Island! Your choice.

And now on to the dreaded tasks.

With three fairly new staff members at the bookstore, all added dring the last year, I’ve been paying attention to the kinds of projects they gravitate to and the ones they seem less enthused about. Obviously, we all have to do things we don’t love at work, but playing to people’s strengths and interests creates a happier staff. Since every job has a number of tedious, frustrating, or difficult tasks, as well as a number of opportunities for creativity and innovation, I wanted more specific feedback, so I created a survey.

Happily, one of Word’s templates is a questionnaire, so I used that to create the Flying Pig’s Handy-Dandy Task Preference Form. In a hurry, I listed all of the major tasks of the bookstore as they came to mind, in no particular order. I showed them to Laura, who loves this kind of thing, and she added another dozen ideas. Even after printing them out, I thought of several more. We had three pages of tasks – no wonder we are always on the run!

I left out anything that is only a manager or owner’s task, or anything we all always have to do, like ringing up customers and answering the phone. I did make one exception about handselling, since some people can have differing levels of comfort recommending books in various genres or age ranges. It’s worth knowing people’s areas of dubiousness, so we can strategize.

I asked my staff to rate their enjoyment of these tasks on a 1-5 scale:

  • 1 = Would be happy NEVER to have to do this
  • 2 = A low-joy task for me
  • 3 = I don’t love this, but I don’t mind it
  • 4 = I enjoy this, OR I’ve never done this, but it sounds fun/interesting to try
  • 5 = I’d spend most of the day doing this if I could

There was room for comments/elaboration/frantic backpedaling after each rating.

I handed these out at our evening staff meeting after buttering everyone up with delicious pizza (sweet potato and veggies!, and a margherita) and a little IPA brew from Folino’s up the road. They took home the questionnaires; we’ll see what comes back!

Emily commiserating as Dan sadly contemplates his empty pizza plate. Nod to HMH for the handy (and butterfly stylish) “laptop desk” box.

In case you’re wondering what the broad bookstore tasks are, and why booksellers laugh maniacally when people suggest they probably get to read all day, I’ll list them (and I did take the time now to arrange by type):

Sales Floor & Handselling

  • Write Book Reviews (shelf talkers, Edelweiss, Indie Next)
    Recommend Books for Kids to Adults
    Recommend Books for Kids to Kids
    Recommend YA Books to anyone
    Recommend Adult Books
    Genres and Ages I feel most comfortable recommending
    Genres or Age Ranges I Wish I Never Had to Recommend Books for (not a numerical rating)


  • Create Table and Endcap Displays for Upcoming Holidays/Events/Various Themes
    Create Window Displays
    Make Signs & Signboards
    Create Flyers for Upcoming Events

The Phone, The Phone (only refers to making calls, because we all have to answer the darned thing)

  • Call SPO People (when orders come in; this refers to regular customer book orders)
    Call SPO People for Languishing SPOs
    Handle Challenging/Complicated Phone Calls
    Call Publishers for Damages/Information

Inventory Management

  • Build Orders for Events
    Build Orders for Upcoming Seasons/Holidays/Themes
    Build Restock Orders
    Bestseller List Restock
    Receive Orders
    Process Event Books
    Process Direct-to-Home Orders
    Handle Mail/Web orders
    Train on Frontlist Buying
    Evaluate Returnables

Events & Marketing

  • Initiate Events
    Make Twitter and Facebook Posts
    Write Press Releases
    Initiate Marketing Ideas
    Help Out at Events

Database and Website

  • Bestseller List Coding
    Fix Database Inconsistencies
    Update Bookstore Website

Big-Picture Planning (excluding owner-only tasks)

  • Rethink Store Sections
    Create New Programs
    Create Systems for New Programs
    Update Staff Handbook

Cleaning, Organizing, Tidying

  • Sort Sections Back into Order
    Manage Book Donations
    Change Out/ Restock Cards in Spinners
    Organize ARCs
    Take out Trash and Recycling


  • Investigate Mysteries (Orange box, etc.) — This refers to the loose ends in every bookstore: books of unknown origin, partial shipments, projects in progress, etc.
    Take Boxes and Orders to the Post Office
    Take Orders to Senior Center
    Waste Paper Printing Out Questionnaires

The scary thing is, that list doesn’t include SO MANY THINGS we do all day, like answer emails, pay bills, read reviews (okay, that happens outside of business hours, but still), and put out all kinds of tiny fires (missing shipments, missing books, changes to events, correcting sudden sales tax charges on invoices, checking release dates to make sure we haven’t missed a major title, and on and on and on!).

Really, the only people who have probably read to the end of this post are prospective/aspiring booksellers and colleagues who commiserate. To the former, I say, Be young and bold filled with energy! To the latter, I’d say let’s pull up a chair and have a hard cider, but none of us has the time.  : )

10 thoughts on “The Most Dreaded Task?

  1. Patricia Kisamore

    I have been a bookseller for over 20 years so yep..I read to the end..and shamelessly tried to read your checklist! Dying to know what happens, lol.

  2. Cynthia Compton

    “Languishing SPO’s” sounds so elegant – like they’re reclining on a fainting couch with their forearm draped gracefully over their eyes, awaiting a glass of iced tea. Ours are called “oldie moldies”, which is more like a forgotten sandwich at the bottom of a middle school locker, crushed under lacrosse sticks and forgotten permission slips. I’m changing all future project lists, immediately. We won’t be any more efficient, but we’ll be classier.

  3. Carol B. Chittenden

    FInally, in retirement, I think I’ll re-write the lyrics of There’s Nothin’ Like a Dame to There’s Nothin’ Like a List. Fist, gist, mist, missed, kissed, tryst, blissed: there’s material here. Terrific post, and SO TRUE that there’s always more. Carpet spots! Purchasing toilet paper! Shoveling snow! Diverting the eager self-published author. Untangling the giftwrap ribbon. SO minor. SO gotta happen.

    1. Elizabeth

      Untangling the gift wrap ribbon! hehe Yes – all of those happen here, too. I’ll look forward to your Broadway musical. It could be called UNDONE: THE BOOKSELLER’S PLIGHT.

  4. Linda

    Ms. Bluemle,
    I’m so excited to win! The Grand Canyon is my favorite place in the world and that is the book I’d like.
    I sure do appreciate it.
    Yours truly,

    P.S. I wouldn’t mind a future as an acquisitions editor at all!

    1. sue carita

      I am a bookseller and I read to the end, nodding my head all the way. Did you leave out the nightly vacuuming because you pay someone else to come in and do that? What about that all important brain-bending end of day cashout (credit card machine, counting cash, adding up checks received, printing out end of day sales tapes)? I love your list. People think we can read all day or evening!

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