They’re Little, But They Sell

Josie Leavitt -- August 26th, 2009

Often, amid the hustle of a busy season, it’s easy to forget the little things that help sell books. I’m talking about the simple, well-written shelftalker. (Okay, secretly I was wondering how long it would me take once I started writing for ShelfTalker, to do a blog *about* shelftalkers. Just about five months — frankly, I feel like I’ve been holding back.)

Sometimes all it takes to turn a browser into a purchaser is an index card singing the praises of the book the customer is considering. A good shelftalker should read like an enthusiastic bookstore staffer handing someone a book. Short and to the point without giving away the plot, the perfect shelftalker is like having another staffer on the floor.

Tips for great shelftalkers:

– Aim for six lines long with six words per line. Elizabeth came back from an educational session with this formula and it really works. This format is easy for the eye to skim, while still being informative. It also looks good either typed up or handwritten.

– Don’t limit yourself to new books. Shelftalkers are a great way to sell backlist.

– Give different staffers different color index cards. This creates a splash of color and customers know JP’s color is orange and they look for her color when they need a recommendation.

– Keep your shelftalkers fresh. On an active shelf, shelftalkers can get worn, torn and dirty. Make sure to keep them looking crisp and re-do as necessary.

– Pay attention when you’re shelving and move shelftalkers to line up with their books again.

– Pull shelftalkers when you’re out of the book. One of our staffers brought in a small wooden box tabbed alphabetically. Whenever we’re out of a book, the shelftalkers gets placed in the box until the book is back in stock. There’s nothing more disheartening to a customer than reading an inspiring shelftalkers only to be told that the book is out of stock.

– Have fun with your shelftalkers. These are not book reviews. Try to write as you would speak to a customer. Think outside the box. I did a shelftalkers for Chelsea Cain’s murder thriller, Sweetheart, that has sold twenty copies this summer of the mass market thriller: "Sure it’s gruesome, sure it’s a female serial killer, but man o’man it’s good. Tense believable plot, rich characters, great easy read." It also helps that this shelf talker is exactly eye , it’s getting read more.

– Don’t put shelftalkers on shelves where little one can tear them off the shelves or get paper cuts.

– I prefer staff written shelftalkers over the ones that come from outside sources. I think having staffers write them lends each shelftalkers more credibilty–someone at the store liked this book enough to write about it.

– There can be such a thing as too many shelftalkers. Look around and see how the shelves actually look. If there are too many cards, none will get read.

– Lastly, read all the shelftalkers in your store. Get to know what your colleagues are recommending, so you can say if someone asks about you haven’t read, "I haven’t read it, but Kelly loved it. Here’s what she said."

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