They’re Little, But They Sell

Josie Leavitt - August 26, 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."

6 thoughts on “They’re Little, But They Sell

  1. Liz Szabla

    Even though I work in the industry and read tons of book reviews, I continue to rely on shelf-talkers (and appreciate them) to make spontaneous discoveries and decisions when book-shopping for myself or my family. I agree that thinking outside the box makes the most attractive shelf-talkers. I used to love to write these when I was a bookseller, but once got in trouble from my boss for “taking too long” to make them. (It was back in the day when they were all handmade, and I wanted mine to look good!)Thanks for this nice refresher on a great sales tool.

  2. Carin

    Book People is great at Shelftalkers, and Atticus used to have a ton of them too but took them down a couple of years ago. One thing I liked at Book People is that they’re not all personal recommendations, some will say: “this amazing mystery won the Edgar Award in 2003” if you do a few of those in with the personal recommendations (particularly if they’re hand-written), they do seem personal, and it is a few more books that you can recommend even if you’ve not read them yourself. But those should be kept to a minimum. We all know how to hand-sell books we’ve not read too, and those books can get shelf-talkers as well! Great post Josie.


    The reason I go toindependent bookstore is because I can get recommendations. I almost always buy something that has a shelftalker. But I’d also add to your post to keep changing and adding them. There was a point that I’d read all of the recommended books and they never added any new ones. I stopped going to that store after a while . . .

  4. Melissa Posten

    This is fantastic – thank you! I tend to ramble in my shelftalkers so the six/six thing will be good for me to try. I forwarded this to the owner of the shop where I work and she’s going to make it mandatory reading for everyone. Also, the shelftalker holders from Shelf Wiz are fantastic – if you have a little wiggle room in your budget, order some to try them. They have made our shelftalkers look so pretty! (I think the company will send you a sample, too, so you can see it in person before ordering.)


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