Bookstore Diplomacy

Josie Leavitt -- May 16th, 2012

We are blessed with a rich and vibrant core of local authors in our town. Some have been published by the big publishers, others have been self-published, and some have been published by very small local publishers. When a customer comes to us with his or her book we do our best to herald the occasion.

I’m discovering that my idea of heralding and an author’s can be two different things. Recently, an author came in and wondered why we still only had one copy of her book and not a stack of them. I explained that we can’t afford to have stacks of anything on hand. She was not satisfied with that answer and suggested that I have at least 20 on hand at all times. I did not laugh at that suggestion. I realize that many books are the culmination of lifelong dreams. We had stacks of it last summer when it was new, but that point held little sway. She wanted to know where to send people for her book. I said we’d be getting five more in. “Well, that’s not enough.” But it is.

Trying to explain how the distribution cycle works for my business is not fascinating stuff, even to folks who own bookstores, so the author really didn’t care to hear my explanation of shipping times and cash flow. All she saw was one lone copy of her book and saw it as a lack of support. But it’s not.

There are only so many books I can carry. I have reordered five copies of her books, which will be in by the end of the week. She also suggested that I move her book from being spine out in the Vermont section to a face-out stack in our staff picks section. I told her that it was face-out in that section for the entire summer last year. But again, she was not happy.

I tried politely to explain that books cycle in and out of shelf spaces. New books often start out in the New and Notable case and then move around depending on many factors, including how well the book sold initially, customer interest, and other considerations. I tried to explain that a bookstore is a lot like a supermarket’s produce section, in that everything has to look fresh, and that means new books often get the lion’s share of face-out space.

But what this author failed to understand is that while a book may not be faced out, we still know it’s there and will still recommend it to customers. If we love a book, we’ll always recommend it, no matter where it is. I know everyone wants their book to be in a stack at the register, but that just can’t happen for all books, all the time.

So, now now I’m struggling with how to balance placating the author, who is a good customer, with our need to shelve books as we see fit. She left somewhat angry and I upped my order of her books to 10.


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