When the Boxes Come In

Josie Leavitt - September 30, 2010

It’s that time of year, when all the yummy fall books start streaming in. As exciting as the new releases are, each box can cause a certain level of anxiety in all of our staffers.
Our store is small enough that we don’t have a shipping and receiving department, so we all chip in when the boxes arrive. We get boxes in every day. Most days it’s a mix of distributor boxes that usually have our special orders and bestseller restocks, and publisher boxes that have all the new books. We usually get five to six boxes of day. This Monday, we got 27 boxes. 27 anxiety-producing boxes. When I see that many boxes come in, my first thought goes to where are all these books going to go? My next thought is: why did I buy so many books? The following thought is how am I going to pay for all these books?
Fears go away quickly when I’ve got some special order folks already waiting for us to unpack the boxes to find their books, and eager customers looking for the newest books that just came in. (Why can’t all boxes, from publishers or distributors, list the contents on an exterior labels, so we’re not forced to dig through every box to find one special order, that’s almost always at the bottom of the last box.)
Checking in boxes is a dance.  One person is usually responsible for one publisher at a time, but while they’re doing that, they’re also at the register and helping customers. Books get checked in and stacked on the back counter for shelving. I’ll be honest, sometimes the shelving stacks can get really high. Really high stacks of books waiting to get shelved can create a wall that seems insurmountable. But it’s always struck me that a huge stack of shelving can get dealt with fairly quickly when it gets organized by section. Taken in small parts it’s not so scary.
Every box gets checked in against the packing list. We do this on the computer now, rather than comparing the books to a paper slip, as this can be terrifically slow.  Then we sort out the special orders and print out the list of folks who need to get called to tell that their books are in. Special order calls, next to helping a live customer in the store, is the most important thing we do. If we don’t call the special order folks right away, we lose the impression of speed in getting the books in. Special order customers need to be called in time so they can pick up their book the day they come in. It’s a balancing act: calling customers and getting all the books processed.
One thing about a smaller store is our boxes are out there for all the world to see and this can create an air of chaos, but it also creates an air of vitality. After our UPS man leaves, we are awash in boxes, but they are boxes of books. Books that someone can’t wait to read, books that I can’t wait to sell, so if there needs to be a little chaos for that to happen, bring me 27 boxes every day.

4 thoughts on “When the Boxes Come In

  1. Children's Authors' Ally LLC

    As someone who runs a visiting author business out of her home, I had a good chuckle at your blog. Yes, 27 boxes arrived yesterday night at 9 p.m.- in the driving rain! Very few, except those of us in the book business, can understand the exact anxiety you described.
    My cycle runs like this:
    At delivery: I ordered too many, but wow, look at Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous art work!
    Immediately before event: Oh know, I ordered too few! Should I order more?!
    After event: Great event, do I hold onto the extras or make returns?
    With the shelves fully stocked for close to 100 events between October 7th and December 11th, I was just thinking, “WOW, there are a lot of books in here!” I say it every day, I have the greatest profession in the world, one that provides me with a life surrounded by great books and authors who have become dear friends. I’ll take the anxiety along with good.

  2. Sharon Creech

    Thanks for the insight. I always wondered how you could possibly keep track of all those new books. . .and special orders. . .and how you knew how many to order. . . Wow!


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