In my shop, the answer to that question will usually be no unless So-and-So is an outstanding northern Michigan author. New books are a small percentage of my store inventory, and about a quarter of those, fiction or nonfiction, have Michigan themes and content or are by well-established writers with Michigan connections. Thus the obvious answer to the question would be: “No, I’m sorry, we don’t have that.” Bad answer, inviting a brush-off.
A much better reply is this: “I don’t have it in stock right now, but I’ll be happy to order it for you.”
“Oh, I don’t want you to go to the trouble,” the inquiring browser often says in response, and then it’s up to me to keep the conversation going.
Bookseller: “It’s no trouble at all, and I can offer three different options on special orders of new books. I can give you a 10% discount–or free media mail shipping—or you can pay full price and I’ll donate 10% of the list price to our local Children’s Center.” That last option usually gets people’s attention. It also gets across the message, without a sermon, that buying local isn’t just buying but is also supporting a community.
“Do you take books?”
Since my bookstore inventory consists mostly of used books, I often get calls from people wanting to downsize their home libraries. Here the obvious one-word answer is yes (with exceptions made for moldy or musty books, Reader’s Digest condensed books, encyclopedia sets, etc.). Lately, however, in addition to giving an affirmative response with qualifications, I try to say more.
Anyone who has to ask if I “take books” has probably never set foot in the store. When I start to explain my trade credit policy, at least half the time the caller will say, “Oh, we don’t want anything. We just want to donate them to you.” That’s kind and generous, but such generosity needs to be answered with other than gratitude. So my new response when someone tells me “We don’t want anything” is to say, “But I do! I want to stay in business here, and I’d like to gain you as a customer!” I say it nicely, eagerly, in a warm, friendly manner. I explain my trade credit policy, giving an example or two of a new book price compared to the used book price, which is 50% lower for customers with trade credit on file. I make sure the caller knows I have new books, too, and can order titles not in stock (see earlier conversation above). I invite the caller in for a personal tour of the bookstore, adding, “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of our stock.”
Most of us are booksellers because we love books, not because we dreamed of going into sales. But surviving as a bookseller necessitates selling books! So stop letting people give you the brush-off and sitting around stewing resentfully about lack of community support! Don’t just give terse answers to questions people ask—go further and give them the answers you want them to remember.
Pamela Grath Dog Ears Books 106 Waukazoo Street P.O. Box 272 Northport, MI 49670