“Have you ready any good books lately that you can recommend?” the Customer asked…
Cue the ominous music. Women and children duck into alleys. Men lower their hats over their eyes and idly drift away. A dog barks. A tumbleweed blows through the bookstore. All eyes turn to me. I nod knowingly and say:
“I really enjoyed “The Sheriff of Yrnameer” by Michael Ruebens,” I answer confidentially.
“Is that like, a Western or something?” the elderly lady asked.
“Oh no, it’s a great Sci-Fi humor book. A romp through a crazy kind of universe where…ma’am? Are you leaving?”
Okay, I didn’t really say that. I’ve been around the book business for 30 plus years, and she really wasn’t really asking me for a good book that I had read. She was asking me for a good book for her; if I had or had not read it is totally irrelevant.
According to Pew Research, Americans 18 and older read on average 17 books each year. 19% say they don’t read any books at all. Only 5% say they read more than 50.
In book business terms, that means you’ve got a core group of customers that read like mad, and a large number of customers that just read casually. They require two different tactics when it comes to answer “the question.”
First, keep in mind, as the owner of your fine book establishment, many customers readily expect that your knowledge of your books in stock includes:
- You know all the plot-lines.
- You know how harsh the language is, including usage of “the f-word” or “the s-word.”
- You know the amount of sex that occurs in every romance.
- You know if Oprah liked it.
- You know where the closest ATM is. Okay, that’s not book related by I get that one all the time for some reason.
How does one fulfill this expectation? Read a lot, keep your ears open, and use the Internet. Oh, and read customer’s minds. Easy. Here’s how we do it.
Casual customer first.
“What’s the last good book you read?”
Even the most casual of customers will recall a book or two that tickled their fancy at one time. Once you’ve got the clue, nod your head and smile, telling them that’s an excellent book. If you’ve heard of it and are familiar with the genre, walk them to the appropriate part of the store. You need the exercise, and it will give you time to think. You’ve got great books in the store. You can do it.
If the remembered book is obscure or you’re not familiar with the genre, it’s time to fire up the hamster and hit the internet. Go to Amazon and look up the book. This helps make sure, for one, that said book even exists, and two, you are spelling the author’s name right and have the title straight. Customer’s memories are often a shade off, and there’s nothing worse than looking for a book that was written by Clemons and it turns out is was Simmons. Down at the bottom of the book’s page there will be a “Customers who viewed this also viewed” kind of thing. It’s not the best way to do it, but it’s quick and easy system that helps get your feet wet. Keep in mind, the casual customer isn’t looking for 10 books to take with them. They want one or two ,and you pick them a couple of good ones, they’ll be back for more.
The hard core reader is beyond the Amazon tactic. They need a deeper look. They often want a series of books with the same main character (James Patterson’s Alex Cross) or they want a romance series set in a central setting (Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove series) or a romance series about a family (Linda Lael Miller’s McKettricks series). A new one I’ve been working with is What Should I Read Next. The recommendations on it are fairly close, and give a pretty decent range of choices, some that even surprised me as pretty good.
All that being said, our go-to place in the store is Fantastic Fiction. Not only does it list series books such as all the Spencer books by Robert Parker, in series order, but there is a snazzy place at the bottom of the author pages that tells what other books that particular author wrote blurbs for, plus there’s a Visitors Who Looked at This Page Also Looked at These Authors link box. Very cool.
Okay, I’ve showed you a few tricks to get you by in the early days of your bookstore dream, but here’s the rub. As the owner, it is essential that you are well-grounded in the popular fiction basics. To sell more books, you have to read more books, and I’ll break it to you gently: You are gong to have to read books you wouldn’t normally read. Sure, I love Camus, and I love Bukowski, and I’ve read all the Philip K. Dick books I can find, but I have to add in some work reading as well. Here’s a short list of what I think the well-read bookstore owner should have on their to-read list. Sure, you can go to Kirkus Reviews and get the drift of them, but I recommend you slog your way through them. Hell, you may even like them, and soon will find yourself engaged in conversation with a customer on why Tom Cruise was a horrible choice for Jack Reacher, and be able to relate a few relative scenes from the Lee Child catalog.
Now, that’s bookselling.
John’s Arsenal of Pop Fiction Cornerstones: Part One
- Kiss the Girls by James Patterson. The entry to the modern day police procedure. Related authors are Michael Connelly, Stuart Woods, Jeffrey Deaver, and John Sandford.
- Night Probe! by Clive Cussler. Men’s Adventure at its finest. Related authors are Matthew Reilly and James Rollins.
- Killing Floor by Lee Child. Knight in shining armor that kicks a lot of ass. If someone asks for an author like Child, you’re on your own.
- One for the Money by Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum series is a light read staple in your women who don’t read often holster. No comparable authors.
- Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn. Flynn’s untimely death ends the series, but Mitch Rapp, the greatest modern day counter-terrorism, to hell with the rules, rogue government agent, lives on. Brad Thor also writes a good one.
- A Time To Kill by John Grisham. Yep, every loves a good lawyer book and Grisham is the master. See also John Lescroart and Steve Martini.