Training a Book to be a Salesman

I read an article on the blog recently about adding a synopsis of the book to the online listings to help with sales. It got me to thinking about the art of hand selling the books. When you have a shop with thousands of books, all of them wanting buyers, how do you make them grab the attention of the customers? Here are a few of the techniques that have really helped me over the years.
Please!! Get decent lights!! I understand that you love that ‘cozy’ feeling that you get from little table lamps and chairs. But isn’t the point to get the customer to buy a book? If they can’t read the titles, they can’t buy the book – having seating, good displays, coffee etc… these will give your store the cozy feel – lights will help sell the books!

Signs! The first thing I think every bookstore needs is plenty of signs. Signs that label the categories in your store, this sounds obvious but I go into bookstores all the time that have no signs at all – how do I find the mysteries? Shelf talkers are another great way to help point the way to a potential sale. I use 4”x6” colored index cards, with the authors name on the end of the card, slid under the books. These work great because it can help point you in the right direction quickly – if I see an author tag under Dick Francis I know that I’m close to Earlene Fowler, which is who I was actually looking for.

I also use signs at the end of each aisle that list what is in that section. In addition to aisle signs, I use large shelf tags in sections that are broken up into smaller categories, for example, in gardening I have tags for perennials, annuals, water gardens, trees & shrubs, landscaping etc…

bookstore shelf talkerShelf talkers are also a great way to point out an author that you might need to generate some interest in – got too many Stuart Woods on hand? A bright yellow card with the header, “staff pick” and a few words about the type of author is usually enough to get your customers interested.

Everyone wants to have suggestions about who or what to read – not everyone is comfortable asking so we have displays for featured authors to point out someone that we’ve read, enjoyed and are happy to recommend. I have a three unit section at the front of the store that is our ‘best seller’ section. These books are not necessarily NY Times bestsellers. These are books that our local shoppers love as well as authors that I would like to see move a little better. For example, right now we have David Baldacci, Jeffrey Deaver, David Liss, James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks and John Sanford on our best seller shelves as well as the current Oprah picks, selections that our local bookclubs are reading, authors that I love and want to share like Jenna Blum, Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Simmons, local favorites like Bill Bryson and Adriana Trigiani and a few authors that are perfectly good reads but that aren’t moving fast enough.

One more thing that I’ve found is a really great sales tool – facing out some of the books on each shelf. I’ve noticed that more than 50% of the time a browser will purchase a book that is faced forward. It’s hard to look at books if they are all packed tightly together, row after row. It’s much easier to get a book noticed if you turn the cover to the customer! Having said this, I’ll also tell you that you have to change them around frequently – it will make the store appear ‘fresh’ no matter how often a customer visits!
Make those books sell themselves – turn out interesting covers, stack authors that you have several titles for, use shelf talkers to push authors that you have too many of, tag at least one author on each shelf to help guide customers through each section and have plenty of ‘specialty’ sections – best sellers, new arrivals – local favorites – try a few more creative sections like – ‘cool stuff’, ‘you look like you need a vacation’, ‘off the grid’ etc… People will love your creativity and appreciate that you’re trying to make their shopping experience as easy and fun as possible.

A note from Bruce:

Thanks Judy for a great post and one that bookshop owners can really take action on.

Below is Moonraker Books of Langley Washington, showing how beautiful images of books can really get your attention. How many of these would be skipped over if they were shelved the ‘normal’ way with the covers hidden.

4 thoughts on “Training a Book to be a Salesman”

  1. Yes, yes, yes! Please note that “cozy” and “well-lit” are not incompatible adjectives. Books facing out is also a good way to deal with shelves with temporary gaps–not that filling shelves is usually a problem for us!

  2. I find most bookstores send me running for home; too many books that seem to be the same, piled high like oranges, and all with titles that seem overused and stale, even when they’re new.
    That said, a new bookstore in Norwich, called The Bookhive, got us in and convinced us to part with good money by just the tactics you describe. Free coffee was a nice touch too, but risky. They also didn’t stock what every other bookshop stocked either. Found a rare one-off printing of the Earl of Rochester’s banned play that I ended up buying out of sheer amusement and to the delight of the owner, whose father had been expelled from a prestigious public school for trying to put on a performance of said play.
    These days, bookshops need to offer something different from the chain bookshops and the supermarkets…or they’ll go the way of the dinsoaur.

  3. I like the idea of finding treasure in an independent bookstore. I like the process of searching for something great that may be hidden on the shelves or on a table. But it is frustrating when they don’t have signs. Its like searching for treasure with no map.

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