Friday, December 3, 2010

Dream Job--Musings on Christmas at a Bookstore

I've been working at a LARGE book retailer for a month now. This is definitely the other side of the craft, so I thought I would share some random musings about the biz from this side of the cash register.

There is an entire aisle of shelves devoted to "Teen Paranormal Romance." (Is there any other kind?) Anyway, to be a teen fantasy romance, you must have a black cover with ethereal girls drooling blood. Just an observation.

The only people who browse the "Religious Fiction" aisle are there deliberately. Readers skirt that aisle, preferring craft books or biographies for their trip to the cookbooks or bathrooms. Very depressing.

There are millions of books written by celebrities. I think they should move over and give the rest of us a chance. They're taking up valuable bookshelf real estate. And honestly, just because they're celebrities, doesn't mean they have something worth saying or that they can say it well. Keith Richards' autobiography (riiight) is 564 pages long. And he should have waited until his migraine passed before having his photo taken for the cover. The pain! And, honestly, the picture books written by celebs are awful. If you know of an exception, I would love a title.

The gardening books are by the door to the restrooms, and each and every one of them has a green spine. People, can we show a little creativity here? Thanks.

I'm pleased to say that many people pay attention during book talks on television and radio. They usually wait a few days or a month before toddling into the bookstore. By then, they can't find the piece of paper where they've scribbled the author's name or the book title. No matter. I love helping these people find their books. It's the best kind of treasure hunt. Once found, the book usually gets a hug to the heart. You have to love people on a quest for a good book.

At the cash register, the books I scan most are about girls with dragon tattoos kicking hornet's nests. You were right, Latayne.

Don't bother writing a cookbook unless you have a cooking show on a major network. The cookbook section is the toughest section to zone (neaten). First, cookbooks tend to come in odd sizes. Second, there are a gazillion of them! There's the butter section with Paula Deen and the grillin' section with Bobby Flay. If you don't have a television show, write a gluten-free cookbook or a diet book with promises of quick weight loss. These sell well too.

Here's a myth debunked: I've been told by people in the publishing biz that face-out books have been financed by the publishers for that privilege. Not so. Here's the rule: If there are four or more titles on the shelf, face them out, OR if putting them face-out (they're fat) will provide more space on the shelf for other books, face them out. There are promotional tables in the store where, perhaps, publishers have paid for the placement. No one admits to this. It is true that product placement is 100% the dictate of headquarters in New York City (where else?).

Our book-search software tells us exactly where each book SHOULD be. My personal experience? I believe the books come to life at midnight and dance around the information desk before settling into a new place. Just saying. The computer doesn't know everything.

If you have to work retail, a bookstore is a great place to be. Not only is the ink intoxicating, but the coffee drinks waif over the books all day long. More importantly, the people who shop in bookstores are good folks--sensible, passionate, literate. Oh, there are a few who act inappropriately. Some forget the bookstore is not at library. They come to read. They crease a page or use a bookmark to return to their reading the next day. Some are brutal on the spines, and the books must be returned. And there are others who have questionable taste in "books" who leave them in corners of the store. Ick!!!

eBooks are very, very exciting to people who love to read. We have a new model at $249, and people aren't blinking at the price. The digital format is here to stay.

And yes, I get an employee discount. And no, I haven't brought home a paycheck yet. For me, working in a bookstore is a bit like being an alcoholic in a liquor store, intoxicating to be sure. You might want to pray for me.

Here's a bright spot: I answered the phone in my chipper bookseller voice, and the person on the other end of the line said, "Do you carry The Queen of Sleepy Eye by Patti Hill?" (And it wasn't my mother.) Sadly, we didn't.

What makes a bookstore great? What titles are you buying for Christmas presents this year? So far, I've purchased Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. Do shop for books online or at a brick and mortar store? MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Is there a street shoe that wears like an athletic shoe? My. Feet. Hurt.


Paula Wiseman said...

Theodore Rex is an excellent book. I read it a couple of summers ago. And I hear you about the dangers of a bookstore to folks in need of a 12-Step program for bound paper. I can't tell you how many books are stacked in my office "to be read".

Gifting this year - for my son, a reluctant reader, I picked up a set of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.
My 13 yr old daughter reads constantly and has her own stack.
But I'd like to find something for my 4 yr old sweetie that didn't involve cartoon characters.

I wish you well in your quest for comfortable shoes!

Rebecca said...

Patti, I love this post! I worked in a Borders in the late '90s, and every single one of your reflections made me laugh out loud.

I'm now fighting the urge to put on my old black velvet skirt, combat boots, and go 'zone' the nearest science/math/computer section. Yeah, I was one of THOSE booksellers. :)

Thank you for the laugh!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

So many things I want to comment on.

First, what makes a book store great--why the smell, of course. ;) Working at a bookstore is one of my plans. I get the alcoholic in a liquor store parallel.

Second, how cool that someone called in about your book!

Third, thanks for explaining the face out deal.

Fourth, I'm seriously considering buying my mom Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb. Finished it last night. I laughed so hard throughout that book.

I think I'm done now. What a fun post!!!
~ Wendy

BK said...

Ah, shelves and shelves of books! Paradise!

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I think if I worked in a bookstore, I'd get fired, because I'd be tempted to open and sample every interesting-looking book that was handed to me at the checkout. Or if I was sent to straighten an aisle...well, you can imagine. Same goes for a library.

Bookstore visits are rare treats for me, because I've done most of my shopping online in recent years, and they usually end with my family calling or pulling me out the door in a kind of wistful daze because I didn't get to spend half the time I'd have liked to. I loved reading this post!

Jan Cline said...

Im so jealous! That is my dream job. There is nothing like the smell of a bookstore. I dont go there very often, because I cant resist spending too much. When I go to the "Religious" section I usually pray that "we" will reclaim that shelf real estate you spoke of. I hope you enjoy your job during the Christmas rush...that would be a challenge.

Patti Hill said...

Paula: Thanks for the confirmation of Theodore Rex. As for your 4-year-old, there are some great picture books, like the "How Dinosaurs" series by Jane Yolen (and don't forget her "Owl Moon"). They're funny yet teach about the basics of getting along in a family and with friends. Boys love them. Girls love "Fancy Nancy" and "Olivia." And there are a couple titles I'm forgetting. I'll have to get back to you.
Rebecca: Not the science/math/computer section! Help!!!
Wendy: A Lamb book made you laugh? Hmm, that might be worth checking out. He's a very tenderhearted man. I met him at a small writers conference in Jackson Hole. This was a huge surprise after reading SHE'S COME UNDONE. Don't eat the pistachios!
BK: I'll be leading someone to a book and see a beautiful cover. It takes every ounce of self-control I have to stay the course.
Elisabeth: I see people like you every day. They're on a field trip!

Nicole Amsler said...

Love the insights from the front lines. Very helpful!

I love this older blog post about things you can do for your favorite authors.

Every time I enter a bookstore, I search out my three favorite authors and place their books face out. Joshilyn Jackson (one of my favorites) has encouraged her "best beloveds" to this for her current book.

Thanks for the insight.

Lori Benton said...

Patti, I hope you told that caller you were Patti Hill. What are the odds of calling a bookstore and having the author of the book you're looking for answer the phone? That's actually very cool.

My husband just yesterday gave me an article to read about Hillenbrand and her book, Unbroken. I plan to read it soon, too. I remember Zamperini's story being highlighted during the last Winter Olympics (or perhaps the one before). And I was surprised to learn of Hillenbrand's own struggles.

Nicole said...

(My blog post today was about how many books I've bought for Christmas gifts. Five novels, two non-fiction.)

"Religious" is a ridiculous category for novels. Unbelievers avoid the aisle for fear of being seen by friends or captured by some zealot. And it just doesn't work for a category for Christian fiction.

Try some "Naturalizer" shoes--they usually have some attractive styles with good support.

l said...

Working in a book store would be my second favorite job--next to being a writer, of course! Someday I'd love to open my own tiny bookstore. ;0) I love shopping at brick and mortar book stores, but unfortunately Marquette, MI, has a dinky secular store and an even tinier Christian store, so I'm forced to mostly shop online. :0(

Hilarey said...

I want to know how you answered the caller too.
I loved this post!

Patti Hill said...

Jan: Keep praying! I do fear the Teen Paranormal department will encroach the Religious aisle. And I have to agree with Nicole here. The Religious aisle? I DO NOT write religious fiction. I write fiction from a Christian worldview, just like some people write from an existential point of view. And yet, it was the Christian publishing world that asked for its own section, so its readers could find them. Short-sighted, I think.
Nicole: That's such a tender request. She truly loves her readers and lets them partner with her in ministry. I love that.
Lori: I have a dear, dear friend with CFS who is also a writer. I see how she struggles to concentrate and find the energy to get to her computer each day for one hour. Buying Laura's book is a hooray for her courage.
Nicole: See answer to Jan. I'm with you, girl.
Heather: Yep, being a writer is my #1 dream job. Connecting people with books they'll love is another passion of mine. It comes from my teaching days.
Hilarey: I went silent when the lady asked about my book, but she remembered that I said I was Patti and could I help her. She said, "Are you Patti Hill?" I offered her a big fat kiss the next time she was in the store. Haven't seen her. Hmm.

Latayne C Scott said...

What cool comments.

Paula, I'd recommend Andy McGuire's books for your 4 year old. The artwork is clever and the rhymes memorable. I just love them and so does every kid I've given them too.

Patti dearest one, have you considered going to a store that has those computer thingees that analyze your feet and then tell you the right insole to wear? I think Dr. Scholls does that even in drugstores. Love you and your feet.

Anonymous said...

Patti, I love this post. Love the insight, and love being able to better picture you throughout your day, especially since this is the day we pray for you. (The six of us pray for each other on a regular basis, each having a day of the week that we are specifically prayed for.) So I'll be praying for your feet and that you find the perfect shoes to take care of them.

I also have enjoyed all the comments. I agree with you all!

PatriciaW said...

I've never worked in a bookstore. Would probably try to take up residence in a back room.

But I did work in a library before, and the experience is very similar. Add to it the people who swear they returned a book when they absolutely need to borrow another one for (fill in the blank) and surely it's the library's fault that the book can't be found and shows up as still out.

I also worked in a small branch of a department store that sold books, Woolworth's. Knew nothing about book returns then, but as a teenager was elated that they let me take home anything I wanted after we'd torn the covers off. Only the covers were mailed back to the publisher.

Get a pair of Aerosoles, Patti.

Paula Wiseman said...

Thanks Patti and Latayne - thank you for the book recommendations! We are shopping Monday.

Judy Gann said...

Don't get this children's librarian started on her rant about celebrities writing children's books. Grr.

You mentioned bookmarks left in books. Once I was checking in books and opened one containing a banana peel used as a bookmark. Later became the perfect example for my spiel to children on the care of books.

Praying for you, Patti. I agree with Nicole, "Naturalizer" shoes are the best.

Patti Hill said...

Latayne: I've seen those commercials. It's worth a try.
Sharon: Your prayers are a balm. Everyone should have so loving and faithful a prayer team. If any of you don't, recruit one today.
Patricia: Aerosoles, check! Thanks! And I'm taking a cot to work next week. Will they notice?
Judy: A banana? Yuck! People do surprise. The next time we're nestled into a swanky roommate situation, we'll talk celebrity authors. Oh, the dirt will fly! And I'll check into Naturalizers too.

Ellen Staley said...

I'm tempted to by copies of The Mountain Between Us as gifts. Finished it late, rather, early this a.m. as I couldn't put it down. If you haven't read it yet, please consider it. Only subtle indications of God's presence (I think he could have put more in), but the story is such a tender, sensitive, romance, yet with masculine overtones of protection, endurance and survival. A must read.

Patti, I laughed when you made the comment about the dragon tatoo. Yup, that book is next and is sitting on my side table right now.

At times I really wish books were just listed by authors, like in libraries. Might require a bit of research, but at least Christian fiction, whether focused on salvation or not, might slip into the very hands that make such a to do about being seen in the inspirational or religious aisle.

As always, a great post and enjoyable comments.

Anonymous said...

Ellen, The Mountain Between Us is on its way to me. Unfortunately I don't have a bookstore very close to where I live, though I do go every chance I get, so I usually order online. I'm a big fan of Charles Martin. Look forward to reading this.

sally said...

What a fun post. It brings back memories for me, too.

I worked in a bookstore and had a hard time leaving enough in my paycheck to pay my rent. Fortunately, along with our discount (cost plus ten percent), we were allowed to borrow books, besides.

In regards to celeb authors: John Lithgow is good. Some writers wait tables or work as book store clerks, so why can't they work as actors? It takes some of the same insights into characterization to act well as it does to write well.

Unfortunately, publishers often approach actors who have never thought about writing and ask them to write picture books. That's when most of the disasters occur, I suspect. (I think Madonna dreamed up her kabala education picture books on her own, though. Ugh.)

I used to complain about shelf-hogging superstar authors, putting out seven formulaic and fluffy books a year. How can one woman think she has so much to say? Why doesn't she sit down and give someone else a chance to speak?

Now I look at this two ways: for the woman who has contracts for seven books a year and produces those books and they sell, God has given her that for his own reasons. How she uses the shelf space he's given her is between the two of them. Her space on the shelf takes nothing from me. God is able to give me a shelf of my own if he wants. He's not limited by the size of the Christian books section. His favorite books aren't being squished out by the paranormal teen romances. He can make the New York people change the schematics completely if he wants.

But for myself, I say, "If God ever puts you in a position where you have shelf space, you must help people who don't have it. You must make time to listen to the unheard voices and hook them up with an agent or editor (like you ladies do with your contests--wonderful opportunities you're giving people there). And right now, you must mentor the one who is behind you on the path."

sally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BK said...

I just came back from Bookman's (I don't know if that's a national or local used bookstore) and that place was PACKED! Granted, part of the shoppers were looking at the other media (music/video) but there were tons of people browsing the bookshelves.

Nice to see a busy bookstore.

Carla Gade said...

What an enlightening post, Patti. Sounds like you are having quite an experience that side of the book. So, I'm with Lori, did you tell the caller she had the author on the other end of the phone or where she could find your book? So cool. I'd call that a little encouragement from the Lord that day to keep your author hat by night.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

It has been two years since our Christian book store closed. We are still suffering severely from withdrawal and it is the smell of the place that is most lovingly remembered. Our brain chemistry was affected by the aroma of all those wholesome pages gathered in one place. The internet will never satisfy that craving. (snuff the keyboard? Whiff the screen?)

Anonymous said...

Oh if only the person calling about your book had known she was talking to YOU! And I'd love to be there WHEN someone brings one of your books to the register and looks up and sees you...looks at your pic on the book...back to you...back to the pic...oh the fun!

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Hi Patti,

I loved this post. I love working at the bookstore. It is my dream job without me knowing it was. I so enjoy it and yes the first few weeks I didn't go home with a check, now I just visit the books. I need the gas etc... to get back and forth to work so I can... Well you can see where that is going. :-)

The finding a book that someone that doesn't know the title of is so satisfying. It is hard to explain that to someone if they have never had that pleasure.

Yes I love the smell of a bookstore, but one better is the used book dept. that we have here. It is still to me the best smell in the world. If I am having a bad day a stop there will improve it.

We have all actually threated to write a book about the funny customers that we meet at the store. Maybe someday. :-)

MandyB said...

I would love to work in a book store but I have a feeling I may not last long - I would be forever hidden in a corner reading!!
If I could get my hands on one particular book this Xmas it would be The Lives She Left Behind by James Long. It should have been issued in September but nowhere physically has it in hard or paper back!!! Why - I have no idea.

Unknown said...


The shoe question is answered for you....Ecco Soft shoes they can run between fiffty dollars up, but are worth every penny. I am a nurse, so I have worn them as dress shoes to church. Also for a tennis shoe I wear to work, I wear Mizuno Wave they also cost a buck, but I have worn them for over 20 years. Not the same ones. LOL Hope that helps you out. I love your books.

Oh to work in a book store to die for!!!

Blessing to you.