Thursday, July 15, 2010

Notes from My Book-Selling Days...

As I might or might not have mentioned before ... I spent a lot of years as a manager in a book store ... a couple of different locations actually, all within one large book seller that you all know well (at least in the U.S. ... I think in other countries too).  I shant mention it specifically, but you know the type:  big store, selling multi-media, usually with entire sections - if not entire floors -- dedicated to Children's Books, DVD's, Music, and some sort of cafe.  I can actually only think of two big ones that operate right now, so take your pick.


Although working in the retail business in general is, well, hell on earth- no other way to put it, I did enjoy many parts of my career in the book world.  Actually, what I really came to learn and love was all sorts of new music and all about the music industry.  I suppose I applied to the job at first thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'd be placing myself in proximity to an author or agent or some publishing person that might, just maybe, "discover" me and MY writing!  What I learned was that in reality, the "book people" hardly ever had contact with us.  Books are churned out in printing presses, warehoused, inventoried, and ordered, all without any authors or agents being personally involved at all.  HOWEVER, the music situation was quite different.


I don't know whether it's the same now (it has been about 7 years since I left the biz), but when I worked at the stores, the music labels would send local representatives to each location on a regular basis.  For example, our rep from Sony would come and bring promotional cd's from new artists, sometimes from well-known artists with new work out, etc.  He was also in charge of all displays around the store having to do with Sony artists, so he would put up different posters and ads and the like, within Sony's given allotment of space.  The thing was, being a manager and developing a friendly relationship with these reps, yielded awesome results!  


Through Sony and a few other major labels (who also repped their subsidiaries and thus exposed us to some great new music not being played anywhere else), I was allowed to request certain cd's for my store or personal use, ANYTHING under their label!  I explored so many genres of music and different artists that I otherwise never would have heard about!  It was great, a real education, a FUN education!  The record labels also gave me tickets to baseball games and invites to their record label holiday parties (more freebies to be had!).  It was the closest I had ever been to being an "insider" of some kind!  It was really, really fun!  And no, I have no loyalty to the Sony conglomerate ... I just can't remember which label was which with some of the other reps!  Sony definitely gave out the most free shit.  :)


...The thing that got me thinking about all of my happy times in book world was earlier today, when I was having a phone conversation about authors and which stores in my area seem to get the best ones to come out for signings, etc.  We got on to the subject of emerging literary "stars," and how it would behoove these stores to grab such writers just as their star is rising ... later on, they cost too much!   My friend on the phone used Alice Sebold as an example, and we recalled how when "The Lovely Bones" was released, we were able to watch that book absolutely explode onto the scene, and the author emerge from anonymity to super-stardom.  


I was reflecting on what a cool thing that is to see.  At least, to someone like me!  As a book seller, we would go from being completely unaware of an author, literally having zero books on the shelf by that person ... to five days later being in full combat mode, trying to get the most copies the fastest and keep 'em coming!  It really happened that fast.  One Monday I would go to work, and I'd get a few phone calls inquiring about a certain title... I'd order it or give other information for the callers... Then throughout the day, I'd hear my co-workers ordering it, maybe I'd see a review in a daily newspaper, etc.  Throughout that week, calls and inquiries just reached fever pitch ... oftentimes one out of every two customers who entered the store wanted to know about this book.  By the weekend, I would receive notifications from our warehouses announcing dates and quantities when I could expect shipments of the title.    Usually over that weekend I'd see more reviews or a friend would mention reading the book, I'd see that the author would be appearing on this or that tv show ... and voila!  By the next Monday, everyone knew the book, its author, and we couldn't keep it in stock.  With "The Lovely Bones" and "The DaVinci Code" and others like it ... We'd literally stack them everywhere- behind the cash tills, behind the information desk, behind themselves on the shelf, up in the rafters, everywhere!  Because customers were always asking, and then you could simply grab one for them from ... wherever!  As a manager, it was astonishing at first to realize that even with books stacked to the ceiling quite literally, every weekend would see us turning people away until the next shipment.  Crazy.


Oh, and although the aforementioned titles, along with several other Best-Sellers of the past decade, were driving insane sales, nothing in my career ever, ever approached the hysterical and non-stop demand for the Harry Potter books.  I worked in the book biz when the last book came out in hardcover ... We had the local POLICE controlling the crowds ... who incidentally camped outside our doors all night to be first in line.  That was the front lines baby!  

7 comments:

Gledwood said...

I would so love to work in a bookshop...

... signing copies of my amazing world bestselling novel - haha!

No seriously, novel-writing aside, a job in a bookshop - that I could do.´

ps is it true that signed copies are nonreturnable?
Or did that changed at some point after Jacqueline Susanne, who insisted she would not do a signing session unless she could sign 1000 hardbacks at least, left the scene...

Tatyanna (and Dorian too) said...

@Gleds-- Careful what you wish for! That's precisely the kind of thinking that led me into retail hell! I had some good times, but I wouldn't recommend the job to ANYONE! It's NOT what you think! (although perhaps the workplace situation overall is nicer in europe?)... Also, I had no idea that Ms.Susanne had made such demands! If she was J.K. Rowling, my employers would have BEGGED her to sign that many! But for most authors, even well-known ones, I can't see a company gambling on quite that many all at once... In my company, we would take back a signed book if it wasn't PERSONALIZED... but some author's signature alone, sure!

Barbara said...

If I had a retail job I would choose books and/or music above all else! How cool to get to expand your music collection and find out about artist you may have not discovered on your own.

Tatyanna (and Dorian too) said...

@Barb-- You would be choosing wisely for sure!! It was by far the best of my three or four retail gigs in just over 12 years!! Most fun, most AWESOME people :)

LL Cool Joe said...

I wouldn't want to work in a book store at all, but yeah records would be fun, although I love dj-ing even more! My partner ran a television company and got to meet a great many interesting people and celebs. I'd hear about people that one minute were unknown, and then suddenly massive stars.

Tatyanna (and Dorian too) said...

@Joe-- Yeah, the DJ thing is by FAR the better choice! I think that is an awesome career! I'm a bit jealous :) I think it's always a risk to take a job too close to something you love as a hobby; sometimes circumstances of "work" make you not want to participate in your hobby anymore!

Anonymous said...

Love your BLOG! It is so diverse, knowing you personally must be so awesome!! I'll keep reading!