Surrounded by Books – In the Life of a Bookseller
By Christiana Jasutan and Tamara Yamamoto
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every bookworm loves spending a copious amount of time in bookshops. Have you also ever envisioned yourself working in a bookshop? In this issue, a member of the Bookshops team will provide some insight into the life of a bookseller.
Having been an avid reader since I was young, I (Christi) have always dreamed of staying behind in a bookshop past its closing time, enjoying my time in a quiet, empty space surrounded by books. This dream came true when I became a part-time bookseller at Waterstones last year.
I joined Waterstones as a temporary Christmas worker, which I was told by my colleagues is a common route to getting permanent full-time or part-time employment. Christmas is the busiest period for many stores, especially Waterstones, so they hired a large group of temporary workers, who might receive permanent offers at the end of their initial contracts.
My training on my first day took place on the shop floor, as there’s no better way of training than jumping head-first into tasks. My first day coincided with Cyber Monday, which was quite busy and can be stressful. But, one thing I found from working in a bookshop is that the customers are quite friendly, as, according to my manager and colleagues, people going into bookshops are generally nice people. Even though I stumbled a lot on the tills and computers when looking up where a specific book was located, every customer I served was very patient and understanding. At the end of my first week, I was competent in using the tills and systems needed on the shop floor, despite having never been behind a till before.
My favourite part of working as a bookseller is – no surprise – being able to talk about the books I love, and helping customers find the books they’re looking for. There is an art to recommending books, something I got better at by doing regularly. My personal favourite moment is being able to come up with a good book when a customer comes to me and says: “my partner/grandma/mother loves (book title), can you recommend something they might like?”. Of course, I can’t read every single book (or genre) there is, and this is where I turn to my helpful colleagues for advice.
Since day one, my colleagues have been very supportive in helping me settle into my new role as a bookseller. No matter how busy the shop floor was, someone was always ready to give me a helping hand if I needed it, including the one time when I made a mistake that took another colleague and me a whole twenty minutes to solve! It was comforting to know that I could rely on the people I worked with.
Some of the essential jobs in a bookshop that don’t get enough credit include: receiving shipments from the warehouse, managing stocks, organising author events and arranging RPs (related products – everything sold that isn’t books). These tasks made me see bookshops from a different angle, understanding how they function beyond the shop floors.
Since I worked during the Christmas period, I spent most of my time on the tills (as it was incredibly busy!). If I wasn’t on the tills, then I would be looking at computer screens and finding books for customers. On quieter days, I enjoyed tidying the books on display, replenishing books and returning lost books to their appropriate sections (this often involves running up and down stairs!).
Another thing I gained from working in a bookshop is market awareness. Every morning briefing included commercial updates, such as what books and campaigns are trending and which books are turned into films/TV shows. This results in many changes in shop displays, which must be done before the shop opens.
There are lots of benefits to being a bookseller, the most obvious one being discounts (which are especially dangerous if you buy books quicker than you read them!). More unknown benefits include: being the first to see newly published books, being able to request for uncorrected proofs/manuscripts and meeting and talking to authors during events.
Summarising the role of a bookseller, I think it would come down to these two personal qualities: a passion for books and customer service. I think a lot of people glamorise the role of a bookseller and often forget that, at the end of the day, it is a retail job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved working as a bookseller and talking to people about the books I love, more so when they ended up buying the books I recommended! But, while a love for books is vital, customer service is a more significant part of the role, as all bookshops want their customers to have a pleasant experience on the shop floor.