What it’s really like to work in a Bookstore

There seems to be some misconceptions about what it is actually like to work in a bookstore and having worked in bookstores for about eight years now, I feel pretty qualified to tell you just what goes on amongst the shelves. The truth is. Rather a lot.

Firstly, we don’t get to read all day. This seems to be the most common misconception. If you’ve ever worked in bookstore, at some point someone will have said to you. “I would love to work in a bookstore, You must just read all day long.” Of course, we laugh this comment off while giving our enormous pile of stock the side eye and inwardly cursing. Don’t get me wrong, we love the fact that our bookstore is a place where you feel relaxed and peaceful but we work damn hard for you to feel like you’re stepping out of the real world into our holy temple of books. Don’t underestimate the actual volume of work involved whatever you do!

Regardless of how the shelves are labelled, no matter how much signage there is, even if they have literally removed a book from the shelf seconds before… people will put books back in the wrong spot. Not just in the wrong place on the shelf but also in the wrong section of the store or lying on the floor or tucked behind a bunch of unrelated titles like a game of hide and seek for the staff. I know this is a little pedantic but the second someone does this the Sacred Law of Bookstores (it’s a thing) demands that another customer will come in and ask for this exact title. Just put it back where you found it or ask. Please. I ask this on behalf of all bookstore staff past, present and future. We’ll thank you for it.

Next up, you should know we haven’t actually read everything on our shelves. We’re working on it, believe me, but we sell thousands of books and new books are released all the time. We’ve got a ton of book knowledge to share if you want it but don’t be disappointed when we can’t reel off a detailed plot summary of some obscure new release that we’ve just got in. The last time this happened to me, the customer (who was not a regular) told me that someone in the bookstore would have to read it so they could tell her what it was about otherwise she wouldn’t buy it. Believe it or not, I’m not about to spend my own money on a book you’re unsure of so I can convince you to buy it next time you happen to wander in. Which brings me to my next point.

We don’t get free books. That’s right. We still pay for our books fair and square. We get a nice little discount of course but we still have to buy. While I would love to use the store as a personal library, it’s not really a done thing. One thing we do get that is one of the best perks of the job is Advanced Readers Copies of upcoming releases so we get to read them before they’re on sale, however we usually don’t get to keep these. They’re shared around the staff members if it is a title in particular demand and if not then if we’re lucky we get to take it home for keeps. No, we don’t have an advanced copy of the latest Game of Thrones book.

You should also probably know that we don’t have control over what books are in currently in print. We’re aware that you wanted the 4th edition published in 1993 that included a foreword by little known British scholar Dudley Diddlemark complete with a Latin translation of the main text but I’m afraid it simply isn’t possible. Please don’t argue with us over why we don’t have it on our shelves already. Also don’t be the guy that tells us how much cheaper you can find it elsewhere whether that’s online or in a big department store as if we’re purposely pricing our books higher to extort customers. If there was a way for us to sell all of our books at below cost price and still survive, we’d be doing it.

One last thing, when customer’s come up to the counter without any information except the colour of the front cover of the book, it’s not endearing. If you come up to the counter with a current edition ISBN. You make our little bookish hearts skip a beat.

While a lot of these things may seem negative. The last eight years I have spent working in bookstores have been some of the happiest of my life. There has been stressful days. Days when our storeroom resembles a cardboard castle with the shelves already heaving with stock. Days when it feels like the store will never be tidy again and days when a rude customer uses a gay slur towards a co-worker making you despair for humanity. But there are also days where a someone’s genuine enthusiasm for a new book gives you a lift for the whole day. Days when a new release Andy Griffith’s book sends kids into raptures of delight. Days when a customer tries a cheesy line on one of your co-workers and you fall about laughing after they’ve gone. Days when you are the first one to unpack a highly anticipated new instalment in a series you’re obsessed with. And to be honest, there are not many jobs when you can dress up as Hermione twice in a year for different events.


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