From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, August 12, 2013

6 Things I Learned Working at Barnes and Noble

Whew. Okay. So I'm in the beginning stages of getting settled in Vegas. I start teacher training today, and I'm terrified and excited.

One thing I left when I left D.C. was a job at Barnes and Noble, and the incredible, hilarious and kind people I worked with there. I learned a ton while working there, and I thought I'd share some of those things that might be useful and applicable to us as we work towards furthering our writing careers.

1. Who goes to brick and mortar stores: The trends I noticed at the store were very interesting. I definitely noticed that three groups of people tended to visit the store more than any other. I almost always worked in the morning and early afternoon, so evening trends may be a little different. But the group I noticed most often were mothers with young children. This may have had more to do with our Lego and train table than anything else, but there you have it. I also noticed quite a few older people. I think the older generations are still simply more comfortable with paper books over electronic devices, and I don't necessarily think they're wrong. The other group I noticed were career professionals: nurses, artists, or businessmen looking for applicable books.

2. Two different types of promotion: There are basically two different types of promotions that Barnes and Noble stores do. The first is top down, nation-wide promotions of bestsellers, holiday promotions, stuff like that. The second type is set by the individual store and determined by local store management. Basically this means that it is possible to work with local management to get your books put in better spots, if the local management likes you and your book. Sometimes. Possible. It's worth looking in to, for sure.

3. You want booksellers to like you: This is a duh point, but I didn't quite realize how important this was until I was a bookseller myself. There are a few times when the booksellers are making decisions: picking this book or this book to send back, organizing shelves and picking which books to face out, answering customers requests for recommendations. All this means that if a bookseller likes you, or is even familiar with you a little, it is to your advantage. So whenever you go places find the local bookstore, drop in and say hi and offer to sign a few copies of your book. It was always fun when that happened, and besides, autographed copies can't be sent back to the publisher.

4. People shop differently for fiction versus non-fiction: What I found, and this is obviously a generality and not a hard and fast rule, is that people looking for non-fiction tend to have a specific book or author in mind. If not that, then at least a very specific topic. On the other hand, while people definitely were looking for specific novels, there were a lot more browsers in the fiction section, people just looking for books to jump into their hands. This is useful in terms of marketing, although I think taking aspects from both types of shopper is the best idea.

5. Media attention works: There is not much to say about this, accept that almost every day I had someone (usually an older person) come up to me with a folded newspaper, point to a review and say, "Where can I find this book?" So basically, take advantage of whatever media opportunities you can find, national, local and everything in between.

6. Books as gifts: Something I noticed that I didn't necessarily expect was this: People seem much more comfortable and willing to buy books as gifts for friends and family than they do buying books for themselves. Especially nice editions, hardcovers, etc. I definitely plan to find ways to work this in to my future promotional efforts.

There you have it. Those are some of the things I learned as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble. I'm very, very grateful to the team at the Falls Church Seven Corners store for letting me part of their team. Hopefully some of these tidbits can help you as you think about your marketing and such.

Keep writing!

Sarah Allen


  1. Those are some good points to consider. Like the part that autographed books can't be sent back.

  2. Wonderful insights. I'm bookmarking this page in case I ever get the chance to make it into a brick and mortar store :)

  3. I used to spend more time browsing in bookstores, but lately I tend to go in with a shortened version of my TBR list to find specific titles.

    Good luck with your teacher training!

  4. Ha, I worked and B&N too, many years ago (I remember when Harry Potter dropped!). Don't remember much but that the NYT bestsellers were basically all we sold. Which kind of depressed me.

  5. These are all very useful tips and information. I would like to meet those people who give books as gifts. I would love to get a book as a gift.

  6. Very interesting points, Sarah! Thanks for sharing! And have fun with the teacher training! :) Woo hoo!

  7. Great insights, Sarah. When I get a publishing company to take my book, they will be useful. Even the independent bookstores in my area will not take self-published books! It's discouraging, to say the least. But it did sound like you had a good experience at B&N, and I am one of the older visitors who buys books for friends and loves to meander the aisles!

  8. I still love browsing bookstores, but have to admit I don't buy from them as much as I used to. Sigh. And they're such great places and smells so good. Great tips, Sarah. Thanks.

  9. Nice post Sarah...and...what the hella??? Vegas? Have fun in Sin City, I hope you do well.

  10. I hadn't considered that about autographed books.

    I love wandering through bookstores. I haven't done it in a while since I have so many books waiting to be read, sitting on my shelf.

    One thing I've found is that if a bookstore prefers to use a particular wholesaler, and that wholesaler doesn't supply your book for some reason, it can be very difficult to convince them to stock your books.

  11. Man, I miss Falls Church. I mean, some things I certainly don't miss. But I do get attached to bookstores. I was a bit more attached to the secondhand bookstore in FC, but I had a tryst with the B&N too.

    Glad to hear you're getting settled in Vegas. May the road rise up to meet you & so on & so forth. Happy trails :)

  12. Interesting insights. I just hope there are book stores around when I finally get a book published.


  13. I love the tip about signing your books. Do they charge more for those? Either way, it would definitely be a selling point.

    Great post. Very informative. :)


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