Megan Reid graduated from MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University last year and works as a Bookseller for Blackwell’s Bookshop.
I’ve worked as a Bookseller for a number of years, starting as a Seasonal Bookseller for Waterstones and now working at the Blackwell’s flagship store on South Bridge. Working for two national book chains, I can honestly say that the knowledge you gain and the experience you develop while working in a bookshop gives you a real insight into the book industry that you can’t get anywhere else.
A day in the life of a bookseller involves lots of different tasks. These can include writing recommendations, shelving new stock, checking how the titles in your section are performing, and of course selling books.
Engaging with customers takes priority and is definitely the best part of the job – especially when someone comes up to the till holding books from a promo table that you’ve just hand-picked the titles for, or when you recommend a book that you know someone will really enjoy. In December, most customers are buying books as gifts and beautiful gift edition books always sell really well. Waterstones Book of The Year The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith – a beautifully illustrated children’s story – was a real standout for me this year.
However, some customers love to make your job difficult and you do get some very vague (and hilarious) questions. This one is not uncommon:
I read a book a while ago and I lost my copy so I’d like to buy another one. I can’t remember the title or the author, but it was blue. Do you have it?
When you actually work out which book it is that they’re looking for though, and manage to track it down, it is very satisfying!
While it’s not exactly a job in publishing, working as a Bookseller is a great route into the industry and allows you to see the books you would be editing, marketing or designing, as a final product. It gives you a real insight into the book marketplace, and as you engage directly with customers you develop an understanding of what the market really wants. From experience, having a background in bookselling is something that publishers actively look for and demonstrates that you understand the journey of the book – from concept to proofs (which booksellers get to read) to end product.
You also get the opportunity to be involved with in-store events, such as author signings, children’s storytelling, and industry events such as World Book Night. One event that drew a huge crowd in Blackwell’s this month was Tuna the Dog’s book signing – some fans even flew over from Belgium especially to meet him and owner Courtney Dasher!
In my opinion, the most important thing to a bookshop is its staff. Having friendly and knowledgeable booksellers that can find exactly what book you’re looking for (and can recommend you another five books to go with it) is the key to keeping bookshops alive. With sales of print books reportedly on the rise, 2016 looks set to be a really positive year for both bookshops and the publishing industry.