My Life as a Bookseller

If you follow me on Twitter you may have heard I got a new job! For the past few months I’ve started working in the Children’s Department at the fabulous independent book store Vroman’s in Pasadena. If I didn’t write, read, and breath children’s books before, I sure do now! I shelve, display, recommend, and sell children’s books on a daily basis! The great news about this job (other than being surrounded by what I love) is its great market research! The following list shares a few interesting things I’m learning right away about the children’s book market from a booksellers perspective:

1) I’m usually selling to parents not kids. 85% of the time it’s an adult asking for a recommendation. With picture books and early fiction this is fine, but as we move into older and possibly more controversial content (like YA) I have to really think about what I recommend. There are plenty of books that I would suggest directly to a teen, but with Mom leering over a teen’s shoulder it may be a different list of books I’m pulling off the shelf. In fact, many parents ask directly about the “appropriateness” of a books content. It’s been really interesting to discover that it’s often the parents that I am selling to, even when the kid is the final consumer of the content.

2) Pitch, Hook, Sell! I hate to go all “Hollywood” here but it’s amazing how much easier it is to hand sell a book with a quick easy pitch. If I can sum up a storyline or concept in one or two sentences it always peaks a customer’s attention faster than a quiet moody book with a complex plot. Granted sometimes it’s the moodiness and tone that one can use to sell a book, but I do see eyes flicker with interest when that  high-concept hook is offered.

3) Series are Hot! Personally I’m not a huge fan of a long series of books, but kids LOVE them! They devour them, adore them, and are truly dedicated. It’s really fun to have a kid ask you where a certain series is, walk them over to that section, and witness them whoop and dance at the sight of the newest book on the shelf (this happens with Middle Grade in particular). If you can hook a kid with your series you will have a fan for life!

4) The Hunger Games Trend. It’s no mystery to anyone that The Hunger Games trilogy is hot right now. In fact, it’s extra hot! I get asked every day about The Hunger Games and we sell on average two copies of the book per day. (For comparison I’ve been told by my fellow booksellers that selling 2 to 5 copies of a book in 6 months is pretty normal, so selling 2 per day is amazing). But the other interesting thing is the follow-up trend, lots of customers come in asking for something similar to the Hunger Games. They’ve read it, they loved it, now they want to know what’s next. (And if you want a suggestion from me personally I’m a big fan of Ashes by Ilsa Bick).

5) Incredible Influence. I’m often surprised at how influential my opinion can be. A customer will walk away with a book or put it back on the shelf simply based on if I hesitate in giving my opinion or if I dive in with great enthusiasm. Granted, I’m still learning how to be a good bookseller, but its wonderful to know that I can steer a customer to books that I think are particularly good!

I’ll be sure to share more on the book-selling front in the coming months, and if you’re ever in Pasadena feel free to drop by the Children’s section of Vroman’s (it’s upstairs) and say hello.

6 thoughts on “My Life as a Bookseller

  1. Oh my gosh!! I have been a blog follower for a few months now and enjoy your posts–and I JUST discovered this amazing bookstore last week! I came for a book signing and loved it! What are the odds?

    I write YA (my current WIP is kind of similar to Hunger Games, coincidentally enough) and live in Montrose, about 10 minutes away. I’d love to stop by and say hi sometime. I have to show my husband the bookstore anyway.

    Coincidentally yours,


    • Triona, Glad to hear you found Vromans! I’ll be the girl with pink hair working upstairs in the kids department. (Not to be confused with the girl with pink hair who works downstairs at the registers. Yes there are two of us pink-haired ladies!).

  2. Wow, Ingrid, this is a fascinating post, and I look forward to learning more from your dual writer/bookseller self in the future!

    I’ve been wondering a lot about marketing and YA recently, because it isn’t clear-cut who I as the author would be marketing to: my readers or their parents? Obviously I want to *write* for my readers, but the marketing aspect is trickier. Sounds like I was correct to be thinking about this.

  3. I do follow you on Twitter, but I hadn’t heard about the job – congratulations! What a perfect, perfect day job! Your experience with hand-selling books is fascinating. I’m going off to work on my pitches right now!

  4. What a terrific job, Ingrid. I’m sure you are helping many people choose the right book for them.

    Two pink-haired ladies in one bookstore?! What are the odds? lol

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