Wordy Wednesday: Tips from a Used Bookshop

We’re down to the last couple weeks of spring term! I honestly hadn’t realized how much of the semester had passed already until our professor started talking about turning in final assignments in class tonight and all of us were like, “Wait what.”

So. It’s my last couple weeks of screenwriting and working at the bookshop and interning remotely. THEN IT’S OFF TO NEW YORK FOR TWO MONTHS YAYYY! (Somebody hold me.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post–with a bit of a twist.

After working at a used bookshop for about a month now, mainly shelving books, I’ve noticed a few things that I thought might be helpful for writers out there.

Aim for the emptier parts of the alphabet.

Obviously if you’re going by your legal name, you can’t control with which letter your surname begins. But if you’re planning on publishing under a penname, may I suggest heading out to your local bookshop (preferably a used one, since we generally have a wider selection than regular stores) to check out which letters are more crowded on the shelves than others?

I absolutely hate shelving books whose authors have names that begin with common letters, like A or S. There’s never enough space for everyone. This means that these books are more likely to end up in the stacks heading to our storeroom or forgotten in a pile somewhere.

On the other hand, books by authors whose surnames begin with less common letters (like P or Z) always have more than enough space on our shelves. This means that not only do they all find good homes there, but they’re also more likely to get to face out or have multiple copies shelved at once.

If you’re a newbie, you’re probably better off writing something short.

If you’re someone like Stephen King or JK Rowling–someone who has already established your popularity–of course I’ll make room for your eight-hundred-page monster on the shelf. It’s sure to be a quick sell. But if you’re an unknown, and it’s either stock one of your book or four of other people’s books, I’m more likely to favor them.

It’s quantity of books over quantity of pages in used bookshops. We get paid the same amount for a sale whether your book is two hundred pages or a thousand–and as far as I can tell it works the same way in traditional bookshops, as well. A store’s more likely to stock your debut if they don’t think it’s going to eat all their space.

Have a distinct genre.

By this I mean: Make sure it’s clear in which section your book should go in a store.

I can’t tell you how often we get people looking for something that could be stocked in horror, but could also be a mystery. Or could be stocked in scifi/fantasy, but could also be in philosophy.

I’m not saying that genre crossover is bad. Crossover is awesome. But if it’s possible to aim your book enough in a certain direction for it to be obvious where to put it to someone just glancing at your book–amongst the fifty other new arrivals she has to stock in the next four hours–that is really, really nice. And it makes it easier for us to know where to take customers to find your book when they ask for it, without having to waste time looking it up.

Shorter Titles = Bae.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a customer come up to me looking for, you know, that one book–with that one word in the title? But the title was kind of long? And they couldn’t remember all of it?

People forget shorter titles far less than they forget longer titles. My shop stocks more books than anyone could ever keep track of, so 99% of the time when someone can’t remember the name of what they’re looking for, I can’t help them. Therefore, a shorter title correlates to more sales (and less exasperated readers/bookshop employees).

Three words or fewer generally seems to be a good range to aim for. But this current trend of the, like, five to seven-ish word titles is killing me.

Get to know your local booksellers.

This is less of a thing from working at a used bookshop as much as a general thing I’ve noticed from interacting with employees at my local indies.

People love helping people they know. Go to your local bookshops often. Go to events at them (especially book signings). Talk with the booksellers. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Support those stores in every way possible. (Not that you shouldn’t already be doing this, because if you’re a decent person who likes books you really should, but I figured I would mention it anyway.)

This way when your book comes out someday, your local shops will be ready and waiting to do everything they can to help you make it a success.

Thanks for reading! And make sure to keep an eye out for the rest of my BEA/BookCon recap posts. They should be coming sometime later this week, or early next week!

~Julia

P.S. For anyone who’s curious, no, dyeing your hair with honey does not actually work. I soaked my hair in that goo for SEVEN. HOURS. yesterday and it’s, like, maaaybe one shade lighter now. (However, my hair is super moisturized now, so like, that’s cool?)

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