Ann Douglas: Bookselling is all about Relationships

I wish I could lay my hands on a copy of my very first résumé—the one that landed me my very first part-time job: a job at an indie bookstore.

I would love to know what it was about that résumé that managed to convince the owner of that bookstore to hire me, a grade 10 student with absolutely no work experience other than babysitting (my sisters mostly) and the proverbial paper route (a 1970s rite-of-passage for almost every suburban kid).

Maybe it the earnestness with which I spelled out my career goal. I’d had my heart set on becoming an author since I was nine. Or perhaps it was my wonderfully guileless and magnificently nerdy confession that every single pastime I enjoyed had something to do with books (“Hobbies and interests: reading and writing”).

Whatever it was, I still remember how I felt when I found out that the job was really-and-truly mine.

It felt like I had won the lottery.

It’s the same over-the-moon feeling I’ve experienced with every publishing-related milestone in my life. The first time I published an article in a newspaper. The first time I landed a book contract. The first time I cracked open a carton of books with my name on the cover. We’re talking a heady mix of joy and gratitude, with just a sprinkling of disbelief….

I loved that job (at Insight Books at Sheridan Mall in Mississauga, just in case you’re wondering).

Not only was I being paid to spend time around books and in the company of other book-worshipping types: I was allowed to borrow any book I wanted—the bookstore owner’s sneaky way of ensuring that his staff were all impossibly well read. All he asked was that any books we borrowed be returned to the shop in saleable condition—no major hardship for a teenager who routinely treated books like sacred objects.

Of course, working in an indie bookstore was an eye-opening experience in other ways.

I learned some shocking truths about the bookselling business—most memorably (and most horrifyingly) about what happens to a mass-market paperback that is selling poorly: a bookstore clerk is asked to participate in a ritual killing of that book. The cover is ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit and the rest of the book is scrapped!

Fortunately, my memories of dismembering innocent paperbacks have faded over time and have been replaced by more bucolic recollections of hours spent unpacking and shelving new stock (a ritual reminiscent of the excitement of Christmas morning).

But what I remember most of all is the feeling of warmth and connectedness that permeated every inch of that shop. I learned that book selling is all about relationships—the relationship between bookseller and customer and the relationship between author and reader. It’s the bookseller’s job to get a customer excited about a particular title; it’s the author’s job to make that customer fall in love with that book so that she’ll want to return to that bookseller (and that author!) time and time again.

And, speaking of love, this brings me to the purpose of this post: the love-in that is Authors for Indies Day (April 30th).

I’ll be spending the day at Blue Heron Books—an award-winning indie bookstore in Uxbridge, Ontario, that is known for its warm and comfortable surroundings and its loyal and enthusiastic clientele. Owner Shelley Macbeth has invited me to choose four titles to hand-sell to customers throughout the day. (It took me all of 15 seconds to zero in on my four picks, because these are books I’ve recommended to and purchased for friends and families time and time again. But my lips are sealed until the big day. You’ll have to drop by—or follow the live action on Twitter—if you want to find out which titles I selected and why.)

So happy Authors for Indies Day, everyone. I hope you’ll treat this as the perfect excuse to thank your favourite indie bookseller for everything they contribute to our culture and our community, year in and year out. I know I’ll be doing just that.

(c) 2016 Ann Douglas


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including, most recently, Parenting Through the Storm (a guide to parenting a child who is struggling). She is also the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Visit Ann’s website (www.anndouglas.net) or connect with her on Twitter (@anndouglas) or Facebook (The Mother of All Books).