Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adults Buying for Kids They Don’t Know

When you work in the children’s department of a book store it’s a little different than if you worked in any other section of the store. Most other sections of the store consist of adults buying for adults (and usually themselves). The children’s section, on the other hand, is full of adults buying for kids. And frankly, adults often have no clue what they should buy for their kid. The majority of my interactions with customers in the kids department start like this: “I’m looking for a gift for a _____ year-old (insert age). What do you suggest?”

That’s right the kids department is all about recommendations and hand selling!

I’m always armed with a series of questions to help find out what would be a good book for the customer: Is the child a boy or a girl? Do they like fantasy stories or ones that are more realistic? What other books have they read and liked? What extra curricular activities does the child participate in? Etc. Etc.

But during the holidays something really interesting happened. I came across a whole plethora of customers who didn’t know anything about the child they were buying for. It was a grandchild they hadn’t seen in two years, or their boss’s son, or they just didn’t know the answers to my questions. This is a very unique opportunity for me as a bookseller. First off it’s a challenge, a little like finding a needle in a haystack. But it also means I get to suggest the books that I think are awesome!

That’s right, I get to sell the books I love!

But here’s the catch 22 with this scenario. I only know the books I know. There are hundreds of books on our shelves and as much as you’d like to think I’ve read every single one of them, I have not!

So here’s a little bit about how I find out about books (so that when your book is published you can make sure booksellers know about your book!):

  • I read as much as I can. Picture books are easiest (because they only take a few minutes – I read a lot of them on my breaks).
  • I also read advanced reader copies (ARCs). Share your ARCs with your local bookstore, we try to read as many as we can and we do pass them around the department. (But also tell us why your book is awesome. We get lots of ARCs, usually from publishers, and we can’t read all of them. But I am ALWAYS influenced by authors who come in personally and share a book. I always want to sell books by someone I’ve met personally. It makes me more invested in the sale.).
  • Publicity helps – NPR interviews, Newspaper Reviews, Internet Buzz, Twitter Talk, and Blogs! Anything that’s peaked my interest I can use to peak a customer’s interest.
  • Author visits and signings. Hearing an author pitch a book always makes it easier for me to pitch a book to a customer. Plus, I can talk about all the fun facts you shared during your author visit.

It’s amazing the power booksellers have. For example, I’ve pulled books off the shelf, said less than four words about them, and had customers snatch them from my hands and head for the registers. Those customers weren’t even interested in knowing what the book was about. All they really cared about was the fact that I said it was good. This always surprises me, but it’s true that many adults don’t know the kids they’re buying for and only want validation that a book is worth-wild.

Yes, the “moral” of this blog-post is to befriend your local bookseller! We want to share your spectacular book, so do your part to point it out to us so we know about it and can recommend it when the opportunity comes!

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2 responses to “Secrets of a Children’s Bookseller: Adults Buying for Kids They Don’t Know”

  1. What a GREAT POST!! I shared it to Facebook and Twitter, too — really good advice for those of us breaking into the kid’s market!
    Thank you!

  2. Laura C. says:

    That’s fabulous info, Ingrid. I always felt sorry for authors who have to visit bookstores and ‘hawk’ their books, but now I see it differently. I don’t have a book coming out soon, but I’ll keep it in mind for when I do. Thanks!

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