How To Be A Bookseller, Inspired by Bernard Black

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Lawrence Hammar, owner of Blue Jacket Books, who epitomizes a great bookseller–nothing like those in this post!

Bookriot posted a hilarious post based on the British series Black Books, on “How to Be a Customer in a Book Shop, According to Bernard Black.” It’s a hoot and you really should take a look at it. I thought, in the same vein, I would post a few tips on How to Be a Bookseller, inspired by Black, and some of the more nefarious booksellers I’ve experienced over the years.

  1. Never acknowledge customers. It only encourages them. They’ll talk to you. They will ask you about books. Listening to the latest NPR podcast is infinitely more important.
  2. Make things hard to find. Don’t label sections. Pile unstocked books in front of shelves so it is difficult to get to them.
  3. Never. Clean. Anything. The book can’t possibly be worth anything if it doesn’t have a fine patina of dust and grime on it. You want your customers to walk out looking like they’ve been in a coal mine. After all, how else will they get their friends to believe they had just come from an antiquarian bookstore?
  4. Persuade all your customers that they really need to buy books from that collection of obscure, mildewed books that you purchased too quickly. Everyone needs a copy of the antebellum best selling Social Etiquette for the Plantation, after all.
  5. Give outrageously high prices to books that have been sitting on your shelves for years and aren’t really worth it. Don’t negotiate. You don’t really want to part with them, do you?
  6. Stay blithely uninformed about what you have on your shelves. After all, you’d really rather be at the beach…or golf course…or pub. How dare customers expect that you’ve read or are actually interested in any of this stuff?

Sorry, I don’t have any videos to go along with these. And the truth is, most of the booksellers I’ve know are not like this at all. They love books, build relationships with their customers, and make their shops places you want to spend time in. They are good hosts who love introducing customers to their books, helping them make new friends, as it were. They turn soulless transactions into rich interactions. Thank goodness they don’t take their inspiration from Bernard Black!

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