Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monday *Ask a Bookseller*

On last week's *Ask a Bookseller* post, I was asked this question by the very-soon-to-be-bestselling-author Becca Fitzpatrick (Hush Hush will be big. I've already started customers at the store pre-ordering it with us):

How do you decide which books to recommend to people? The other day, I was in the teen section of the bookstore, and I overheard a mom/teen daughter duo trying to figure out which book to buy. The daughter wanted a "funny" book. I walked over and suggested Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, but in the end, they didn't buy it and I felt like I'd let them down. So, yeah. How do you do your best to match a book with a reader?

First off, Audrey, Wait looks great! I haven't heard of it before, but I'll put it on my TBR pile.

And, from my experience, recommending books is a lot of fun but it's a lot of work. Most often I find that people just want to re-create a specific reading experience. One of the biggest questions I got after Twilight really got going was, "now what do I read?". My recommendations at the time were to read the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray (#1 A Great and Terrible Beauty), Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, and Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier.

The Gemma trilogy was a good pick because I suspected that these girls wanted the same themes they found in Twilight; paranormal mystery and romance (I found the tension between Gemma and her leading man compelling enough). But for those who didn't much care for the paranormal aspect, I recommended Just Listen because it has a great flowering relationship (and Owen is totally dreamy). And, for those who were under 14 who wanted to read Twilight, I recommended instead Wildwood Dancing because it is a really great book filled with magic, adventure and some immortal love. More often than not they would choose WD over Twilight. I also handed out a lot of copies of Peeps by Scott Westerfeld, which I think is a great book for the dudes who have an interest in Twilight but would prefer a vampire book for guys.

Basically I follow body-language cues when I speak to someone. My first question is "what was the last great book you read or last great movie you saw". This translates as, "what book are you trying to re-capture again?". And then I ask them what aspect they enjoyed the most about that book/movie (I ask about movies because often people don't read all that much but when they do they just want a really good book). Then I talk up the books I love and focus on fulfilling that thing they are looking for.

The best thing is, is that I can recommend books that are awesome but just don't have the notoriety of something like Twilight. My most favourite recommendations are to people who come in and just want something good, anything will do. I'll pull off 3 things and let them choose.

But the key, really, is knowing what people are looking for, asking questions about what they like and such, and taking cues from what they say and their body language.

Regarding something funny, I always recommend Abundance of Katharines by John Green, or The Boyfriend List by e. lockhart, The Space Between by Don Aker. Actually, my funny recommendations aren't as strong, but I would absolutely recommend checking through Bookshelves of Doom for her recommendations; she has a great eye for funny teen books. Check her list.

While we're on the topic, when Hush Hush is made available in October I will be comparing it to Twilight but with funny bits. It has the satisfying romantic tension but is lighthearted, not bogged down with too much pining. Whatever anyone thinks about the Twilight series, the first book is a great adventure romance. And again, people are pre-ordering Hush Hush already, so it must be touching a chord.

Many times people will reject all of my recommendations. I think sadly, "but you're missing out on a book that you will love!". It is very hard to recommend anything to another person, without really knowing anything about them. It's a bit like picking out Christmas presents for your boyfriend's estranged aunt. But when you really connect with someone and send them along with one of your favourite books and they've already cracked it walking out of the store, it's Hallmark priceless.


I really enjoyed creating this post! I'd love to hear from anyone with questions for a bookseller (I'm still not sure what I'm doing completely but send 'em along. This was total fun. And thank you, Becca, for kicking it off!). Posting will be every Monday.


Tales of Whimsy said...

Cool feature :)

Katie said...

I love this idea. I might try it with a librarian spin, with credit to you, of course! ;D

I'll ask one too though -- How would you like to interact with librarians in your community?

(Okay, it's a bit selfish, but I've always wanted to collaborate with booksellers without running in and imposing. But I think we're a lot alike -- we want to connect books to readers.)

Mandy said...

Juju: You're the coolest! Thanks for all your comments. :)

Katie: *Ask a Librarian* would be great! My first questions would be, what exactly is the difference between a "library edition" binding and a trade hardcover binding? and, is book banning less popular than before? Or is it still something that libraries and highschools have to guard against?

I totally think librarians and booksellers should collaborate. There is a ton of overlap bewteen our jobs, and at heart we ARE just trying to connect books with their readers. :)
When I go to my library each week I enter and want to tell all the librarians "I'm a bookseller, just so you know" and do some cool secret handshake or press decoder rings together.
Thanks for the visit.

Unknown said...

Mandy. We totally need a secret handshake. How often do I want to tell book people (librarians, booksellers) what I do, but feel that saying it isn't cool enough? A secret handshake would solve that problem.

I love your answer, by the way. I'm always cautious when I recommend books to patrons because I feel it's a trust relationship -- they trust me to lead them to something they will enjoy, but it's not always easy. And I've recommended the wrong books to people and had them avoid me afterwards, I think because they're embarrassed about either my bad choice or them not liking the book -- so now I always make sure to say, "Please let me know what you thought, if you liked it or didn't, so that I can make a better recommendation next time."

And sometimes that works, if I happen to be in the library when they bring the book back.

Becca Fitzpatrick said...

What a great answer! So perfect. Going to check out Bookshelves of Doom...

Linda Nguyen said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and for all these recommendations! I have a copy of Abundance of Katherines. My honey enjoyed it. To understand all the John Green and nerdfighter references, I'm going to have to read this, oh, and Looking for Alaska too. Paper Towns is good. =)


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