Monday, March 26, 2012

Is Handselling Dead?

J.E. Fishman wrote an excellent article. Here it is...go ahead, you can read it. I'll wait...

In the article, Fishman admits not being a loyal customer to one bookstore. If he were, a bookseller might know his taste in books well enough to personally recommend books to him. This is also known as "handselling". In addition to wishing he had a bookseller to recommend books to him to read, as a new author, Fishman laments the decline in bookstores and the decrease in booksellers who might handsell his new book, PRIMACYicon, to potential readers.

As people rely more on online book buying, there is less personal interaction between bookseller and book buying customer. He wonders how he, as a new author, will be discovered because of the decline in handselling.

His is a legitimate concern. However, I don't think he should give up. Handselling isn't dead. It just may occur in different ways and places than Fishman imagines.

When a customer makes a purchase at the bookstore where I work, the register spits out a list of other books the customer might like. Book related websites such as Amazon and GoodReads also provide computer generated recommendations. I agree with Fishman, these are often not very satisfying.

He says that bloggers don't provide personalized recommendations either.

Bloggers, myself included, write about books we like or don't like. Each blog post isn't directed at one specific person, however readers of a particular blog can get a sense of whether they agree or disagree with a particular blauthor (blog + author)* as he or she writes about book. This is actually pretty similar to being a bookseller in a bookstore.

I know this is so because I am both. As a bookseller in a bookstore and a blauthor here online, I recommend books all the time, in person and on the blog. However, I rarely make personalized recommendations on the blog or in the store. In the store there are not many customers whose taste I know well enough, and who also want recommendations from any of us. It's our regular customers who come in knowing what they want or where in the store to go to find their next good read.

Most of the people who ask us for recommendations in the store are people we've never seen before. They don't frequent bookstores very often, but they want a good read. Or they are buying a gift for someone they don't know very well. ("I need a book for my uncle. He likes to read. I haven't seen him in five years. I don't know what he likes to read. But you sell books, so...")

Here on the blog, the audience is too wide to make personalized recommendations.

But handselling isn't just about knowing a person well enough. It's also about knowing lots of good books in different genres.

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know that we have had a 100 handsell challenge at the bookstore. Each bookseller chooses a book and tries to sell 100 copies of that book with a blurb on the Staff Recommendations bay as well as talking with customers about the book. I chose Susannah Charleson's SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon, about Charleson's decision to train a dog to work Search and Rescue. A combination of CSI-like forensics and a great dog story, I thought the book would appeal to a lot of people. It turns out I was right. I was the first in our store to sell 100 copies of the book I chose!

Recommending books in the store with handselling is about finding what a customer is looking for in a book and getting it to them. When I was focused on selling SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon, it was easy to talk to people about it. Lots of people have dogs and buy books about dogs. I kept copies of SCENT OF THE MISSINGicon by my register and talked to people about it all the time. People who might not have heard about that particular title were introduced to it and lots of people (over 100!) bought it. People wanted good books about dogs and I had one.

I keep my eyes open for good books in any genre. I don't remember how I came across Fishman's article, but I'm glad I did. After reading the article, and knowing I wanted to write a blog post about it, I figured I would write a more informed entry if I'd read his book, PRIMACYicon. (PRIMACYicon is currently available in hardcover and also available for the Nook!) I bought it and read it.


PRIMACYicon is a thriller, with animal rights as its backdrop. Liane Vinson works in a primate lab at Pentalon, a large animal testing facility. Liane finds herself in a dilemma when she discovers that two of the apes she works with have an ability as yet unknown in the primate world. She risks her life to try and save the apes from the lab and its inherent brutalities. Not only is PRIMACYicon a taut thriller with characters to root for as well as to despise; the animal rights aspect provided a moral and ethical situation to care for.

I have already been talking about PRIMACYicon in the store. In addition, you just read about it here. I am betting that some readers of this blog, especially those who like thrillers, will take a look at PRIMACYicon and buy it.

I read what I like. I talk about what I like in the store and write about what I like here on the blog. Both are ways to get the word out about good books.

*Look for more about blauthors in an upcoming post!

You can order PRIMACYicon through the blog. Clicking on the book cover will take you to Amazon's web page for the book. Clicking on the underlined title will take you to Barnes and Noble's page for the book. Ordering through these links helps support the blog. Ordering PRIMACY through the blog helps support the blog...and J.E. Fishman!

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