What is it like to work at an independent bookstore?

Apparently all customers believe the book they're looking for has a blue cover and some will tell you that if you haven't read every book in the store, 'you're not very good at your job.'

Ann Hermes
Tammy Heupels (l.), sits with her son Johann (center) and Annie Philbrick (r.). in the reading area of indie bookstore Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work as a bookseller at an independent store?

The workers at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., would like to tell you. They recently published a list on Buzzfeed titled “11 Things You Learn Your First Month as a Bookseller” as told by some new PSB staff members, Heather and Mackenzie. 

Their experiences include finding out that “every title and author’s name sounds like ‘Ssdflkjx Dkfsldkflkjs’ over the phone”; “booksellers are expected to know everything, but nothing beats the feeling of sheer triumph that comes from locating the correct book based only on the information it has a blue cover and the word everything in the title”; and “you will never read all the galleys you take home.”

Staff at other bookstores shared their experiences in the article’s comments section, with the staff at the Virgina store Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisan Gallery writing that “as for most commonly asked questions, don’t forget ‘Can you throw this away for me?’” and Heather Pickett of Salt Lake City, who wrote that “they ALWAYS think the cover is blue, and those times when I can find the book they want, it is almost never blue.” 

The list by PSB staff is reminiscent of the experiences of author Jen Campbell, who wrote her 2012 book “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores” about her time working at an indie store in London and also gathered questions and comments heard by other booksellers around the world. Some of the remarks collected in Campbell’s book included “Do you have ‘Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof’?,” which was submitted by Jan Weissmiller of Iowa’s Prairie Light Books and Campbell being asked by a customer, “Have you read every single book in here?” and, when she replied no, being told, “Well, you're not very good at your job, are you?" 

Are you a bookseller? Share some of your experiences in the comments below!

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