The Value of Handselling

In my world, November means display month. We, and the other companies like us spend approximately 6 weeks lugging a truck full of books to different locations across the province where we participate in book fairs for the major school boards. We set up on average 30-40 tables stacked high with our newest fiction & non-fiction pics for the season, and work one-on-one with the Teacher Librarians to recommend books to purchase for their libraries.

While the whole process is physically exhausting, (it really is comparable to a whirlwind trip where you are in a different city each day) my favourite part is having the opportunity to handsell books. In the digital age, where so many people are purchasing books online, the value and importance of handselling books can often be lost.

Take for example the new picture book I Am JazzJazz This is a wonderful & uplifting story about the now 12-year-old Jazz Jennings, a Transgender girl. With the timeliness of the topic, I naturally assumed that the book would fly off my table. Little did I realize that from the cover & the first few pages, people were not guessing what this book was about. One customer told me that she glanced at it, but thought it was just another girly book about the colour pink & mermaids.

Another great book that I discovered required some explanation is Hello from 2030: The Science of the Future and You. Hello from This is a seriously cool book. Narrated by a robot, it makes some predictions about what the world might look like in 15 years from a science point-of-view. It looks at medicine, technology, environment and more, and it’s well-written, colourful & interesting. For most of a day it sat on our table and nobody was even picking it up. But as soon as I took a few copies over to my feature area and started suggesting it to customers, the book started flying. (Too bad I didn’t do it sooner)

What I’ve discovered over and over again is that despite what we might think, (established, popular series & authors notwithstanding) few books sell themselves. It doesn’t matter how many starred reviews the book has received, or how good the cover or blurb on the back might be- most books (children’s books especially) still need someone to champion them & tell someone how amazing they are to make them successful.

3 Responses to The Value of Handselling

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Nov 17 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    I handsell all the time. Back when my first novel came out, I discovered that no bookstore would carry a POD title from a small press. I passed by a school hosting a craft fair and bought in. Sold a few books that way, but I found a lot of people who didn’t want fantasy, so I formed a complete bookselling operation over the winter, with every book my small press publisher makes. I figure Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts don’t need me, but Kieryn Nicholas and Dave Anderson (some of our YA authors) do.
    I have a great deal of trouble with the marketing aspect of bookselling, too abstract for me. I guess I need direct feedback. Tweeting and even blogging just seems like words in air, but when I have a person I’m talking to, with a book in my hand, then I can find the right book for whatever suits him.

  2. Elizabeth Rose Stant Nov 17 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Such great advice. Thank you, Rachel!

  3. Alexa S. Dec 14 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    While I’m so grateful for the Internet, and how it’s enabled me to learn more about the new books coming out every week, I love the thought of handselling. There is nothing quite like having a real, live person tell me about a book that they can show off, as I can totally gauge what my initial impression of the story of the book would be based on that. It’s always a helpful tool, and one that I don’t think should ever be taken for granted!

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