Brilligs And Other Ways A Bookshop Sells Your Books

Once you have written or illustrated your heartfelt story, overcome the publishing gatekeeper hurdles, and your book has been birthed, here is another crucial step in getting your progeny into the hands of readers: someone must sell it.

May 3, 2018 - At Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Look what I found on display at Jabberwocky! Kris and Jen both write for WR.

Jabberwocky Bookshop, one of the largest independent bookstores north of Boston, has its own techniques for how best to match books with readers. This admirable bookshop, established forty-four years ago by Susan Little in Newburyport, MA, has embedded itself in the community through author events and other programs, its cooperation with the Newburyport Literary Festival each April, and most especially by offering thousands of books and knowledgeable, friendly staff who are equipped to recommend them.

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Eileen Seaberg (l) and Amanda Martindale (r) are eager to help you select the perfect books.

Eileen Seaberg and Amanda Martindale, two of Jabberwocky’s crew, generously share with you some of their methods for displaying and connecting books with those who peruse the shelves. Throughout the store are brilligs – staff recommendations. A term derived from the first line of Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky (’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ ), some of these brilligs become shelf tags, however in the children’s section they are the hints and suggestions Amanda, Eileen, and other staff members share directly with book lovers. Myself included. One of the three books that I purchased, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, was an Amanda brillig, which I began reading that evening. Perhaps you would find this Newbury award winner as alluring as I have.

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One of these purchases was influenced by Amanda’s brillig.

Matching the best books for the children in a consumer’s life can be tricky. Eileen points out that people need help in shopping because they are intimidated by the sheer number of books Jabberwocky offers, or they simply do not have enough time to dig for that perfect book. As Amanda says, that is why hand selling is so important.

Also significant are the atmosphere of the store and the range of books and accoutrements available for sale. Amanda cites another favorite bookstore of hers – Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Colorado where thousands of shelved books share a bit of space with bookish tee shirts and other literature-related items and small press and even self-published books are on consignment. However, like Jabberwocky, the books and personnel make this shop so valid. She is a bookstore person at heart, always alert to what works and what doesn’t. Jabberwocky is bulging with excellent inventory displayed in warm and user-friendly ways and promoted by a staff of readers who love what they sell. They are prepared to help customers find what they need.

Another Jabberwocky bridge between book and audience is the way titles are displayed. At the bottom of the access stairs to the second floor children’s literature section is a table of picturebook teasers, often chosen to reflect a theme. These are for adults who may not venture upstairs or who didn’t realize they wanted a picturebook.

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Spring theme teasers.

Upstairs you are rewarded for your effort by a corresponding table of the newest picturebooks chosen for their eclectic, artistic qualities. Enter the world of books for the young.

May 3, 2018 - At Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Picturebooks showing amazing creative scope.

May 3, 2018 - At Jabberwocky Bookstore in Newburyport, Massachusetts.In the picturebook stacks these top row books are new, therefore unfamiliar and so are shown in full, while the shelves below display only half the cover of each of these more recognizable books.

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On top, the new. Below are ones you likely already know.

Eileen points out that for YAs the newest books are consistently the most important draw, so she pulls those together, sometimes using a color scheme. When her store orders enough titles from a wholesaler they may receive point of sale book displays, like this one for signed copies of Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Its supremely timely topic warrants the attention that this display generates and by contrasting the hot red of its cover with the cooler blue range of the other new YAs displayed alongside, a visual dynamic is proffered.  Several of the jackets include both red and blue and three refer to stars in their titles or design. Clever connections may entice readers.

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The newest young adult novels are spotlighted.

Choices are also made regarding which shelved books should face out, which takes up more shelf real estate.

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In series books, one cover links to a stack of other volumes.
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Color and text orientation suggests these books will be shown best vertically.
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Here the designs on the spines link to make a painting. And Jabberwocky mixes a bargain title in.

Since picturebooks are arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name, who would expect that Astronaut Scott Kelly’s book on journeying to the stars would coincidentally land close to one on a related theme by a more earth-bound author: Whose Moon is That? by Kim Krans. Perhaps one book will help sell the other.

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Sometimes the author’s name is the draw, sometimes it’s the topic.

What can authors and illustrators do to help the sale of their books through bookstores?

  • Build a relationship with the staff of your local independent bookstore.
  • Consider whether your book launch and signing may be appropriate. Read about Jen Malone’s fabulous party here.
  • Offer book readings or activities with kids.
  • Listen to thoughts and strategies of sales staff like Amanda and Eileen.
  • Most importantly, write and illustrate desirable, thoughtful, well-designed books.
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This book loving bear feels right at home.

What special ways does your favorite bookstore promote books?

Most photographs by Egils Zarins.


  1. Fascinating post, Joyce. I’m often in Jabberwocky, but now I’ll look at their displays with a new appreciation for the thought that goes into them. It’s a beautiful bookstore!


    1. Marcia, and now you “know” some of their staff as well, if you didn’t before. Susan Little, the owner, is terrific and Paul and her other staff are too. Librarians and bookstore staff are the people who channel good books into kids’ hands. So important.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Carol. Bookstores like Porter Square Books and Jabberwocky thrive because the community of readers like you support them. It is symbiosis at its best, with the goal that everyone has access to great books.


  3. I love Porter Square Books. They support the #kidlit creatives by hosting many book launches for area folks. Many new bookstores have been popping up and it adds so much to a community. Great post, Joyce.


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