Bookseller Tips & Tricks: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways

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The Center for Publishing at New York University’s School of Professional Studies hosted an event in conjunction with Publishers Weekly on June 12.

The panel, titled “Book Lovers on the Internet: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways,” was held at New York University and was hosted by the New York Times social editor and former MashReads podcast host M.J. Franklin. Guest speakers, which included Cristina Arreola, senior books editor at Bustle; Jane K. Lee, senior manager of content and community at Epic Reads; Jess Zimmerman, editor-in-chief of Electric Literature; and Emma Straub, author of Modern Lovers and The Vacationers and co-founder and owner of Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic, discussed the Internet’s effects on literary culture.

Straub told attendees that when establishing the in-store and online personality of Books Are Magic, she wanted it to be the “friendliest bookstore in Brooklyn.”

“I wanted you to walk in the door and feel like there were birds chirping and flowers blooming and that you were maybe going to fall in love with someone. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I wanted people to know that they would fall in love with a book,” Straub said, noting that she keeps this in mind when posting on the store’s social media accounts. Her priority, she added, is that people are comfortable in the store — there are places to sit, bright colors, and an overall clean, warm, and friendly atmosphere.

Throughout the panel, Straub gave a number of tips about using social media as a bookstore owner, first and foremost, to use it as a rope to pull people in and then focus on business second.

“I want people to want to come into our space, and sometimes that’s not possible,” Straub said. “There are people who live in other cities and other countries and other continents, but I want wherever that person is — the person looking at pictures of our store — to feel like they know us and they know what it feels like to walk in the door. Maybe they think of us as their local bookstore even though we’re miles and miles and miles away. Do I also then want them to order books and a sweatshirt? Sure!”

Straub also suggested the following:

  • Post pictures of book stacks. Straub likened them to a game of “I Spy” for readers.
  • Post about authors and people who come into the store, and include faces when possible. It can be a debut novelist seeing their books in-store for the first time or someone who brought their dog in. Heartwarming content attracts followers.
  • Post authentic news. For example, Books Are Magic recently had a wedding proposal take place in-store, and the photos taken of the event were popular on social media.
  • Incorporate beauty when photographing books and the store, which can mean paying attention to lighting/sunlight.
  • Find community. Writers like Colson Whitehead, Roxane Gay, and Elizabeth McCracken have created a strong online community on the writing/book side of Twitter.

See more bookseller tips and tricks in BTW.