Blue Willow Finds New Uses for Staff Reviews [2]

Blue Willow Bookshop [4] in Houston, Texas, has developed a storewide system to make staff reviews of new and upcoming titles available to fellow booksellers at the store, allowing for staff to easily post them on the store’s website, turn them into shelf-talkers, and share them with customers on the sales floor.

A shelf-talker created from a review by Blue Willow's Alice Meloy.

“One of the perks of the job is getting ARCs,” said Blue Willow owner Valerie Koehler. However, with many part-time staffers, it can be difficult both to remember who read which advance copy or new release, and to have these recommendations at the ready when that bookseller is not in the store. With that in mind, staff members are encouraged to review each title they read and to share their thoughts with colleagues via an established e-mail distribution list. 

Under the store’s review process, as a staff member reads a title, they write up a brief review of approximately 50 words, which Koehler may also forward on as an Indie Next List nomination.

Along with the review, the staff member will make any comments that fellow booksellers should know, like whether the book has language that should be taken into account when recommending it to a customer.

Finally, the staff member will include an abbreviated review of just a few words that can be turned into a shelf-talker.

These three items are sent to a Gmail distribution list of fellow bookstore staff members looking to receive reviews and comments about books, with the title and release date noted in the subject line. The e-mails are stored in the bookstore’s general staff e-mail account, so the reviews remain easy to look up by anyone working with customers on the floor.

When there is downtime, staff members can upload these reviews to Blue Willow’s website in the staff picks section, called What We’re Reading Now [5]. “That’s a job that anybody can do at any time,” said Koehler, and visitors to the site can learn all about what the booksellers are reading.

Creating shelf-talkers has also become an easier task, as they can be reviewed in Gmail, formatted, printed, and hung as books are published and go on display in the store. “The person on staff who does our shelf-talkers is constantly putting new ones up,” said Koehler. “She has a whole envelope of ones that are coming this fall.”