A Bookselling Moment with Jane Bites Back

After years as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, very, very little surprises me. Working with the public has its charms and delights *cough* but for the most part 99% of my customers are fabulous, very appreciative of my help and excited about the inventory that is stocked in my store. Every bookseller has a favorite story to tell about the most outrageous request for a book or the kid that threw up on them. (My recent customer from hell was an indignant woman who expected me to be able to find a new release with feet binding in the story, but did not know the title, author or if it was fiction or nonfiction.) Last week one of my assistant managers found a pair of men’s underwear draped over the SAT books. Not sure if this was a personal statement about our educational system or a performance art project gone awry, but we all looked at her in horror as she stuffed the tighty whities in the trash. They were definitely not going in the lost and found! 

To be a great bookseller you need to know a little about everything and hopefully a lot about a few things. Most of the staff know that I am a Jane Austen enthusiast and enjoy channeling customers my way with the most obscure Austen book questions like, “Do you know that book with Mr. Darcy in the title?” or “I need Pride and Pestilence by Jane Eyre.”  One of my favorite stories to tell happened two years ago when The Complete Jane Austen was airing on Masterpiece Classic. I wrote about it at the time and you can read the story again here. (it is at the bottom of the post) But tonight, I had another Austen moment at work that just might surpass it.

A gentleman who looked to be in his sixties asked me where the romance novels were. I escorted him to the section and offered help which he declined. Usually, I do not have a lot of male customers asking for romance titles unless they have a list from their wife or girlfriend. I know that may sound like stereotyping, but when it comes to book buying, people’s taste and interests can often be pigeonholed that way. A few moments later the gentleman re-appeared at the information desk and asked me who the author  of Jane Bites Back was? (the new paranormal Jane Austen novel) Having just read and reviewed it myself, I was able to tell him right off the top of my head that the author was Michael Thomas Ford. 

Impressed with my authority and confidence in the book, he shared that it was the funniest book he had read in years and wanted to read the next one. I hesitated to reply. I knew the answer was that it had not yet been published but was so taken aback with his choice in reading that I stared at him blankly until I could regain my composure, all the while secretly smiling and thinking to myself, boy, you just can’t judge a book by its cover. I would never have pegged him as a Jane Austen is a vampire novel reader. When I told him that the first book had just been published two weeks ago and that he might have to wait another year for the second in the series, his face fell. “Another year?” he replied. “Jane deserves better.” 

So, Michael Thomas Ford. You better sharpen your quill and get crackin. Your public awaits.


22 thoughts on “A Bookselling Moment with Jane Bites Back

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  1. How fun it must be to help people find Jane Austen related books!! It would definitely make my day if someone came and asked me about what to read after “Pride and Prejudice!” I would love to hear more of your stories!

    On a side note, I really need to get my hands on “Jane Bites Back.” It sounds like a very enjoyable read!


  2. That’s brilliant. I haven’t read Jane Bites Back yet but it’s on my wishlist. I think I have to move it to the top of the list.


  3. LOL! You just made me spew coffee all over my computer keyboard. (I’m sending you the bill! ;-P)

    The earlier anecdote reminded me of the husband of my sister’s best friend, who I was surprised to find out was a huge Austen fan. He’s also a Warhammer enthusiast! One should never really judge a book by it’s cover… =D


  4. Aren’t people fascinating! It puts Lizzy in mind: “But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.” The poor gentleman: though I laugh at him, you paint such a crestfallen and sympathetic portrait that I must feel for him too.


  5. Awesome story, Laurel Ann! I worked for Borders for many years (does that make you my arch nemesis? LOL) and you’re completely right — every bookseller has their favorite battle wounds to display from customer interactions! People are hilarious — and crazy. Actually, I miss it.

    How fun that the gentleman read Jane Bites Back and is eagerly awaiting the sequel — sounds like I need to grab that one, too! I read the first 20 pages or so on the official site and was entertained, for sure. I’ll be looking for it soon!


  6. I’ve often thought that I would enjoy working in a bookstore, and your stories just confirm that notion. Being surprised when people don’t fit their pigeonholes is energizing, imo.


    1. Jane dear, I might make bookselling sound like a lark, but it is fact a very physically and intellectially challenging job.

      LOL, if you were to run across me at the store five minutes to close, I might have my mad mother hat on and be tut tutting all the naughty children & adults that made a mess of my store!

      I am asked the most outrageous questions and am expected to know everything and be physic. Umm, yes I do know what book you are thinking of from your brain waves, or yes, I do know the book with the cupcake on the cover that was on a front table three months ago!

      There is never a dull moment – and I would not have it any other way. Every once in a great while, I have a Jane Austen book encounter that sets me up for ages. I even had a fan of my blog show up. Now, that really was a surprise! Who, little ol’ me? Aw shucks.

      Thanks for visiting. It’s always a pleasure to see your comments Jane.

      Cheers, LA


  7. Oh Laurel Ann, I love this story! you could probably do a blog just on your daily bookseller encounters! – but I agree the ones on Jane Austen can carry you for months… what a lovely gentleman!

    Owning, running or working in a bookstore is everyone’s dream! – the reality is not always so great – I am an antiquarian bookseller and used to have an open shop – I could write a book on it all – “the good , the bad, and the ugly”! – mostly good, but it was the bad ones that did me in – but it IS the good ones that one remembers and misses. One of my favorites: I was having a very animated conversation with a gentleman about Sherlock Holmes, he being an avid, all-knowing reader, I just having read most of the stories over the years, but certainly could not quote events and page, etc. – anyway, we are having this great talk, when from around the corner pokes another customer who rages “Dr. Watson was a woman!'” – a gasp from the Holmes fellow, and then nearly fisticuffs – it was the closest I have come in my 20th-century life to experiencing the possibility of a DUEL! I really did have to calm them both down and suggest deep-breathing excercises…

    Laurel Ann, just please keep sharing your stories!

    Deb [who will now get this book to see why everyone is singing its praises – but oh! how I am sick of vampires!]


  8. Best. story. ever.!!!

    My aunt was a bookseller in the children’s dept. Grandparents always came in looking for books for their “advanced and gifted” grandchildren. No Max & Ruby or Harry Potter for them… straight to David Copperfield.


    1. Hi Lisa, being a bookseller is so uplifting. Everyone who walks into the store is seeking knowledge or entertainment and that is so positive. The one exception are students who are forced to read something, but they can just deal with it. It’s all part of the process of discovering what good literature is, or is not! Not every story is in graphic novel format! Thanks for visiting, LA


  9. Great Story, you just have to love the public. Never know what will come out of their mouths! I loved the book “Jane Bites Back” I seem to be on a phase where I only want to read vampire books, so was thrilled when I saw this book on the shelf at a local store. Of course when I read the back I knew it was a must buy. I was not dissapointed by Mr. Fords take on a vamprie story and loved even more that he brought in Jane Austen. Of course if you’re like me on a good book, you burn through it and are left waiting and waiting and …………..waiting for the next in the story line. I think this customer of yours is feeling the same way. SO COME ON Michael, we need more content!! LOL I actually found your blog from Mr. Fords pages, fun fun fun. I’m book marking yours to come and read again. Thanks.


    1. Hi Tracie, thanks for visiting today. I ask customers everyday if I can help them find what they are looking for. A day never passes when someone does not remark “NO” followed by it has not been released yet with a smirk and comment that the author needs to step it up. I take it as a sign that the author did their job hooking the reader to the next book.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed Jane Bites Back. I too am looking forward to the next in the series, Jane Goes Batty.

      Cheers, Laurel Ann


  10. I simply wish to declare myself, another gentleman in his 60s, as having just requested “Jane Goes Batty” to be delivered to my local branch of the Salt Lake City library.

    I’m also on the planning committee for CONduit, our SLC fantasy & SF weekend.


  11. I realize you posted this forever ago, but your experiences as a bookseller entirely remind me of working at a library. To that end, I thought maybe you would appreciate this quote; it’s one of my favorites.

    People flock in, nevertheless, in search of answers to those questions only librarians are considered to be able to answer, such as “Is this the laundry?” “How do you spell surreptitious?” and, on a regular basis, “Do you have a book I remember reading once? It had a red cover and it turned out they were twins.” – Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, pg. 175-176


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