Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


December is a crucial make-or-break month for many retailers, and bookshops are no exception.

For the bookshop owner, expectation levels go through the roof in the run-up to Christmas, and this is accompanied by a constant insatiable hunger for sales, sales and more sales.

Basically, enough sales to sustain the shop through those dark miserly days of January….and February….and March…. and…. well, you get the idea.

To celebrate this pivotal retail month, I’ve put together a list of 25 things that pretty much will happen in your bookshop during December, guaranteed. 

You can use it as a checklist if you like.

Or why not pop all of them in a 5 by 5 grid and treat yourself to a game of bookshop bingo.

Good luck with that.


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


1:  Unexpected national bestseller on the subject of Hungarian Waste Depots goes into reprint and your shop is without copies.

Immediately, loads of people you have never seen before come in to ask for it.

One of them tells you:

I’ve tried everywhere. You’re my last hope.


2:  A customer with fluey symptoms enters your shop and informs you:

I’ve got terrible flu. I better not come too close.

They stay for half an hour, sneezing and handling stock.


3:  The shop is very busy.

You receive an unexpected and confusing visit from:

  • The mother of someone you detested at school/
  • Your aunt’s yoga instructor/
  • A woman who met your cousin’s neighbour in Corfu.


They told me to come in and say hi.

Oh did they now? 


4:  A loyal customer orders a copy of The Guinness Book of Records.

You feel guilty charging him anything more than a tenner.


5:  You treat yourself to some mince pies on the till area.

While bagging up a purchase, you surreptitiously use your skirt to wipe sticky fingerprints off a book.


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


6:  A customer brings a book over and asks you to order them a pristine copy.

You can see nothing wrong with the book but you agree to it anyway.

All replacement copies received over the next five days are in worse condition.


7:  You run out of till rolls/credit card rolls/bags/change/light bulbs.

You try to find out who is responsible.

Apparently you are.


8:  One of the following:

  • Wholesaler
  • Publisher
  • Delivery company

has a Christmas-meltdown-warehouse-overload situation and grinds to a virtual halt.

Subsequently you cannot guarantee any book to arrive for anyone at any particular time.


9:  A title you safely returned to the publishers as unsold in August is heavily featured in end-of-the-year newspaper round-ups.

You hurriedly re-order twenty copies before it goes into reprint.


10:  You phone a female customer to let her know that the book she ordered is ready for collection.

Forgetting that her partner is female, you accidentally blurt out the title of a Christmas present to the intended recipient.

You feel stupid and unenlightened. 


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


11:  A temporary staff member at your friendly Book Wholesaler:

a) leaves that important customer order out of your daily delivery and supplies you with a Berlitz Pocket Guide to Sri Lanka instead.

b) puts that important customer order in your daily delivery. Rejoice.

Unfortunately your daily delivery has subsequently arrived at a completely unrelated bookshop 200 miles away from your own.


12:  A customer moans to you about the over-commercialisation of Christmas.

You nod your head in earnest agreement, while wearing sparkly bauble earrings, listening to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album and trying to flog them as much stuff as possible.  


13:  It is momentarily busy.

Somebody points out to you that:

You must be raking it in, love.


14:  The shop is empty.

A customer comes in and announces:

Ah, that’s more like it. You’re so lucky. It’s blissfully quiet in here. Everywhere else is like a madhouse.


15:  A delivery driver leaves an Amazon package with you for one of your neighbours.

You do not recognise the neighbour when he/she comes to pick it up five days later.


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


16:  You regret offering a gift-wrapping service and start to think that customers should really wrap their presents themselves, the lazy bastards.


17:  It is a busy day in December. It is not raining.

A perfect time for:

  • The council to drill a large hole outside your shop.
  • The neighbouring building to erect scaffolding.
  • A large van to block one of your windows for five hours.
  • A three-hour regional power strike caused by Christmas lights.


18:  A book you confidently picked as a bestseller:

Everybody is going to be knitting clown heads this Christmas.

has sold one copy in just under a month.

You work out that you need to sell twelve copies a day for the next two weeks in order to sell out.


19:  Back in August, you arranged an author event for December 14th.

You failed to predict just how knackered you would be.

You also forgot to promote it.

You bribe your staff to attend.

They yawn all the way through.


20:  A customer wants to order a book through your shop, published by Createspace/Amazon.

You do not want to order it from Amazon as you receive no retail discount and, well, because it’s Amazon.

Neither do you want to send the customer away and into the arms of Amazon.

You try to steer the customer in a different direction entirely by pointing out, as subtly as you can, that this book could well turn out to be an uncorrected and hastily cobbled together piece of turgid amateurism.

The customer points out that the book is written by their best friend.


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


21:  You experience the December tipping point.

This is that moment when you switch from carelessly re-ordering every sold book in huge quantities:


Yep, 20 of them. 45 of that one. Why not?


to blind panic as you realise that Christmas Day is a bit bloody close:


Oh my God. Where did all these books come from? What was I thinking? Sell, sell, sell. Cancel all dues. We’ve got to get rid of this stuff.


22:  It is the busiest moment of the Saturday before Christmas.

Time for that elderly lady to come in and ask for 17 Book Tokens of varying values and different designs for her grandchildren.


23:  A customer needs help buying a Secret Santa present costing less than a fiver for someone in her office.

She arms you with the following information about the recipient:

  • He is Scottish.
  • He has no sense of humour.
  • He is possibly religious.
  • He is a bit of a dick.


24:  It is two days until Christmas.

You have stopped taking customer orders.

The perfect moment for someone to come in and ask for that urgently-needed book on Sea Nettle Anatomy. 


25:  Christmas Day.

Your shop is finally closed and you are drunk at midday full of festive cheer. 

One of the presents you receive from a family member has been bought on Amazon.

Apparently this is acceptable because the relative


lives in the middle of nowhere.


Yes, it’s Christmas so let’s spare a thought for all those unlucky people living in the middle of nowhere, just sitting around for the past 2.8 million years or so, waiting for Amazon to come along so they can finally buy stuff.


Red Reading Lady Secret Bookseller logo on green background


By the way, if you work in a large bookshop or chain, you can substitute any of the above with the following:


  • You are on a busy till. You wonder where the hell all this cash ends up, as you never see any of it.
  • That much-admired Christmas shop display (which took you many hours to design and implement) is mysteriously replaced after two days.
  • You are working on Christmas Eve. A manager joins you at the till “to help out.” They are no help whatsoever. You have to teach them how to void till errors.
  • You are working on Boxing Day. You completely forgot to book the time off, ten months ago.
  • You are working on 27th December. You tell yourself that no, this time next year, you really will be doing something else.


Have I missed anything?





1/12/2017 Update: I had a spare second at the shop so here, for no extra expense, and making full use of my advanced Microsoft Word skills, is your Cut-Out-and-Keep Bookshop Bingo Form.

Award yourself generous prizes for Five-in-a-row (across, down or diagonally), Corners and Full House.   

Good luck. 




7 comments on “You know it’s December when….”

  1. No 25 is priceless best comment on Amazon customers I’ve read ever
    Its the main reason no one cares when the recent expose on working conditions shows them for the parasites they are, everyone’s complicit

  2. Every 5th customer comes in looking for a specific book without knowing the full title or the author. Of the other 4, only one knows both author and title, but they also know the publisher, pub date and usually the ISBN and get testy when you don’t know the exact location of each book in your shop to the nth degree.

    • it’s usually “I’m afraid I don’t have that in stock”
      “are you sure?”
      “yes, I’ve purchased and shelved every single item in this shop, I know what I have and haven’t got”

  3. Someone stumbles in smelling heavily of booze and proceeds to talk at you and regale all of your customers with his life story and why he ‘hates bastarding Christmas’’

    • That will be because there isn’t one, but thanks for thinking there might have been. If you are thinking of The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, then do buy it anyway: it’s brilliant. I thoroughly recommend it.

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