That Elusive Original Content

That Elusive Original Content

The buzzword that promises customers will continue reading your blog, opening your newsletter, or visiting your website is “content”… with “original” tacked on for good measure. But sometimes original content can be difficult to conjure, especially when so many other things are required of us to run a bookstore.

Every Monday through Saturday, I receive a daily email newsletter from The New Yorker which features links to current pieces from newyorker.com and the weekly magazine. But on Sunday the newsletter has an entirely new look and feel, pointing to a themed selection of stories from the archives.

Sunday’s theme was “School Days,” and the stories ranged in publication date from 2000 to 2015. Many were new to me, but some provided the feeling of rekindled friendships. “Class Picture” by Tobias Wolff sent me clamoring to retrieve Old School from my shelf. And “The Smoker” by David Schickler reminded me that Kissing in Manhattan was the first galley I ever read when I started in this business back in 2001. My first galley. Ever. (I knew better than to look for it on my shelf. I just loaded it out last week.)

What does this have to do with original content? Well, a few things come to mind:

  • The nine stories featured in “School Days” were published over a 15-year time period. The only new piece was fiction editor Deborah Treisman’s introduction to the selection. If you have archives of staff book reviews, look through them to see if you can discover a theme so you can introduce new readers to your favorite backlist titles.
  • If you do not have archived reviews, poll current staff to discover their favorite “School Days” reads. In addition to Schickler and Wolff, I probably would add Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Ethan Canin’s For Kings and Planets, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, “Charles” by Shirley Jackson, and David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshman Never Lie. Ask somebody else, and you’ll get completely different results.
  • I used “School Days” as a theme, but do not limit yourself. Maybe you’re swamped right now but will have more time in a few weeks. Think ahead to different themes your staff would enjoy. Scary thrillers for Halloween. Cold books for winter. Westerns. Military. Memoirs. Coming of age novels. Creative non-fiction. Pets. … Just start a brainstorming list with yourself and you won’t know where to end.

There are many approaches to take with original content. By using archived material and the vast reading sensibilities of your staff, you can really showcase some of your favorite backlist titles while illustrating to customers why independent bookseller knowledge is so important.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay