I've been a bookseller for almost two decades now. One of the most challenging (and yet most fun) aspect of being a bookseller is when a customer comes in and knows just a tiny bit about the book they're looking for. IE, they know part of the title or author's name or perhaps just the colour of the book or the fact that the author was on CBC radio or Oprah just a few days ago and a basic concept of what the book is about.
Putting your investigative bookseller hat on and doing your best to find that customer's book is one of the truly absolutely joys of bookselling.
Sure, you can approach it with frustration and get angry with the customer for being ill-prepared. But seriously, it's simple when a customer comes in and asks for the new Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer book -- no challenge there, no use of actual brain power or real bookselling skills. Your average big box warehouse or WalMart with extremely limited book knowledge can do that. And yes, I love being able to answer the easy questions, but I also quite enjoy the fun challenge of helping turn the lost and confused customer into one who leaves my store satisfied and with more knowledge and perhaps even the book they came in asking about in hand.
That's why I loved Josh Christie's recent blog post No Title? No Author? No Problem!
Back in the early days the challenge was a bit more difficult. I have evolved over the years into using Google to help me with such requests now, as well as various industry resources such as lists offered by Ingram and Bowker, etc. But Josh offers a truly wonderful resource on his blog, crediting Saikat Basu of MakeUseOf.com in this post and points customers to it as a very useful reference.
Something else I like to do is keep a handy list of other booksellers within a 1 hour drive of my store, particularly specialty retailers -- and rather than have the customer leave without any answer, I provide them with contact information for another local bookseller that I believe might be able to help them. For example, if I determine that the book they were searching for is out of print and I don't have it listed as available through my in-store Espresso Book Machine, I send them to a local used bookstore -- if the book is a business title, I send them to a local bookstore that specializes in business books.
That way, the customer can at least have left my store with a few good leads, which might be more than what they came in with.