Close this window to return to BookThink

A Bookseller's Guide to Microsoft Outlook

by Shawn Tyler

#135, 25 March 2009

Part I: Introduction, Signatures and Tasks

Think: Microsoft Outlook. Ever used it? Using it now? What help can it be to a simple bookseller such as I? You might be surprised - even if you already use it. Microsoft Outlook, not Microsoft Outlook Express. Express is what it says - Express, and therefore has fewer features than its bigger brother.

Outlook is probably the most popular e-mail software currently in use. And for good reason! You can manage priorities, tasks, book sales, e-mail, contacts, appointments and much, much more. Plus - for obsessively compulsed people like myself - it's extremely customizable and offers an extensive number of organizational tools. It has many, many other features which will not be discussed in this article such as Calendar, Address Book, Notes, Forms, Macros, Journal, sharing features, and on and on. I will, however, get a little in-depth in how you can best put Outlook to use for your many bookselling needs.

Now - if you haven't used Outlook before and you don't have your own e-mail address, I highly recommend getting one. Lots of people have their e-mail going through such sites as Yahoo or Hotmail. That isn't a bad thing, as I myself have a Yahoo account. However, having your very own e-mail address looks more professional and probably costs a lot less than you think. Say your business name is Forever Books. Wouldn't it look more professional if your customers received an e-mail from, say, If that sounds appealing, I personally recommend That's who I go through, and I must say, not only are they extremely inexpensive but also their customer service is superb. Every time I've spoken with them they've been very cordial, fast, and professional. If you don't know what you're doing, they'll be patient and help you through any process that you're having difficulty with. Here are their e-mail price plans.

The cheapest plan is $1.19/month, but you can buy a 2-year package for an even bigger discount. Usually you'll pay in one or two-year increments as opposed to monthly (I pay around $25-$30 per year). Some packages allow you to have multiple e-mail addresses such as,,,, and so on. This is why I recommend looking at their group plans even if you're just an individual looking for one e-mail address.

After you've got your own e-mail address (or if you already have one), you can set up Outlook to manage all of your e-mail. This web site will show you how to incorporate your e-mail address into Outlook (this will not work for free Yahoo, Hotmail, etc., ccounts).

Of course, you'll need to get Outlook as well if you don't have it, and you can download a free 60-day demo trial of it at Microsoft's web site.

That will take you to the 2007 version, which I'm sure is equal to or better than the 2003 version - the version that will be discussed in this article. Also, you may want to check to see if it's on your computer already (for those who aren't very computer savvy). If you use Microsoft Word and/or Microsoft Excel on your computer, chances are you probably have Microsoft Outlook as well.

For that matter, I strongly recommend that you look into the entire Microsoft Office Package before you download Outlook. This package includes not only Microsoft Outlook but also Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and PowerPoint. I use all of these programs extensively with the exception of PowerPoint. Microsoft Excel is used for all of my financials including tracking sales, expenses, donations, mileage, and anything else that I need come much anticipated tax time! I literally use Excel almost every day of the week.

Also, as a bookseller, chances are you work with tab-delimited and/or .csv files. Excel is exceptional at this! Have you ever tried to read a tab-delimited or .csv file in Notepad? It's a big, jumbled mess, right? Open the same file in Excel and the entire file makes sense. Aside from financials, I also use Excel to upload new listings to, make revisions to inventory, run spell checks on new listings, and much, much, more.

Lastly, Microsoft Word isn't half-bad either. I use it to print out my own shipping labels, create invoices, business cards, and a whole slew of other things. As I type this very sentence, I'm doing so in Microsoft Word.

With that being said, if you don't have the Microsoft Office Package, which includes all the aforementioned programs, then I highly recommend it. The following is Microsoft's web site for their 2007 Microsoft Office Package.

You can download a free 60-day demo trial of the entire package, which as I said, includes Outlook. If you've recently purchased a brand new computer, it may have come with the Microsoft Office Package already installed on it.

So, now that you've got your e-mail running through Outlook, here are some invaluable features that can help you in your bookselling business.


In Outlook, as with Yahoo, you can set up basic 'signatures.' Signatures are usually used when you want to automatically add your contact information to the end of all of your e-mails. Such as:

Name Job Title, website url
PH: (555) 555-5555. Fax: (555) 555-5555

In Outlook, you can set up a whole slew of signatures. The cool thing about signatures in Outlook is that they can be extensive, containing images and even HTML, so therefore can be used sort of as e-mail 'templates.' For example, I use them as shipment notifications to customers. I have about 10 signatures set up in Outlook. They go by the names of Standard, Standard - DC, Expedited, Global Priority, First Class, International First Class, etc. Here's a picture of my Signature set-up window in Outlook which you can access via Tools>Options>Mail Format.

As you can see, I have put images in my signatures such as the "Thanks for your Order" image on the top that I quickly made in Photoshop. You can even create a signature in Microsoft Word and save it to Outlook. If you know all the things you can perform in Microsoft Word, imagine what you can add to Outlook signatures.

Once you have your signatures created, you can easily incorporate them into e-mails. Every time I write a new e-mail there is a button on the toolbar of the e-mail window that I've created and labeled simply Signatures (creating your own toolbar buttons is one of many customizable options in Outlook). As pictured below, when I click on that button, it brings up a choice of the signatures that I've created. I can easily, with one click, incorporate the signature of my choosing into the e-mail. Instead of using signatures in the classic sense - they instead become the entire e-mail.

Below is what the e-mail looks like after I've selected my Expedited signature. All I have to do is input the Delivery Confirmation number which I've made space for, and it's ready to go (FYI, it is okay to put the U.S. Postal Service web site in e-mails to Amazon customers).

In one quick click we've got a nice, professional-looking shipment notification ready to send to our customer. That's right! We bad! W---e b----ad!

If you use the Amazon Services Order Notifier, better known as ASON, you'll notice that within every order that you open, there is a blue hyperlink containing the buyer's e-mail address, just like you would see on a web page. When you click it, a new e-mail window, just like the one above, pops up with the buyer's e-mail address already filled-in for you. All I do is simply click on that link, then select which signature I need for that specific order, depending on what shipping method/speed it is going, add the subject line, then bam, I'm done. Now we really bad as hell. It takes all of about five seconds to have an order notification e-mail ready to send to a customer.

Even as fast as this is, I still have a couple of issues which I'd like to see fixed in future versions of Outlook. When you select a signature in Outlook as I have illustrated above, the entire e-mail message is ready to go. However, it does not fill out the subject line. I think that would be a great addition. Also, when you edit your signatures, they provide only a small box, and it isn't clear at first that you can add images. What you need to do is right-click in the textbox of the signature that you're editing and you'll see an option to insert an image as pictured below.

See the button that says Advanced Edit in the picture? Clicking that button will prompt you to edit the signature in Microsoft Word, which is exactly what I do. Mostly because it's easier to format text, add images, and spell-check in Microsoft Word than it is in this tiny Edit Signature window (another reason to think about the entire Microsoft Office Package).

I would also recommend that when you are creating a signature you make the contents of it very general, something that can be used for all venues. In other words, don't include venue-specific information. I used to have separate signatures for a few different venues, but then I realized if I took out a few words in my signature I could use one signature for all my venues. You probably aren't going to want to get too fancy with fonts either. The reason being is that the person you send the e-mail to may not have the same font on their computer. As a result, the font will likely be defaulted to Times New Roman (which I don't like!). Some fonts that are most likely to be recognized on most computers are: Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana (I prefer), Tahoma (not bad), Courier and a few others. That's why when you list items on eBay only a few fonts are available, even though you may have a ton of cool ones on your computer. If you're dead set on using a specific font, I would recommend creating the text you want in your desired font in a program such as Photoshop or PaintShop Pro and then add it to your signature as an image file, as I did with the Thanks for Your Order image (and added a wave to it).

When I have the e-mail ready to send to the customer, I don't send it right away but save it as a draft until I have actually shipped the book. Later you can edit it, if necessary, or send it as is. Every time you attempt to close an e-mail in Outlook, it will ask you if you want to save or discard it. When you save it, it sits in the Drafts Folder until you delete it, revise it, or send it.

For those of you who like to use keyboard shortcuts like I do, you can also hit the ESCAPE button to close an e-mail.

When I return from the post office, I quickly send out all the drafts, which takes all of a few seconds and I'm done (there are quicker ways to do this as well that I won't get into in order to keep this article from turning into a full-fledged novel, but you can literally send out 30 shipment notification e-mails in a matter of 10 seconds).


Tasks are like a calendar. Well, kind of. They also greatly annoy you. There have been many times I've screamed at Outlook for constantly reminding me of a book sale I need to confirm, or a person I need to call. That's their job, though, and as irritated as I get, I know it's for my own good. If I would simply complete the task I set for myself, I wouldn't be pestered by it. Through tasks, I have every single book sale that I plan to attend catalogued and organized within my task list. Here's a sample of what my task list looks like in Outlook (edited for privacy):

Notice the top few tasks aren't assigned a date ("None" appears beside them). That's because not all tasks have to be dated as reminders. Any task that isn't assigned a date/time will sit up on the very top of the task list, so they are great for notes-to-selves and general things you don't want to forget. In the screen shot above, I have an entry near the top that says, "USING FIREFOX FOR BOOKSELLING." Well, that was my idea for my next article and I don't want to forget it, so it's been sitting up there in my task list until I'm able to start working on it. More importantly though, I use tasks to keep track of every single book sale I attend throughout the year, even if I don't have a date for it yet.

After I attend the sale and return home, I don't delete the task. Instead, I re-date it to about 10 months down the road so I won't forget about it the following year. You can also create tasks that happen daily, weekly or yearly. These are called recurring tasks. One example is paying your cell phone bill or, as shown in the example above in my task list, your DirecTV bill. You might attend a monthly auction that you want a reminder about a few days in advance every month. I have mine set to remind me of my cell phone bill around the 10th of every month. When the task date arrives, Outlook will keep reminding you every time you open it (hence the hair-wringing!). As shown below, the Reminder box will pop up right in front of you.

The cool thing about tasks is that they aren't just a quick line you drop yourself like "go to this book sale" or "call this dude." Within each task you can write additional notes, and like signatures, you can put images, HTML, web site links, different fonts, and whatever else you might want. In fact, I've never reached a character limit, if there is one. Let me give you an example of why this is so cool. As I said before, I catalogue and task every single book sale that I go to throughout the year. Within each book sale task, I have all the information one could want for that sale - library name, phone number, address, history, even MapQuest links so that I can just click and print the directions. I also sometimes put little idiosyncrasies in there that I might want to note on my next visit such as, "opened 15 minutes early," or "now requires $10 membership fee." Here's an example of how one of my book sale tasks looks like (edited for privacy). Notice the different fonts I used.

After I return from each sale, I update the task, noting how much money I spent, what time the sale was, and any other pertinent details I might want to make a note of, and then I re-assign the task to a future date. I can go through my entire task list to see every sale that I am going to attend this year.

Finally, if my computer was stolen, I would lose all my information regarding every sale that I go to throughout the year! That would be devastating. But fear not - you can not only save tasks but also upload all of your archived e-mails and such things to a backup CD.

Part II will continue this series next month.

Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC