I promised yesterday that today I would post the letter that changed my life, the letter I wrote to the Bibliophile Group Email List. Here it is already 4:30 PM, and I am just now sitting down to blog.
Fridays are what I like to think of as “bless the house” days. I try to clean, do laundry, shop for groceries, and prepare a good dinner to kick off the weekend. (The operative word here is try. It doesn’t happen this way every single week.) While I would much rather work on my books than clean house, I find that our weekends are much more organized and pleasant if I get the big chores out of the way on Friday. So, in that way, I bless our home, making it a happier place to be. (And, I must admit, somewhat selfishly, having gotten these chores out of the way will allow me to have a few hours to stop by my favorite local library sale over the weekend!) 😉 Also, I find I have a much more positive attitude towards said cleaning if I think of it as helping to make a happier home for my family and myself. Late Friday: the house is straightened, the laundry is folded, and dinner (tacos) is prepared. Now, for the weekend!
As I mentioned yesterday, I decided I wanted to become an antiquarian bookseller, but being a stay-at-home mom whose best finds were at library sales and on ebay, I didn’t know any booksellers to ask as to how to go about becoming one. I really worried that the other booksellers would sneer at my presumptuousness and then shoo me out of their stores for daring to think I could compete on their level. What I really wanted to do was ask how I could learn to be a bookseller so that by the time my youngest son reached school-age, I could establish a business.
Between 2002 and 2005, I tried to educate myself as much as possible about book collecting. I attended a couple of ABAA book fairs, something I highly recommend doing if you never have. You’ll never see a better collection of books amassed in one location. My mother encouraged me to take a one day seminar on book collecting offered by David Gregor, ABAA bookseller. She even helped pay for it, and was really excited about my plan to be a bookseller. I read any and all books I could find on book collecting and bookselling.
Finally, from the anonymous comfort of my computer, I wrote the following letter to the Bibliophile List in May 2006:
Like all of you, I love books. I have been reading the Bullpen for a few weeks now, as well as several of the interesting and informative blogs that are linked to it, but this is my first actual post.
I am a former high school English teacher who aspires to become a bookseller. My first job when I was a teenager was as a clerk in a bookstore. During college, I worked in my university’s library, doing card catalog entries (card catalogs — I guess I am showing my age). I also interned for a book publisher. After college, I thought I wanted to be a book editor, and went to work for another small local publisher. I HATED office work, so much so that I returned to school and got a teaching credential in English. I love teaching high school, but I took a long-term leave of absence when I had my two sons. There was no way to grade 150 papers a week at home with a baby and a toddler around. I love teaching, but have had the best few years of my life being home with my kids. My youngest child will enter kindergarten this August, and, as I anticipate a bit more time on my hands, I think selling books may be the best career for me.
I started collecting books when I was teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy to my senior class. I happened upon the ca.1880 Cassell folio edition with the amazing Dore engravings, and I was hooked. I started purchasing all kinds of illustrated editions of Dante to share with my students. Seeing these older, illustrated editions helped the kids to connect with the text so much more than their mass-produced Penguin paperbacks. They could also see the way Dante’s work has been interpreted by different artists over time.
Being a teacher with a somewhat limited income, I had to really hunt around to find books — library sales, garage sales, estate sales, online auctions, book fairs, and a few brick and mortar dealers as well. As I collected, I read as much as I could about book collecting. I have really enjoyed hunting around for books, and do so as a hobby whenever I have free time. I’ve bought books of all sorts and subjects that I find interesting. I find I can learn more about judging condition, understanding different publishers, bookbinders, time periods, and authors if I do so. I think I need to have personally handled thousands of books to be a knowledgeable bookseller.
My modest home has very little storage, and I have filled two closets (double shelved on each shelf), one armoire, and three book cases with books of all sorts. I saved up my money and went to the ABAA convention in Los Angeles this year (an education in itself), and about two years ago I took a book collecting seminar from David Gregor (Gregor Books, Seattle WA). I have tried to educate myself further by reading bookseller blogs and subscribing to this mailing list. I subscribe to “Firsts” and “Fine Books and Collections”, too. Once, I even made my husband take me on vacation to our nearest “booktown”, Nevada City/Grass Valley (about a 4 hour drive from my house). Of course, I know this does not replace the many years of experience most of you have had, but we all have to start somewhere.
If I do pursue bookselling, I will probably have to start as an on-line bookseller. Rents in my area are very high ( for example $2200/mo. for 497 sq. ft. near the downtown of my little suburb). If I can work up enough of a business in a few years, then I would like to have a brick and mortar shop where I can see real people every day, but I am not sure that’s realistic when lots of the venerable, established shops are closing or have come close to it.
I am trying to research as much as I can about bookselling before I decide whether or not to make this foray when the kids go to school in the fall. I do NOT want to be someone who sells books and doesn’t understand pricing, condition, cataloging, etc. I have done my best to learn about these things over the past few years, and I would certainly plan to use this list as a resource when questions arise. Finally, having been a high school teacher for several years, I am already used to quirky customers, long hours, and a pittance for a wage.
What are your thoughts? (I have already taken under advisement someone’s comment a couple of weeks ago that the best way to make a million dollars selling books is to start with two million.) If you could do it over, would you do become a bookseller again? Am I realistic to think I can make a go of it? (I plan to start with an inventory of 300 or so books.)
Sorry this is such a long post. I just wanted to make it clear that I have pursued some kind of bookish career since I started working, and I am approaching this possible career move with serious intent. Thanks in advance for any advice/input you can give.
So, with a click of the “Send” button, I sent my missive out into the ether, fully expecting to be flamed, ridiculed, and told that if I had to ask, it wasn’t going to be the right job for me. Worse, my letter might be completely ignored. I went to bed that night feeling a combination of anxiety and excitement. In the morning, I had over 25 different responses waiting in my email Inbox.
Tomorrow: What they said and why it changed my life.
See you in the stacks!