When I was teaching high school English, I often advised my students, when they were writing, to “begin with the end in mind” and to “know your audience”. Surely, there is a special circle of Dante’s Hell reserved for us teachers, who dare to use such simple aphorisms to teach something as complex as good writing, and the punishment in that circle is that we teachers must heed our own advice. I now find myself in that place.
I’ve just about finished acquiring the items I want for my Dante catalogue, bringing the total to 50. Never mind the fact that only half of the catalogue has been written and only half of the items have been photographed or scanned. I’ll be working on that (feverishly) in the coming weeks. What I need to start thinking about now is a mailing list. I’m a novice antiquarian bookseller without an established customer base. Who should receive this catalogue? More importantly, who might buy items from it? Before I can write good descriptions, I need to think about those for whom I am writing them. I also need to look at my collection as a whole and figure out what’s so special about it anyway.
I have limited workspace in my house (a 3’X3′ corner of my dining room) and I store my books in various dark, dry, cool places throughout my house. I’ve been stockpiling those Dantes for a few years now. It’s time to get them out and look them over, not as individual pieces, but as a physical collection, next week. What started out to be a collection of Dante’s Divine Comedy morphed into a collection of illustrated editions of Divine Comedy. Then it morphed into illustrated editions of the works of Dante, and finally, it seems to be emerging from its bookshelf chrysalis as a beautiful collection of illustrated and unusual editions of the works of Dante. I’d like to say more about the unusual part, but think it best to let you see for yourself when I mail the catalogue.
Who on earth might want to buy these books? A Dante collector — sure, but I don’t know any myself (yet). Perhaps a university library with a special collection in Dante. Perhaps another bookseller higher up in the food chain who is assembling a larger collection of works by Dante. Perhaps a beginning collector who wants to start a collection with nice core of 50 items. Perhaps someone who just likes pretty old books. I have to write to each of these audiences in the catalogue’s introduction and in the descriptions of the books themselves.
For now, I plan to begin compiling a mailing list of the following:
University and private libraries that hold special collections in Dante. (There is a book called Subject Collections by Lee Ash where I can find information on which libraries have these — and other — holdings. I just have to check the book.)
Other booksellers I know, with a personalized note accompanying the catalogue.
ABAA booksellers I don’t know, but would like to, with a letter of introduction (Can get their mailing information from the latest ABAA directory).
My fellow seminarians from the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I didn’t meet any other Dante specialists there, but got feedback on an early draft of the catalogue and lots of requests to send it when it was printed.
I’ll send the catalogue to Firsts Magazine, Fine Books and Collections Magazine, and Americana Exchange, all of which review catalogues.
I’ll send the catalogue to my little list of previous customers.
I’ll send the catalogue to friends and family, so they can see what I am doing with all of my “free time” now that my kids are in school all day.
I’ll review the rules about doing so, and if I can, I will anounce the catalogue on any of the bookselling mailing lists that allow a bookseller to do so: Ex-Libris, Bibliophile Group, and Bookfinder Insider.
I’ll offer books for sale on Rare Books email list. This is an internet list which lists antiquarian books for sale free of charge.
And, of course, I will announce the catalogue on my blog and on my website.
Would you like to receive a copy of the Dante catalogue? Send an email with your mailing address and email address to me at: info @ bookhuntersholiday . com.
Over time, I hope to build a customer list, but I think the list above gives me a good list with which to start.