Late last week, I got a phone call from the high school where I used to teach English. Since I stopped teaching in 2000, I get this same phone call about once a year, offering me my teaching job back. Sometimes teachers quit unexpectedly or go on maternity leave mid-year and the school needs an immediate replacement. Sometimes enrollment grows and they need an additional teacher. I loved teaching and I loved my school, and I am always flattered that they want to ask me back for more, so there wasn’t much holding me back from wanting to return each and every time they’ve asked.
Except two small kids who I wanted to be with every second and who would then need day care, which — at last check a few years ago — actually cost more than my teacher’s salary.
Except my own rather low tolerance for being pulled in many directions at once.
Except my lack of time (20 hours or so per week outside of teaching in the classroom) to grade papers and prep lessons at home after work, when my family demands my full attention.
Except, while I love teaching, I hate the ridiculous politics involved in weekly faculty meetings, department meetings, and academic committee meetings which add quite a few more hours and quite a bit more stress to your teaching load.
Except I didn’t have time attend my students’ sports games or theater productions or chaperone their dances the way I could before I had a family, when teaching was my life. (This may sound like an extra, but all good teachers of adolescents know that occasionally supporting them outside of the classroom helps them to connect inside the classroom.)
Except I discovered while home the past eight years that I want to be an antiquarian bookseller.
Too many exceptions to make for a job performance that would make either me, my family, or my school’s principal unhappy. Though I taught part-time after the birth of Tom, after I had Huck, I decided to stay home with my children until they were both school age and then re-evaluate my career plans when my youngest son entered first grade. Huck began first grade in September, but my plans for becoming an antiquarian bookseller began long before that time. As you know, I spent a couple of years reading everything I could about books and bookselling. I never told the school about my plans because I wasn’t sure I could make it work. Antiquarian bookselling was still a dream.
When I decided I wanted to be a bookseller — a job that would allow me to work from my home and to determine the amount of hours I could put in each week — the first thing I did was send a letter to the Bibliophile email list, a sort of bulletin board for booksellers and book collectors, asking:
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 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.)
You are probably well aware by now (at least if you’ve read this blog before) that I got numerous responses, some positive and some negative, all insightful. I always figured I could return to teaching as a possible back-up. During the years that I’ve been on “maternity leave” (almost eight, lol), I’ve taught summer school twice, substituted occasionally, graded extra papers at home for other teachers, and tutored a few students in order to keep my relationship with the school (which, ironically, is also my alma mater — but that’s a story for another post). I made a little extra money for doing so and also kept up my skills. Through careful and slow shopping over a few years, that money enabled me to collect enough books to start my business.
I officially started Book Hunter’s Holiday as a business a year ago. Since then I’ve found that working from home fits my family’s needs best right now. I can work during the day, pick kids up myself at school at 3 and be available to supervise homework, friends coming over to play, and soccer practice. I can also make sure a decent dinner gets put on the table most nights. I like it this way. But, I’ve also found that if I am to consider myself serious about being an antiquarian bookseller, it needs to be high on my list of priorities, with some activities getting jettisoned. I did not teach summer school this past summer. I went to the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar instead. In September, I resigned from my last tutoring job (which I did at night after the kids went to bed). I built a website and started to blog about my business instead. The money from teacher-like activities tapered off, but I could focus on building my book business, which, if it’s successful, will bring in other money.
Last week, when the call came about teaching again, I swallowed hard before I replied. Took a breath. Thought it through once more.
I said, “No thanks. I’ve started my own business and I really need to focus on that at this time.”
Do I really think I can make a go of it as a bookseller?
If I believe in this business and if I believe it’s a good fit for me — and I absolutely do — then I need to put my money where my mouth is, and give the business my full attention during working hours. This is scary.
It means no more paycheck-subsidized acquisitions of books.
It means that I have to sell enough books to acquire the books I want.
It means I have to act like a real business; my business must be self-supporting or it is simply a hobby.
It means that, other than adopting an abandoned farm, I have no Plan B. Bookselling is Plan A, B, and C.
To which I say, “It’s a go!”
Ready for lift-off!