If you’re reading this and you’re a bookseller (or even if you’re not), do you ever wonder why I never seem to be able to finish my Dante catalogue? I do. It really bothers me that I haven’t been able to complete it. I’m a bit worried that those booksellers who’ve been so generous with advice and encouragement might think I’m not serious about completing my first print catalogue and, consequently, that I’m not serious about antiquarian bookselling. An excuse is certainly not in order here. There really are no excuses. If you really want to do something, you find ways to get it done. Period. What is in order is an explanation. I absolutely want to be taken seriously as an antiquarian bookseller. That is, in part, why I have not yet completed my first print catalogue.
To explain, I need to go back to the genesis of the Dante catalogue. When I decided to become an antiquarian bookseller, my children were still quite young — five and seven years old. I decided I would learn as much as I could about antiquarian bookselling, and, as it’s a trade which requires a lot of learning to achieve anything resembling competency, I could use the years my children were home to pursue it part-time, learning in between school days and soccer practices. By time the children were high school age, I would be ready to transition to a full-time business. When I started collecting books a few years prior to deciding to pursue bookselling as a career, I started with Dante, because I knew the work of Dante. I had taken a year-long course in Dante in college and then taught Dante to high school students year after year. “Start with what you know,” I told myself. I built a small but interesting collection, and doing so allowed me to learn more about Dante, condition definitions, book collecting, and booksellers. “Someday, this will make a great print catalogue,” I told myself.
My plan was, and is, I think, a reasonable plan. What I didn’t account for in my planning is that, unlike me, most of the other booksellers I know pursue bookselling full-time. Some put out amazing catalogues several times a year. Some don’t put out any catalogues, but direct their time toward book fairs and shop sales with good results. When I started my business, I was fortunate enough to encounter good opportunities. I never expected to find a mentor so quickly, and I never thought I’d be traveling to Colorado and UCLA and University of Virginia each year to further my bookseller’s education. I didn’t know that book fairs, while they only last a few days each, take weeks of preparation before and days of follow-up work after they take place. I wanted to sell books on the internet, open a shop, exhibit at book fairs, blog, and issue print catalogues in 20 hours a week. In short, in my enthusiasm, I underestimated the amount of time it takes to be good at what I do.
When I attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Market Seminar in summer of 2007, I had been in business about six months. I hastily compiled a draft catalogue of about half of my Dante books. I hoped to show the draft to the faculty, all of whom are well-respected in the trade. If they thought my chosen subject and my books were good enough for a catalogue, I would know I was headed in the right direction. At a later date, I will tell you the story of what happened in Colorado that made me want to make this catalogue not just a catalogue, but a memorable introduction of myself as a bookseller. The short version is that due to the extreme generosity of one of my classmates, I got the opportunity for which I’d desperately hoped, the opportunity to show my draft catalogue to the faculty. I received helpful feedback, useful critiques, and plenty of advice and ideas. I went home and within a few weeks exhibited at my first book fair. I started a blog. My kids started their school and sports schedules. Thoughtful Husband continued to run his own business, something that also requires a lot of time and effort of him and support from me here at home. I didn’t have the time to write the rest of the catalogue, but I continued to work on it by seeking out and acquiring more good books to add to its pages.
By time I had 50 books I felt worthy of inclusion in a print catalogue, I was ready to research and write a thorough description for each book. I did so, over a period of a few months, fitting in the work between blog posts and book fairs and making the non-catalogue sales I need just to keep Book Hunter’s Holiday afloat. By this time, I had also been invited to write (for pay) occasional articles for online publications like BookThink. While I already had only a bit of time each day to devote to any of this (on average between two and four hours per day, about five days a week), the time available for the catalogue was shrinking. Still, it was manageable. One of the nice things about owning one’s own business is that one can decide her own timelines and deadlines. I answer to no one but myself when it comes to the pace of my progress in the trade. (But sometimes I can be a difficult boss to answer to.) “I’ll get to the catalogue after this next book fair,” I’d tell myself. Or, “As soon as I write for the blog today, I’ll work on the books.”
After the Central Valley Antiquarian Book Fair in September, I had no other fairs on the horizon until May, 2009. I’d be assisting my mentor, Mr. Z. at the San Francisco International Antiquarian Book Fair in February, 2009, but that would only be for a few days. Since I wouldn’t be selling my own books there (not yet a member of the ABAA), I wouldn’t need to do all of the prep work I normally do before a fair. BookThink decided to use only in-house writers in 2009, so I wouldn’t have to research and write an article for them each month. Finally, it looked like I would have a good chunk of time to complete the catalogue. I relished the thought.
To be continued . . .