I am happy to say that today I reached a goal I set for myself a long time ago, a goal I pursued even though I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever reach it. Today, my application for membership in the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) was approved at the Summer Meeting of the Board of Governors of that organization!
It still doesn’t quite seem real. Today I became a member of the ABAA.
I must be dreaming. Someone pinch me. On second thought, don’t. I think I like this dream.
I can’t remember where or from whom I first heard about the ABAA, back in the days when I didn’t know any booksellers personally, I had babies running around the house, and I barely had time to even read about antiquarian books, but upon hearing about this association of booksellers who work hard to promote the trade, who have a Board of Governors (!), a written Code of Ethics, and exclusive book fairs where only their own members can exhibit, I immediately thought, “I probably am too old to learn to be an antiquarian bookseller and even if I could, I’ll never be a good enough bookseller to be part of that group.”
Are you wondering why I said such a thing? You might recall one of my many longstanding phobias about bookselling — being told by a better bookseller than I that I am not a bookseller. Recall:
“I may be a new bookseller, but I know enough to know that when I visit the shop of another bookseller I should introduce myself (oh, the horror!) and identify myself as a bookseller. Still, I always find this to be an awkward moment. I’ve no reason to make assumptions, but my insecurity makes me think the owner will tell me I’m not a bookseller (because I sell online) and to leave the shop. I cower in fear of being assailed with all of the ways the brilliant shop owner knows more than I do. This has never actually happened to me, and I realize there is no logical reason why I should think that it will, but I just do.”
What happened between my telling myself I couldn’t do it several years ago and now? If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know the story, and if you haven’t and you want to know, then you can start here. What happened is that I decided to disregard my phobias and reach out to those around me — to other booksellers and other book collectors for their knowledge, advice, and friendship; to my family for their support in my home-based business endeavor; and to you, the readers of this very blog, who sometimes commented or emailed or introduced yourselves to me at book fairs and reassured me that I was not crazy to try to become an antiquarian bookseller, that I could do it. What also happened was a lot of hard work — learning how to start and run a business; learning the trade as quickly as possible by finding a mentor, reading, talking and corresponding with others; selling books on my website, in printed catalogues, and at book fairs; and going to educational seminars near and far as often as I can.
Does joining the ABAA mean I’m a different bookseller than I was yesterday? No. I think I’ve always done my best to select good books for sale and to conduct my business in a professional and ethical manner and that would continue whether I became an ABAA member or not. What ABAA membership means, among other things, is that I can be and do and learn more by being a contributing member of an organization that is larger than one person working alone in a tiny corner of her dining room in between driving kids in carpools and washing the dishes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this time with regard to my joining the ABAA:
“Does this make me a marquee bookseller? I certainly think not. Not even close. What it made me was someone who could be a small part of a larger team. I’ve since made friends with dealers of all kinds and and even occasionally sold books to those marquee sellers, those much higher in the bookseller food chain than myself. You know the ones. They are the quarterbacks who call the plays in the antiquarian book world, and everyone knows who they are and speaks their names with reverence, passing on the legends of some of their best book plays. Even though I’m not (yet) one of these sellers, it’s (usually) a real thrill and honor to sell them a book (or two or three or more).”
No, I am definitely not anywhere near the top of the bookselling food chain. I do believe, though, that at long last I have earned the privilege of calling myself “antiquarian bookseller” and believing myself when I say it. May I always endeavor to be worthy of the title.
See you in the stacks!