Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Care and Feeding of a New Generation of Book Dealers... Part 1

So I was reading the blog from Between the Covers today -  Teaching Pigs to Fly   and it really got me thinking.
 In fact, it got me so engaged that I'm actually writing this post.  (I have been dreaming about a Buffy the Vampire Slayer blog post for the last week -- see how far THAT got me?)

But back to Between the Covers.

 The post this time (if you didn't bother to click through the link and READ it) is about one of the fairly new cataloguers who has been given the task of indoctrinating a new hire in the byzantine rituals of rare book cataloguing.  Ashley  has been cataloguing books for a year and the new hire is just that -- a brand new initiate who will be learning the art of correctly describing books and cataloging them for the shop.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before (I'm sure I have, but for continuity's sake, I'll mention it again) but  I've been semi-training my own apprentices in the book business: Son #1 & Son #2.  Ashley's blog post got me thinking about how book dealer training is, or can be, done.

In our household, the training is mostly informal. Either I happen to pick up an interesting book and one of my victims  apprentices is in grabbing distance,  thereupon, I expound, with book in hand - to mostly rolled eyes and long sighs; or, if we happen to go out and manage to end up at an establishment that has books - then we will all start peering through the stacks, each of us with a separate focus.  If either of my apprentices finds a book with potential, he'll hand it to me.  (ok, a little sidetracking here -- the latest deal in the household is that if either apprentice finds a book that I decide is worthwhile, then that child gets to "consign it" and receives half the profits when the item sells.)  I then will peer at the book and give them a thumbs up (with info on why) or a thumbs down -- with MORE info on why.

Then we bring our finds home and research.

Now the research part my apprentices "Get".  They understand how to do a quick check for price, condition, etc.  They know where to start looking.  They understand (generally) my personal method for pricing a book. They're great at gauging condition. They're doing quite well with identifying first editions.

The part that we are all finding more frustrating is the WHY of what books I will give my thumbs up vs those books that are tossed aside like moldy cabbage.

And here's the thing that I'm finding challenging -- it's just how many authors / subject areas that I am familiar with -- and what collectable / salable valuations I carry in my head -- that cannot be easily understood or accessed by them. 

Example:  One son offers me a hardback copy (with a nice dust jacket) of a Danielle Steel title.
Instant Thumbs Down.

I know why didn't even touch the book - much less check the copyright page or pull off the dust jacket to check for condition, but these two boys have never read Danielle Steel or heard of her; and that's the divide I'm straddling while trying to impart my pearls of wisdom.  You try explaining to a pre-teen or teen (as he walks away, dejected) why it is that Danielle Steel just isn't gonna make the grade.

Another example:  Son #1 pulled out and walked over a book that was in wonderful condition. It had a slipcase. It was Classic Fiction /Literature.   He had no clue as to who the author was -- but he knew that slipcases meant good things.   (and, unfortunately, I've forgotten the author / title on this particular book) 
I took one look at it, praised him for the choice of author and subject -- and gave it an instant Thumbs Down.


Because it was from the Heritage Press.

 In the meantime, at the same hunting ground - Son #2 pulls out an oversized photography book and hands it to me.  One look, a quick check for edition (he thought it was not a first edition, but had an idea that it might be interesting anyway) and condition and I give an emphatic Thumbs Up.

Again, why?

Aperture Press.

How do I explain the why of this Thumbs Up? 

How is a decently educated kid of 12 to understand?  Or is it just a case of learning the same way a child learns anything -- teacher says this, so this is what I do the next time.... and gradually understanding follows.

That's why I found Ashley's blog post about training a newbie so intriguing.  She's got a few advantages on her side: her newbie is older and has (presumably) some background with Literature. I am also assuming that the books for cataloging are already available to the two of them (I know nothing about the way Between the Covers buying / cataloguing routines are set up) and that they are not having to both buy and describe the stock.  

My apprentices are learning two disparate sides of the business at the same time: how and what to buy, and then how to describe the items and price them. They're doing a great job so far.  They have a long way to go, as I'm sure the newbie at Between the Covers is finding out, but they're constantly making progress.

In the end, I guess we'll just keep informally adding tidbits of information to what they know and the understanding will come on its own.

That's how I've been doing it for years now.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy New Year! And other things.

So -- a little late, but still in January.  Happy New Year all!

This last year has been .... weird is the only word I can come up with at the moment.  It was a wild, wooly and just plain weird year.  The book business, which had been getting harder to continue as a stable money maker, also not giving me that  feeling of fun and excitement that had kept me going for so many years.  The business was a slogging, sluggish, tiresome and generally unfulfilling thing.  Oh, there were moments, or days where the spark still lit and the itch to research something really cool was still there, and there were a couple of sales last year that made my heart go pitty-pat, but the day-in, day-out sameness overwhelmed most of that. And the constant hoping that a sale - ANY sale - would materialize so that I could work on paying the next bill,  could turn even the sunniest day into a dreary one.

I needed a break. A BIG break.  And I guess the universe (or God, whichever floats your boat) knew it.

I had been half-heartedly looking for employment for about a year due to the increasing vagaries of book sales and the fact that my kids insist on continuing to grow, eat, and generally use resources. Our household bills hadn't dropped much overall (even after cutting back on an amazing amount of thing) either. All in all, things were getting more and more ominous and something needed to be done.

So, when a job offer just about dropped into my lap this summer, (Seriously.   When your sibling calls up and says, how would you like this really cool, flexible job that you can actually do from home - part time - you don't sit around on your hands saying... well, let me think about it)  I snapped it up.  It was completely different from anything I had ever done before. It was techno (and I *thought* I was tech savvy). It was something that I could do.  So I took it.

Then it took over my life.



It took over gradually (as most things do) but by October I was working seven hours a day, five days a week, with optional weekends (depending on my kid-related schedule). By November it was eight hours and most weekends (working *around* kid schedule). In December it was ten hours a day - seven days a week (again, around kid schedule). Overtime was *optional* but would be mandatory if not enough work got done during regular times.

There was virtually no time for thinking about books, much less actually doing anything about them - other than pack up the last minute Christmas rush that was much of December. The fact that I DID get book orders in December surprised the heck out of me, but it was also very welcome - because I was able to squirrel away a tiny bit of savings for the first time in over a year. Of course, those savings are already earmarked to pay my California State Sales taxes for the year, but hey, I'm not complaining.

And then, the job ended.

It was a contract job - you work from such-and-such date through such-and-such date.  And that's pretty much what happened.

The last day came and the job was gone.

And now I'm back to being a full time book seller.

Which is weird.

But - I do have a better attitude about books at the moment.  It's still not the golly-gee, wow, I'm a BOOK DEALER  attitude I used to have, but I can at least look at the books without wanting to throw them.

I'm even  looking forward to doing research again.

Oh, and for some of the other things that happened this year ... well, lets say it was a year full of family issues of one sort or another. My mother has been generally in less than wonderful health. The ups have been slight. The downs somewhat steep and her physical condition is just not what it used to be.  My husband can now say that he is a cancer survivor.  We (he) got lucky. The type of cancer he had was one that could be dealt with by surgery alone. And it was a random, out-of-nowhere sort of thing. But until he actually got the diagnosis of cancer, his life this year sucked major eggs, and the rest of the household felt it too.  He was in pain and there was not much we could do to help him.

I have to say that I'm glad to see the end of 2011.

I can only hope and work hard to see that 2012 is a better year - for ALL of us.

Happy New Year!

And as a postscript -- I'm going to try and get back to my blogging (mostly about books & book related issues, or not, depending on my moods)  on a regular basis.  Last year's two blog total for an entire year was dismal!