I just returned from one of the best weeks of my life at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, the one often referred to as “Bookseller Bootcamp”. I arrived feeling a little bit nervous (first trip without my family with me in almost 10 years) and shy (Would I know anybody there and would they even talk to me? I am brand new in this business. Why on earth would I presume I am qualified to call myself a bookseller?) I departed knowing that bookselling is the way I want to spend the rest of the working part of my life, and knowing that there are a variety of ways it will be possible for me to do so. I also left with 62 new colleagues, people who love books as much as I do and who are willing to share information, experiences, and opinions.
From my perspective, the seminar’s strength is that it addresses almost all the levels of bookselling out there — used books and antiquarian books, internet only sellers, people with open shops, by appointment sellers, FOL sellers (and it seems to me there were quite a few seminarians who are FOL volunteers). It addressed writing a catalogue description, imaging books for the internet, and selling at book fairs. A person who is new to the trade can see all of the avenues where she (or he) might best fit in. We had a keynote address from Martin Manley of Alibris, an interesting choice given the ambivalence toward the big databases that many booksellers I know have. Whether we agreed with his opinions, we need to hear his opinions, because it would seem that internet selling is an area which cannot be ignored.
We learned everything from how to run an open shop to buying and selling on the internet to marketing to libraries. We were taught the nuts and bolts of a bookseller’s life, such as how to write a good description and how to scan or photograph our books so they appear accurately in print catalogues and on websites. We were also taught the nuances of pricing books and scouting them. All of our teachers were among the best in the business — Terry Belanger, Tom Congalton and Dan Gregory, Lois Harvey, Kevin Johnson, Chris Volk, Angela Scott, Dan DeSimone, Rob Rulon-Miller, Ed Glaser, and Michael Ginsberg. Their careers run the gamut from bibliographer to Library of Congress to open shop owner to internet bookseller to antiquarian bookseller to modern firsts specialists.
Perhaps the most important thing I will take away from this week is that I didn’t personally know too many other booksellers, and to have the gift of meeting 62 others in one week was a real thrill. My head is still spinning trying to digest all of the information, experiences, and opinions that were shared. Regardless of what type of bookseller we are or would like to be — open shop, internet only, book fair only, FOL volunteer, some combination of all of the above, used books, antiquarian books, etc., it is good to get to know all of the types of booksellers out there because our worlds are interdependent. Besides, there are few other people out there who would enthusiastically listen to discussions of our love of books without having what Terry Belanger called a MEGO (my eyes glaze over) moment.
My primary job is being mother to my two boys (ages 7 and 9), so I haven’t gotten out much (read: ever) in the last ten years, and this may make you giggle if this seminar would be just one of many exciting things you do, but FWIW: last week ranks among the best of my life. That is largely due to the friendliness and willingness of the seminarians and faculty to share information and experiences.
This past week confirmed to me what I want to do for the rest of my life, and showed me many different ways in which it is possible for me to to do so. For those of you who are, like me, working out of your home and just getting started, you feel as if you are working in a vaccuum. You might often wonder if there is anyone else out there like you. Is there anyone who is struggling to write (and lay out) a print catalogue? Is there anyone who wonders if bookselling is a financially viable career choice? Is there anyone who wishes they had other booksellers in their circle of friends? Is There is someone. In fact, there are many of them, and the Colorado Seminar would offer an excellent way for you to get to know them.
Thank you to all those on these lists who attended in years past and whose reports on the seminar encouraged me to apply and attend this year! You’ve helped me cement my decision to become a bookseller and to begin pursuing this career in earnest.
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