Blog 53: One Year In A Bookshop.

September 26, 2017

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So it’s the one-year anniversary of when I finally moved out on my own and started volunteering part-time in a bookshop, and it has been an amazing and rewarding year, both for my general confidence and my writing. I’ve learnt more about the world through direct experience and talking to people in one year, than I ever did at school or university, and I feel that that is a really important thing to note. I’m not saying that traditional education doesn’t have it’s uses, it does, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that our educational systems are somewhat lacking in life skills. But enough about that, education is a topic I could talk about forever and I want to share with you what I’ve learnt in the last year.

2016 to 2017 has been a strange time for many people and no one really knows what is going to happen next. It’s times like these when I think of my next book, Hidden Variables, which has just gone off for its final edit, and the character Sophia Leto who has visions of the future. I think many people would find this a handy gift right now. I would have certainly found it beneficial during my years at school, college and university.

Finishing university wasn’t easy for me, but I’m still incredibly lucky and privileged to have made it this far. Family and personal issues put a lot of strain on my choices and the decisions that I needed to make once entering the adult world, and I wasn’t prepared or ready for any of it. Thankfully I had a lifeline, an editor who had seen something in my dreadful first drafts of Anomaly that she thought would be worth the time, work and effort. I completed that book and it was published and then I moved out – and even though it was scary, it was the best decision I had ever made, both emotionally and physically.

Having your own space can do wonders for you and your mind, and even being separated from well-intentioned family members can be a breath of much-needed fresh air. Being able to have space and time to think about yourself as a person and what you want to do with your life is liberating, although it can come with regrets too. Regrets about the subjects you chose at school, or the university course you chose to do, or the creative dreams you dropped as a kid, or the years it has taken for you to get into this position. You can go round and round in circles dwelling on all the choices you made in the past but none of that even matters right now, what matters is what you do next. I say this because, even if you feel like you chose the wrong subjects and studied the wrong degree, you can go back and study other things through colleges and open universities. It’s not ideal, but then again, you would have to be an extremely lucky person if things work out for you the first time you try it.

What did I do? Well I was lucky enough to get some volunteer work and a publishing contract. I earn barely the minimum wage but I get by despite juggling rent and bills. I’ve learnt so much working in a bookshop and I’ve met so many different kinds of people, not all of them have been nice but the majority have been lovely. I’ve also completed two online editing courses with two more lined up with Sfep, and I’m now looking into the possibility of broadening my knowledge and skills into other areas so that I can seek alternative employment if necessary at a later date. I’ve also got two books on the go and I’m having great fun writing them, though I’m afraid my humour may be a little too strange for some people.

I’ve also learnt that many people don’t seem to understand basic retail, and I was guilty here too. Working in a second-hand bookshop has really opened my eyes to the problems and issues that small retail business face. Just because it’s a second-hand bookshop doesn’t mean they get their stock for free, second-hand bookshops still have to buy in their stock and then they have to sell it at a profit in order to make any money to survive and pay their employees, if they have any. This may seem like common sense but so many people come in the doors trying to haggle down the prices on cheap second-hand books because they feel that even a 10p profit is good for business, I can tell you that it is not. It’s the difference between having £5 a week or £50 for your food shopping.

Second-hand bookshops also have people coming in with books that they wish to sell to the bookshop. This can be an ordeal and a half. Books are very personal things. People who have a collection of books basically have a collection of their interests and what they find important. After all, it takes a lot of time to read a book so it’s got to be worth it to the owner. However, what some people feel are important, good books that will sell really well, doesn’t always translate into reality. It can be hard to turn away books but it has to be done by bookshops if they can’t sell the books, it depends on the book market at that time. Also, don’t expect second-hand bookshops to offer you a lot of money for your books, they still need to make a decent profit at the end of the day and they also now compete with Amazon and online sales.

Then you get the customers who come in asking for very specific books, expecting the employees and owners of the bookshop to know exactly what they are talking about. Sorry, but we often don’t have a clue. There are up to a million books published in just the US alone every single year. That’s a hell of a lot of books and a hell of a lot of titles to remember, it just isn’t possible to know all the books that are available in the world, so sorry if we can’t find your specific book, but you can always ask on the off-chance.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well this is just my personal experience and the things that I have learnt along the way. Life is not an easy road and even though there will be hiccups along the way, the point is to find out what you enjoy doing and then find ways to make those things your job. It can be more than one thing, you could have two or three different part-time jobs, and yes it’s important that you can pay your bills but it is equally important that you enjoy what you do. Honestly, a minority of people fit into the Lawyer and Doctor categories, the majority don’t. So if you’re feeling like you’re a bit lost and have no direction, the only way out is to jump into the world and get real life experiences so you can figure out what you’re good at, and what you personally enjoy. It may take a lot of trial-and-error and it will definitely take lots of hard work, but it should be worth it in the end.

P.S. This time last year I was at Wigtown Book Festival, by mistake to be totally honest, but I spoke to all the second-hand bookshop owners about their experiences and knowledge of what it takes to run a bookshop. One of those people was a man called Shaun Bythell, the owner of The Book Shop, and he has just published a book called ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’. So if you’re interested in running a bookshop or just want to read about all the antics and happenings that go on, then I recommend you pick up a copy of his book.