Dana Richardson – Bookseller?
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” Niels Bohr
I guess that if you use the definition above, I can consider myself very close to being the Grand High Poobah expert bookseller in the field of modern, out-of-print and collectible children’s books. I honestly think I’ve made every mistake possible while still managing to call my self a business person with a mostly a straight face.
I officially made my transition from fanatic book reader to bookselling fanatic in 1993 when I was in my late thirties. I’ve always been a slow learner and it took me that long to figure out that I did not fit in either the academic or government environments. Unfortunately, the time I finally determined that there was a direct correlation between my happiness and the number of books by which I surrounded myself, was also the time, due to multiple moves and a farmhouse remodel, that I owned the fewest number of books in my adult life. So on behalf of another bookseller, I spent about 6 months sending quote cards to listings in the old AB Bookman Weekly magazine, haunted the out-of- print dealers in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, discovered to my endless fascination, the Auction Price realized section in the Cedar Rapids Library, bought my first copy of Pat and Allen Ahearn’s Collected Books: A Guide to Values…and declared myself a bookseller.
The reasons I decided to specialize in children’s books were very pragmatic. There was no possibility of any sort of long term internship with any out of print bookstores, (for that matter there were not many out of print stores in Eastern Iowa at that time) and no money or time to attend the Book Seminar in Colorado, so I needed a genre narrow enough that I could get up to speed relatively quickly. (Remember this is all pre-internet). I had been a rabid reader since 3rd grade, when, 3 hours past my bedtime on a school night, (It was a Thursday!) I finished reading The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle. So I knew a little something about children’s books, or at least I knew what I had liked in my younger years. I also was familiar with the books my own children were currently reading, which helped me keep abreast of what was currently being published. Also, very fortuitously; in 1993 there were no other dealers specializing in out of print children’s book ANYWHERE in eastern Iowa. This fact alone let me corner the market for a short time and resulted in my being offered some truly wonderful books.
Since all my sales were mail order and I was completely terrified of mis-describing a book’s condition, I decided I would only deal with books in the nicest possible condition, therefore I decided I would not purchase book club editions or library discard copies. With that very stringent condition requirement in place my purchasing decisions were relatively easy; If it was an award winning book I would buy it, if it was a book I remembered from my childhood, I would buy it, if it was a book that I had wished I had read as a child I would buy it…
By the time we relocated from Iowa to Maryland in 2003 my inventory had grown from a couple of hundred books to over 15,000. (About 12,000 currently online). And along the way I’ve probably made every possible mistake a bookseller can make. So in short, the following is some advice from my personal school of oopsies, goof ups and foobars, and is definitely to be filed under the do as I say, NOT as I did category…
- Intern with an out of print dealer or AT LEAST spend some time working in an in print bookstore.
- ALWAYS keep a cash reserve (yes, I mean separate from the book buying budget!)
- Also keep a reserve for buying the really special books, (when economic times are difficult some really wonderful books become available)
- Whether you chose to use the traditional bookseller description terminology or not, at least know what the terms mean. If you are going to walk the walk at least be able to talk the talk…
- If you think of books in terms of “units” moved you are probably in the wrong business, but conversely if you don’t have any business or accounting experience, hire it or marry it!
- and finally, – Don’t get so busy that you don’t take the time to READ!