Friday, July 18, 2008

What next?

Two months ago I discovered that a bookshop was up for sale in Lewes. It seemed like a dream come true and the only obstacle in my way was the fact that I had bugger all money. Still, I had a house that could be used as security on a loan and if the business was viable, I would hopefully be able to earn a living and repay the bank within ten years.

I met the owner and looked at the accounts. The sales had dropped during the last few years, but the business had become more profitable and I could see several ways of increasing the turnover.

I started to visualise myself running the shop. In my head I'd redesigned the interior, held several successful author events and was becoming a local luminary. Yes, running my own business would be stressful, but would it be any worse than having to kowtow to someone I had no respect for? At least I'd be in control of my own destiny.

I realised that I was talking myself into buying the shop and decided to get some objective advice from people who knew what they were talking about. They all said don't do it. I was given several good reasons which only a fool would ignore and reluctantly, I have decided to abandon my plans.

Is this the end of my time in the book trade? I suspect that it probably is, which is a shame in some ways, however it could also be an opportunity to try something new. But what? I don't have any answers yet, but if I sign up to do some courses (my wife has suggested web editing as I spend half of my time on the 'bloody computer') and voluntary work, I'll gain a wide range of experience.

At some point I will have to write a new C.V. Hopefully I will come up with something better than the majority of job applications I've received over the years, many of which were littered with appalling errors and bizarre comments like 'I always start the day with a loud "Aum"' or 'The reason I left my last job is that there was a falling out over a lady I was involved with (I am still with her).

I will ensure that my hobbies and interests do not include sun baving (sic), playing on the computer, socialising, watching television or spending time with my mates. I shall also avoid cheesy photos, weird fonts, strange paper and pictures of cute fluffy kittens at the bottom of the page.

If I'm lucky enough to get to the interview stage, I will remember that the employer is interviewing me and not vice versa. Over the years I've interviewed several people who behaved as if the job was already theirs and wanted to know more about the terms and conditions. I remember a young woman whose surname was Daggar (I desperately wanted to say 'Is this a Daggar I see before me?) asking how much discount she'd get on magazines, as she didn't really read books. When I explained that we didn't sell magazines she looked daggers at me (no pun intended - well, only a bit).

The most gruelling experience I ever had was three years ago, when I had to interview 25 people over two days (and just to make life more complicated, I had my father's funeral the following day).

One applicant told me that if she took the job she'd want to start half an hour later as the bus fares were cheaper and it wasn't worth her while travelling earlier. Another interviewee expected us to give her a pension and free parking. They didn't get the job. Neither did the Oxbridge graduate who stank of alcohol and kept using phrases like mea cupla.

Fortunately there were half a dozen strong interviewees and I was able to recruit a really good team. Indeed, over the years I have been very lucky and every batch of interviews has usually yielded at least one excellent candidate. I can't think of many workplaces where you would get people with first class degrees working their arses off for £5.50 an hour.

In the meantime I have just started receiving Income Support. If you're a British taxpayer I would like to thank you for your contribution and promise that the money will go to good causes. I had originally thought of contacting the Society for Distressed Gentlefolk, but it seems that I am not patrician enough to qualify for their support. I have no children at boarding school who risk suffering the ignominy of mingling with the lumpen proletariat.

I promise I won't spend the money on Special Brew or squander it on scratch cards. My only luxury will be second-hand books.


jpatsy said...

I'd love to know the reasons for you not opening up a bookshop since you seem to have all the qualifications and already know that you are not going to get rich through bookselling. Best of luck with whatever you decide to do though.

Steerforth said...

1. I've been warned to avoid any enterprise that is dependent on consumer spending, given the current climate.

2. If I take out a loan, rising inflation could lead to higher interest rates which could, potentially, double the amount I'm paying to the bank each month.

3. The shop is too far away from the centre of town.

4. There is a rumour that the district council are going to move their offices to another town, taking a fair amount of money out of the local economy.

5. WH Smith's and other ailing book chains will have to sharpen their act up to survive the oncoming storm, thus squeezing the independents even further.

6. The shop is about to acquire a new landlord.

If I could find a property with a reasonable rent nearer the centre of town, I'd still consider opening a bookshop, but at the moment that's an unlikely prospect.

LucyFishwife said...

Start an online-only bookshop! After all, if you can sell through the dreaded amazon for 1p plus postage and STILL make a profit (after initial JiffyBag outlay) it must be worth a try by yourself...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

What a shame Steerforth, though your reasons are perfectly sound.

Personally I'd love to see a bookshop specialising in small press books, but I suppose that would have most of the same problems as all the rest, in this climate in particular.

Goncalo Veiga said...

Have you considered getting in touch with a publisher and trying out editing, marketing or related subjects?

If I were you I'd wait a few more years, like two or three, to see this financial crisis through. I've heard that then things might start getting better. But that's in the medium-long term, so that might not be the best of things to advice but anyway!

Best of luck!

John Self said...

The end of your time in the book trade? Bah. Just at the weekend, facing up to the return to work after the hols with great jadedness aforethought, I started to consider that I should be trying to get into the book trade. I hope it's a passing phase.