For many years I was a bookseller. I worked as one, on and off, since 2009 actually. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller. Now, I have the immense good fortune to work for Nosy Crow, assisting Tom Bonnick as Digital Publishing and Marketing Assistant. But I still think like a bookseller, and I hope I always will.
During my time as a bookseller, I slowly read my way around the world, absorbing different cultures, different styles of writing, and had some truly rewarding conversations with customers: recommending new books, discussing old ones, talking about literature and life and realising there was very little that separated them. Customers turned to books to seek comfort, to be challenged, for laughter, knowledge, and escape. All sorts of reasons.
They very often brought their children with them, too. Recommending children’s books is a complex game. A fine balance has to be reached between what the child wants and what the adult — usually the one with the money — deems suitable. Add to that a sprinkling of different reading abilities. Mix in the occasional ‘reluctant reader’, a pinch of dyslexia, and a dash of end-of-the-day tantrum. Stir well.
Grown-ups, by virtue of being grown-up, can say: “No thanks, no books for me”, but almost all parents would like their child to be an avid reader, and to keep reading as they get older. Children, because they are not grown-up, often have to go along with it, whether they’d like to or not. When I helped them choose their next book, I wanted them to feel like they were opening up a treasure map, getting on a train to a mysterious destination, falling down the rabbit hole.
I love the time I spent as a bookseller. I grew relationships and built up trust, because I knew what they liked, and what was out there in the market, because they’d quickly come back and tell me when I’d got it wrong (they aren’t shy), but also when I’d nailed it. But when they trust you, they come back with their children, they tell their friends, their colleagues, their book group. They’d pop in on their way to the supermarket to tell you that they’re halfway through and can’t wait to get home and find out how it all ends.
I always knew I wanted to work with books, and help create absorbing, fun, and fantastical tales that would captivate a new generation of readers. Working at Nosy Crow presents a myriad of different ways in which I can help do this. I have spent my first few weeks working across audio books, social media and digital marketing, and after sitting in on a meeting, I also saw how our apps enhance narratives through interactive play, marrying traditional storytelling with a tech-savvy age.
Some people do a Publishing MA, others run the gamut of unpaid/low-paid/expenses-only internships, some can even do both. Whichever way you try and edge your foot in the door, it’s nearly always tough. Publishing really is a wonderful industry and the number of immensely bright and talented applicants is never in short supply. My flight to the Crow’s Nest was a little less straightforward but I hope can serve as a rewarding alternative for other aspiring young publishers, especially those who, like me, come from outside of London and from, shall we say, more ‘humble’ origins.
Although there’s still a ridiculous disparity between London and almost anywhere else in the UK, I am elated to see that this dynamic is gradually becoming a priority and slowly starting to change. If the Spare Room Project, launched in 2016 with support from the Publisher’s Association, had existed before I’d taken the plunge and moved to London, I would have been one of the first to apply and a very loud advocate for the scheme. Though this blog post isn’t intended to be yet another exposition on the harsh reality facing many aspiring publishers outside of London, it is important to keep talking about such barriers to regional diversity.
Through bookselling, I immersed myself in trade publishing: walking the industry’s frontline and engaging with readers of all ages and tastes. It taught me a tremendous amount, all while paying me a salary that allowed me, a London newcomer, to independently sustain myself. I’m not saying this is a better way that the more obvious routes — but it’s certainly another way, and an incredible way at that.
I am so thrilled to start a new chapter at Nosy Crow, working on dynamic and inventive children’s books, audio, and apps, but I will never forget the wonderful chapter that came before. My story wouldn’t have got here without it.