The first thing big-time readers say to me when they find out I am a professional book buyer is, “What a dream job!”
And I won’t lie. Sometimes, it’s pretty wicked. There is the idea that I get to read all the time (not true, but more on that later).
The second thing said is, “How do you become a book buyer?”
Since I have the experience of a sample size of one, I can only comment on how I became a book buyer.
When I was a teen, I loved the whole publishing industry. Weird thing for a kid to be excited about, huh? At first, I wanted to be a writer. But it was pounded into me, societally and at school and home, that creative writing wasn’t a career (an argument for another time). That and my marks in English class were the lowest on my transcript because I don’t do well on timed essays or critical reading (I was best in computer science classes–more on that later).
So, when I found out people were book editors, I had a new path. At the time, though, you generally had to move to the locale of your publisher. And in my hometown, there was a grand total of three book publishers;
- One educational,
- One Canadiana, and
- One in the genre I was interested in but was essentially a one-man operation.
Not a lot of prospects for someone who didn’t want to move cities.
I did job shadow one of the publishers for a day in high school. It was terrifying for an introverted kid like me but I was required to job shadow for one of my classes and I thought I should make it count for an industry I was actually interested in. I wrote two rejection letters, photocopied and archived reviews of publications, and delivered catalogues with the marketing department (read: only one employee).
Going to university, I got a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing. Yup, I’m one of those writers who can actually say I have degree in marketing. I also got a minor in English despite it being difficult for me. But there’s no satisfaction without challenge, right?
Throughout all of that, I had an email subscription to Publisher’s Weekly, keeping an eye on industry developments and upcoming titles.
Like every other industry, success in the book industry is based on networking.
I got my start with books working as a page in the city library. For minimum wage, I shelved, alphabetized, and scraped gum off book covers on my shelving cart (WHY? THE GARBAGE IS RIGHT THERE!).
The library wasn’t a long term plan. After all, the job was only open to kids aged twelve to eighteen, at which point you were ‘forcibly retired’ because of union guidelines for of-age employees.
While working in the library, I was interviewed for an online game for my local newspaper. The author of that article was promoted a few months later to managing editor of the local books section.
I sent her an email congratulating her and she offered me a gig reviewing young adult books for the paper. I stared at that email for a long time, and after a slow start, I wrote capsule reviews monthly for young adult books for seven years. It ended because the 2008 recession took out the freelance budget, not because I voluntarily relinquished my grip on those ARCs (advance reading copies).
I did have some volunteering on my resume.
For three years, I volunteered during university with a large local writing festival, doing anything from ushering patrons to their seats, to author liaising between events, and even auditing every single link and formatting piece on the website to ensure functionality and continuity.
I was on the board for two local writing organizations, stepping back only as my family grew and my time became more precious.
After quitting a data-heavy job in 2013, I reached out to someone I admired and respected in those writing organizations and asked to interview her. I ended up working with Faery Ink Press as a marketing assistant, helping and learning, immersing myself in where I wanted to be.
The Book Buying Job
When the job opening came up for book buying, I thought:
- I wouldn’t have a chance, and
- I didn’t have the specific experience
But that was far from the truth. I had spread myself wide over the industry and I had a very well-rounded grasp of publishing. I applied, half-hopeful and half-terrified that I could potentially land a stable job related to publishing in my city.
Four things lined up:
- The ‘marketing department of one’ that I had job shadowed at the Canadiana press when I was sixteen? She was one of my interviewers (not that we realized it until three months after I was hired).
- My volunteering/work trading with the local publisher? Invaluable on my resume.
- Those computer science classes I aced in high school? My data-heavy job that taught me to reconcile lots of information and adapt to many types of databases? That helped me stand out above other book-ish types.
- When asked about the top new books I knew about? I called up pre-publication titles from my Publisher’s Weekly emails and new works from authors who previously had events for that large local literary festival. At first I thought my pre-pub only brain was going to fault me, but it was exactly what they were looking for. After all, someone had to order those books before they came out and got even wider press.
So that’s how it happened. Revisiting all these aspects of my experience heartens me, actually. I truly thought I wouldn’t end up in this industry because my location somewhat disallowed it.
If you’re a book buyer, how did you end up in your position?
If you want to become a book buyer, what are you doing now to build you experience base?