I’d like to thank Emily Paull for contributing this post about integrating her day job with writing. Emily is a writer, blogger and bookseller. By day she counts herself lucky to peddle books to the greater reading public, and at night she is working her way through YET ANOTHER draft of her novel, Between the Sleepers, which is a historical drama set in Fremantle during the Second World War. This December, she is participating in the Young Writers Residency Program at the Katharine Susannah Prichard centre. You can read her blog posts here.
When it comes to thinking up the best day-jobs for aspiring writers, it’s pretty hard to go past working in a bookstore. Surrounded by the greats all day, able to just take a little breather with a new John Marsden novel (for adults!!!) the day that it comes out, talking to publishing representatives, being in the know… it’s pretty excellent. But like any other job, you get out of bookselling what you put into it. Getting a job in a bookshop will not magically make you a happy writer. In fact, in today’s climate of declining paper-book sales and the increasing domination of the market by Amazon, sometimes it can be stressful, frustrating, and maybe even depressing. Over my two and a half years in one of Perth’s best independent bookstores, I’ve learned a few ways to successfully integrate my work life with my writing life.
First of all, it’s important to take an interest in the people you are selling books to. The thing that bricks and mortar bookstores have, that Amazon can never have, is a real person standing smiling behind the counter. The customer loves books (or knows someone who does) and the salesperson loves books. It’s a great conversation waiting to happen. I have regular customers who come back to see me every time they need something new to read. They tell me what they thought of my last recommendations, and they recommend things to me in turn. But as a writer the most rewarding conversation comes from customers who want to share their stories with me. I once mentioned that I was writing a book that involved Japanese prisoners of war to a man, and he told me about his Uncle who had perished on a burning rubber ship that was torpedoed taking prisoners back to Japan as forced labour. This was not only an incredibly personal family story that he shared with me, it was also humbling to be entrusted with the hearing of it. Sometimes, I feel like the bartender in an old time movie, polishing the glasses and listening to the troubles of the hero on the other side of the bar. Except as a writer, I’m not the plot device, I’m the person who gets to be inspired by these anecdotes.
Second, as a bookseller, you experience firsthand the little trends in the market. What’s selling right now? Well, as it is the Centenary of World War One, and next year is the Centenary of Gallipoli, there are a lot of large histories and biographies coming out, in particular about ANZACs and figures like Charles Bean. In fiction, there’s an increasing number of additions to the as-unyet-named genre of novels which straddle the line between kitsch and cutesy, and deep literature. (I’m thinking of books like Lost and Found and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.) It’s important, when trying to get published, to choose your moment. Likewise, it’s important to know what else is out there in your genre, and what might constitute a gap in the market.
But that’s the boring part, really, the marketing part, not the great, inspiring whirlwind ride that is writing your book. The third thing, and really the best thing about being a bookseller when you’re a writer is the constant reminder of your goal. Every day when I go into work, I can look at that spot on the shelf, between Favel Parrett and Laline Paull’s The Bees, and say to myself ‘Just keep at it, and one day your book will go here.’