I must have had a bad test day somewhere at the end of Kindergarten, as I was placed in the “lowest reading group” (Blackbirds) in the first grade. After we got through the first book and workbook, my teacher discovered that I had missed only three questions in the entire workbook–the highest score in the entire class, and I was quickly promoted to a Bluejay and sent home with two books to read to “catch up”. I remember the sense of pride those two books gave me (we weren’t allowed to take school books home in the first grade) and I remember taking extra measures to take care of them.
Since that time books have been a major factor in my life in some way or another. Someone on another list recently used the term “accumulator”–I’ve certainly been an accumulator of books. While I was in elementary school, it was a joy to walk to the local library and check out books on my own–all of the beginning readers, The Eye Book, The Cat in the Hat, etc. I remember carrying five books (the limit) back and forth from library to home–ritual trek, once, sometimes twice a week.
When I was in high school and got my driver’s license it was a thrill to drive to town to go to a small bookshop (The Village Booksmith in Medina, Ohio) and start buying books–and even having books special ordered for me. “This is a cool thing,” I thought to myself back then, “maybe I’ll be a bookseller when I grow up.” It was a passing thought, though, as I went to college on a theatre scholarship with the intention to major in psychology. (Ended up combining the two fields with a degree education in non-school settings.) And in college I spent way more $$ on books that weren’t for classes than I did on textbooks.
The accumulation trend has continued, and I find myself surrounded with books. Oddly, I don’t consider myself a “reader”. I read only a few novels a year (Vonnegut is a favorite), about 97% of my personal library consists of art books (Dali, Magritte and Chagall) and non-fiction (hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, psychotherapy, training, management, supervision, and education–all related to my “non-book consulting profession”). On the other hand it seems that I’m “always reading”–stacks of books are piled near my favorate reading chair, on my desk, in the bedroom, etc. I am always mid-way through about 8-10 books and rarely finish them cover-to-cover–I read for information, and skim, skip, and peruse at leisure. I guess that’s why I don’t do a lot of “fiction”–it’s too “time consuming” for me to have to sit and read every page.
I came to bookselling through a curious route….. At a charity art auction nearly four years ago for a local HIV/AIDS agency, I purchased three woodcut images by Salvador Dali, done for the Divine Comedy. At the end of the auction, the auctioneer informed me that Dai did 101 of these images, and that she’d be auctioning off some others at another local auction. She invited me to attend. In two evenings at that auction, I purchased another 12 Dali images….bringing my collection to fifteen, and my wall space to zero. At that time she introduced me to a “Dali expert” who told me that the woodcuts were actually from an edition of the Divine Comedy that was published as a six-volume book. AND, he had a copy available for sale. That was the beginning of my going into major debt to buy a book. After buying the Divine Comedy, I started thinking to myself, “Hey, I bet I could find some books about Salvador Dali on the internet.” A few clicks of the mouse and I found myself searching ABE and Interloc and discovering books not only “about” Dali but written by and illustrated by Dali. Oh what fun! Click, click, click, order, order, order. The boxes started arriving and I was hooked. At the same time I discovered ebay and started buying books online. And of course the thought came to me: “This is too easy. I’ve got books and a computer, and I can sell, too.”
Yep, I was one of those newbie clowns with a computer and some books who thought I could be a bookseller. So I started. I stumbled onto the bibliophile list and fortunately, just lurked for quite some time, noting quickly how bookselling was a profession and that some of the professionals were quite upset with the “newbie clowns with books and a computer” crashing their party. So I adopted the stance of listen and learn all I could. I bought several reference books, including Carter’s ABCs and McBride’s Guide to First Editions as well as Zempel and
Verkler’s Guide to First Editions, among others. I applied for my sales tax number in Florida, which required having a name for my business. On one exterior wall of my home, a friend has painted a wonderful mural, which has among many different figures, several playful blue monkeys. Blue is my favorate color, I like monkeys and books, so the name “Blue Monkey Books” just seemed natural. I began business by going out to thrift stores and garage sales and auctions, and buying anything that I thought I could sell. (Many of those mistakes now go out in boxes to my partner’s workplace: Expo Design Center, where they are used as design accessories, and as “lifts” for lamps, and other items.) And I read every post that came along to Bibliophile, Bookexchange, News@Bibliofind, Bookfinder Insider, etc. saving those that contained valuable information in a special folder on my computer called “Knowledge & Training”. Now up to more than 400 different messages, I’ve found this to be one of my most reliable guides and sources of information, especially about selling on the internet.
At first I sold exclusively on ebay, and then to some of the newsgroups and even on Bibliophile. The booksellers I sold to on Bibliophile were complimentary about my descriptions and packing, etc., so my confidence grew. I started my database and listed wth ABE. (Subsequently, I left ABE in late August due to a month-long vacation, and when I returned the newest controversies kept me from relisting. Right now I sell exclusively through Bibliophile, Ebay, and directly to customers that I’ve developed relationships with over the past several years. Not sure if/when I will list with a database service in the near future.)
In my first year, bookselling generated about 1/4 of my total income, in my second year, it generated about 1/3. This year I expect it to generate about 1/2 or more, as I continue to learn and become more proficient in both buying and selling. I’ve definitely found my niche to be non-fiction, and I continue to learn each day what is marketable and what is not. I’m lost and bored when surrounded by fiction, although I’ve had two decent “finds” both in auction lots of several hundred books that I paid about $40 for: First Editions of The Hunt for Red October and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Because I do read the various posts on the different lists, I’ve learned some of the more valuable fiction titles to be on the lookout for, but generally I avoid that area, and dive for the non-fiction material.
I initially joined IOBA because I take online bookselling seriously and expect it to be my “next career” on a nearly full-time basis. It made sense to work to assure the organization’s success, so when asked to serve as the first Chairperson, I agreed. The original steering committee (many serving on the current Board of Directors) are each professionals, and worked hard to move the organization forward. It was an honor to be elected to the first Board of Directors as well, and unfortunate that I recently had to resign from the Board of other personal commitments. I remain supportive of the organization and its goals, and continue to work “behind the scenes” helping in whatever capacity I am able. I’ve agreed to accept some responsibility for the “links page” on the website, and will soon be listing additional URLs culled from my “Knowledge & Training” file. I invite others to submit their most useful links as well–it’s easy to do right from the links page itself. (http://www.ioba.org/links.html). Please be sure to test the link to make sure it is still working before sending it to the page. AND, if you can think of other categories you’d like to see be sure to suggest them!
That’s pretty much it. I am thankful for this organization and expect great things to come from it. As with anything really worthwhile, it will take some time, and I appreciate the effort and hard work that many members have been contributing to create a professional association that will truly benefit its members.
Blue Monkey Books
621 Ardmore Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33401