Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff of Copperfish Books, LLC


Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff of Copperfish BooksHi, we are Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff, owners of Copperfish Books, LLC, in sunny southwest Florida. Before going full time in January 2006, we had “real” jobs and sold books online as a hobby. Well, as often happens in this business, the hobby grew and we said a not-so-tearful goodbye to the time clock.

Becoming Booksellers

We have both always loved books—reading them, looking at them, touching them, collecting them, and just having them around. And yes, hanging out in libraries and bookstores has been one source of fun. So the book connection is easy to see. But online retail? At first glance, our professional backgrounds don’t seem directly connected. But maybe they are in a round-about way. Publishing, teaching, social work, languages, and communications all have elements of sales, business and books. And our histories of constantly seeking to learn and to change—these are qualities of the online retailing industry. Still, neither of us had imagined that we would be selling books online today.

Cathy had early interests in language arts. After serving in the US Air Force as a foreign language analyst, she completed her undergraduate degree and became a secondary school language teacher. Eventually, Cathy moved on from teaching to a corporate sales job in telecommunications. The sales job blossomed into personnel management and training, which she enjoyed for several years.

Then Cathy returned to school to earn a graduate degree and struck out on her own as a training and development consultant. The creative freedom of freelancing was intoxicating and a major motivator for maintaining an entrepreneurial work life. During this time she started selling books online, listing those from her own collection that she no longer wanted. After the thrill of her first sale, Cathy was hooked. Once she finished selling her own, she started hunting elsewhere for more books she could sell. She started building an inventory—shelves and piles of books everywhere. And it was fun! Bookselling began to replace Cathy’s work as a consultant.

Serena came into bookselling from another angle. With a BA in English, she had planned a career in book publishing. After graduation, Serena attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute, an intensive graduate-level course that focused on all aspects of book publishing. She worked as a clerk in a bookstore and a freelance proofreader, and took a job in the permissions department for a publishing firm. But her interest in publishing waned. Serena decided she wanted to help older people and so got a job at a retirement home. She went back to school for a master’s degree and spent several years as a geriatric social worker.

Serena left social work, ready for change once again. She did general office work before landing a job with a nonprofit. She transitioned from a help desk position to one in web services, where she developed and maintained the organization’s web sites. The job was pretty cool; she learned a lot and felt that she made a difference in helping the organization improve communications both within and to the outside world. A few years ago, Serena started selling books online as a hobby with Cathy. That’s how she got hooked. Eventually, she decided to leave the 9-to-5 world and start Copperfish Books with Cathy. She feels that it was one of the best decisions she had ever made.

About Our Company

Copperfish Books, LLC, sells all kinds of books: fiction and nonfiction, current and out-of-print, books for adults and youth, audio books, books in English and in other languages. We also sell CDs, DVDs, videos, and even a few maps. Our sales are worldwide through Alibris, Amazon, Biblio, Buy Bundle, and Half. At this point, we don’t sell directly through our website (www.CopperfishBooks.com), but plan to do so in the future.

While specialization is encouraged by many in the industry, we have not yet developed our own. Nonfiction titles are our most profitable and interesting offerings. Our personal preferences also color our inventory. Serena likes books about unusual crafts, film, nature, and out-of-print biographies of people not generally well-known. Cathy likes translations, first novels, small hardbacks, and unusual or attractively bound or printed old books in foreign languages (like the two boxes of Russian books stashed in the garage). Out of our varied interests we hope someday to develop a specialty or two. At this point, however, we try to stock whatever we think will sell.

When someone buys one of our books, we want them to be delighted with their experience. We make sure our packaging, shipping, and communication is just what we would want as buyers. Every so often we’ll get an email (not just feedback) from a buyer telling us what our book has meant to them. One woman was thrilled with the book about growing giant pumpkins that she bought for her husband. She wrote us several times to let us know how his pumpkin was coming along! We love to hear stories like that.

Satisfying Work

Copperfish Books is a great source of satisfaction for both of us. When we clean and repair books, it feels like we give them new life; when we sell them, we give them new homes. Books are something you can’t help but love!

Having our own business is both fun and demanding. The independence is great and the lack of office politics is so refreshing. We work longer and harder than when we worked for someone else. But we really enjoy the work and are excited about building and improving our business.

Online bookselling is fast-growing, ever-changing, and challenging. We both like having work that we can “sink our teeth into” and that allows us to be creative and to learn. And learning is such a big part of having a successful business. We constantly educate ourselves about online retailing, bookselling, book repair, inventory management, publishing, and so much more. Online bookselling is neither easy nor a way to a fast buck. But it is truly satisfying work. Running our own business, being around books, feeling satisfied with our work—what more could we ask for?

Cathy Graham and Serena Wyckoff operate Copperfish Books, LLC, out of Port Charlotte, FL and can be contacted at http://www.CopperfishBooks.com.

The Standard: The Journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association

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