Jan Dean and I became friends because of our mutual love of books. Several years ago, Jan was doing conferences and workshops in northern Texas on starting a home based business. She ordered Winning Ways, the newsletter which I publish, and promptly wrote me a charming letter telling me about her affection for 84, Charing Cross Road, which I had mentioned in that issue. That love of reading and our joint passion for everything English has kept our friendship going for over a decade. When I did seminars in Dallas, Jan and I always planned time together — time that usually involved at least one bookstore visit.
Last year, Jan told me one of her goals for the year was to learn about book collecting. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I began reading about book collecting, too, and promptly realized a potential (and natural) profit center waiting to be born.
Like many avid readers, Jan has found a way to share her love with others. She is the author of The Gardener’s Reading Guide, which lists hundreds of books on all aspects of gardening. Her passion for cozy mysteries led her to start a specialized newsletter called Murder Most Cozy, which shares news about this genre. Every year, Jan leads a tour to England that is designed especially for other cozy lovers. Here’s a bit of what the tour brochure promises:
The Cozy Crimes & Cream Teas tour was created so you can truly experience the picturesque English villages where many cozies are set. You will fall in love with Burford, Chipping Campden, Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, and many other tiny and not-so-tiny Cotswold villages. In addition, you will have a chance to meet and chat with the English authors who write the cozy mysteries.
Obviously, Jan has found a wonderful niche in the vast world of books. If you’re a bookworm, perhaps you, too, can find a way to combine your love of books with a nifty profit center. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Read for a living. Kathy Baxter is a professional librarian who has found several outlets for sharing her expertise. For years, Kathy has been a popular speaker on the subject of books and kids. She regularly delivers book talks to other librarians, teachers, parents and schoolchildren. After Kathy submitted an article about her approach to giving booktalks to Library Journal, the industry publication, her visibility as an expert expanded even more. Not only did the magazine like her article enough to publish it, they asked her to do a regular column which now appears in that publication and is called “The Nonfiction Booktalker.” Kathy has also written a book called Gotcha! Getting Kids Excited About Books. In addition, Kathy is a founder of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society, a national organization that brings together lovers of the Betsy-Tacy books.
There are numerous other ways to turn reading time into bottom line. For instance, many newspapers use freelancers to read and review new books. Film producers and some publishers use the services of reader’s advisers to comb through piles of manuscripts and make recommendations about those that seem feasible for production.
Then there’s the business started by Linda Seger, who describes herself as a script consultant. “There were so many people in the movie business who wrote, produced or made decisions about developing a film,” she explains, “but there was no one to come in and spot problems in the script from an objective viewpoint. That’s what I do. I troubleshoot scripts.” She now works with more than 150 clients a year who pay her anywhere from $750 to $3,000 for her advice. In addition, she conducts seminars and has written a book for others who would like to start a similar service.
Sell books. Next to opening a restaurant, running a dear little bookstore seems to be the most popular business fantasy around. As every booklover knows, independent bookselling has become a most unstable occupation. (Of course, if you have your heart set on it and financial backing, by all means ignore this warning.) Even in this age of superstores and Amazon, specialty booksellers with a bit of imagination can carve out a place for themselves.
Collette Morgan opened a children’s bookstore called Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis with the intention of making her store “something a corporate mind would never dream up and that a large company could never sustain.” Her bookstore sells children a good time along with books and is thriving despite competition from the chains.
That’s just what Debbie Cravens did. After she left her job at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where she’d been a book buyer and done searches for out-of-print books, she found that “I could not not sell books.” That led her to start a business to do searches, which eventually became a business specializing in gardening books. That turned into a mail order business called Wood Violet Books, although Debbie does a great deal of marketing through garden fairs, as well. Thanks to the Internet, Debbie says she’s doing more book searches than ever — and finding it easier to track down elusive titles.
Because the world of books is so huge, those wishing to market books would be wise to find a niche and become highly specialized. For many years, Jan Longone has operated a successful mail order bookstore devoted to culinary subjects, tracking down books from around the world. Without ever advertising or even owning a fax machine, Jan’s Wine and Food Library, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has built a devoted clientele, including Julia Child and the late M.F.K. Fisher. “This business suits me perfectly,” she says. “We’re surrounded by good books, good food, travel and we’ve made friends around the world.”
Travel, cooking, scholarly, architectural and mystery specialty shops have flourished in many places; a mail order and/or Internet counterpart could offer opportunities to those wishing to specialize.
Antiquarian and other book specialists also market through book fairs and other book-related events, as well as conventions, special meetings and conferences. If you market childrearing books, for instance, setting up shop at parenting conferences is a logical way to build your business. And, of course, selling books is a natural add-on profit center for many kinds of businesses.
While booksellers may not become fabulously wealthy, most agree that one of the great bonuses in selling books is that it brings them in contact with others who share their passion — making business the pleasure it should be.
There’s more where this came from.
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