Jan Dean and I became friends because of our mutual love of books. That love of reading and our joint passion for everything English 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.

Like many avid readers, Jan 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 shared news about this genre. During the time she published that newsletter, Jan led tours to England designed especially for other cozy lovers.

The Cozy Crimes & Cream Teas Tours were created so lovers of cozy mysteries could experience the picturesque English villages where many cozies are set. There were also special events with cozy authors and numerous bookshop stops.

Obviously, Jan 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. There are numerous 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.

Kathy Baxter is a professional librarian who found several outlets for sharing her expertise. For years, Kathy was a popular speaker on the subject of books and kids delivering book talks to 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.

Kathy is the author of a book called Gotcha! Getting Kids Excited About Books. She was also a founder of the Maud Hart Lovelace Society, a national organization that brings together lovers of the Betsy-Tacy books.

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.

Because the world of books is so huge, the key to success for a small business is to become a specialist.

For many years, Jan Longone operated a successful mail order bookstore devoted to culinary subjects, tracking down books from around the world. Without ever advertising, Jan’s Wine and Food Library, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, built a devoted clientele, that included the late Julia Child and the 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 specialty opportunities.

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.


Shortly before I began teaching high school English, the International Paper Company began an advertising campaign with the theme Send Me a Man Who Reads.(Yes, it was back in more sexist times.)

Those ads became regulars on the bulletin boards in my classroom. The gist of the campaign, which ran for several years, was that readers made better employees.

Of course, readers make better entrepreneurs as well. That’s no big surprise to those of us who wandered into entrepreneurship thanks to our devotion to lifelong learning.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of struggling businessowners who don’t seem to realize that books are their friends—and business mentors. Equally shocking is the fact that many small business bloggers and book authors do not acknowledge the writing of others.

I once knew a frustrated entrepreneur who dismissed reading as a frivolous waste of time. Evenings on the road were more apt to be spent in the hotel bar than curled up with a book that could have inspired or informed him.

Instead he labored to figure everything out himself. He was making his journey far more difficult than it needed to be.

As Mark Twain once pointed out, “The person who can read and doesn’t has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”

Why does regular reading matter so much to building a business? Here are some of the gifts.

Catch the spirit “Stuff yourself full of stories,” advises Ray Bradbury. “I’ve never had a dry spell in my life because I feed myself well.”

He was talking to writers, of course, but the same thing holds true for entrepreneurs. Many inspiring stories have been written by and about those who have gone from employee to entrepreneur.

Such stories not only inspire for telling the tale of overcoming challenges; they also are vivid records of entrepreneurial thinking in action.

By the way, fictional entrepreneurs can also help readers build an entrepreneurial mindset.

Keep curiosity alive “What I already know is enough,” is not the mantra of the successful. Passion begets passion, of course, but keeping passion alive is closely tied to staying curious.

Whether it’s human behavior or building an online presence that catches your fancy, books can keep you stretching.

Acquire wisdom Nobody has to tell you that we are living in changing times. Those who ignore the changes, operate at a huge disadvantage. It may be more serious, however, than just being handicapped.

As Jim Trelease points out, “People who have stopped reading base their future decisions on what they used to know. If you don’t read much, you really don’t know much. You’re dangerous.”

By all means, don’t confine your reading to quick Internet searches.

Leisurely reading, thoughtful reading, challenging reading can connect you with innovative thinkers and eloquent storytellers. For a few dollars, they can move into your World Headquarters and help you build a better business—providing you spend time with them and put their good ideas to work.

As Jim Rohn so aptly reminded us, “The only thing worse than not reading a book in the last ninety days is not reading a book in the last ninety days and thinking it doesn’t matter.”


Tomorrow I head out for the Un-Job Fair in Denver. Usually the day before such a trip is spent getting ready to travel.

My wardrobe has been chosen, the notes for my opening speech, Why Aren’t We All Self-employed?, and my afternoon workshop, Building a Winning Portfolio, are packed. My boarding pass is printed.

That was the easy part.

Since this trip involves nearly ten hours in airports and on planes, a great deal of thought went into picking the perfect travel companion.

For me, having a nicer flight begins with bringing along a book I’ve been dying to read. After all, I seldom have ten hours of nearly uninterrupted time to hang out with a great story so I do not take the selection of my travel reading lightly.

I also do not leave this decision to chance hoping to grab something acceptable at the airport shop—unless I’m in the mood to cuddle up with Vanity Fair. Like many trips, this one includes a novel that I’ve recently rediscovered.

An early mentor of mine used to remind me that the biggest influences in our lives are the people we meet and the books that we read. I’ve kept that in mind ever since I first heard it. I am not about to spend my time with the mental equivalent of airport food.

Bringing along the right book not only enhances my flying time, it also helps ensure that I’ll arrive at my destination in a happier state of mind.

This month we’ll be exploring the connection between reading and the Joyfully Jobless life. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite reads and reminding you that it’s important to read for inspiration as well as information.

If you’re already an enthusiastic reader, your To Read List may grow longer.

If reading isn’t part of your business plan, I’ll do my best to convince you that your life and your enterprises will be richer if you take it up. It’s not just an airplane journey that gets better with the right book companion.

As the oh-so-entrepreneurial Walt Disney once said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island…and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”


My niece Gretchen is about to give birth to her first child. During her pregnancy, her husband Tony has been reading to their unborn baby. Currently, he’s working his way through Don Quixote.

In my family, this is considered normal.

Of all the things I’m thankful for, high on my list is that I was raised by readers. Since I was the eldest child and my father was faraway fighting a war, my mother read to me incessantly. Happily, I’m still being read to.

In the midst of her kindergarten year, Zoe called. When I answered the phone, I was greeted with an exuberant, “Grandma, I can read!”  Read she can and does. When I’m a guest in their house, I have the pleasure of Zoe reading to me every evening.

Of course, you can catch book passion any time in life. However, the sooner you get it, the more time you have to consume more titles.

Once caught, this fever doesn’t diminish. My sister Nancy, who has lived abroad her entire adult life, is relocating to Santa Barbara. She told me that the shipping company required that she count the books in her library.

“I discovered,” she said, with some amazement, “that I own 1,026 books.” Now I’m eager to do an inventory of my own since I have no idea how many books are in my library.

Since Nancy and I are both moving into new homes, finding the perfect spot for our books is a top priority. I keep thinking of Anna Quindlen’s observation, “I will be most happy if my children grow up to be the kind of people whose idea of decorating is to add more bookshelves.”

So while reading for pleasure is what often snares us to begin with, a desire to become our best selves often has us exploring new sections of the library and bookstore.

If you’re building a business, new titles and old can accelerate your success, connect you with ideas, resources and inspiration you’d never have encountered while walking down the street.

Here are five old favorites that are a pleasure to read and filled with useful insights for the Joyfully Jobless life:

Growing a Business by Paul Hawken

Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Small is the New Big by Seth Godin

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

While some of these titles may be old friends already, I chose them because they all are worthy of more than one visit.

And if you aren’t a regular reader, make time every day to sample the creative thinkers, the life teachers, the pioneers who have wonderful things to teach us. If you don’t, you’ll be inflicting a needless handicap on yourself.

As the wise Jim Rohn used to say, “The only thing worse than not reading a book in the last 90 days, is not reading a book in the last 90 days and thinking it doesn’t matter. Skip a meal if you must, but don’t skip a book.”

Although it’s hardly ever mentioned in most business books and magazines, one of the great bonuses of being joyfully jobless is that it gives you an opportunity to be an enthusiastic lifelong learner.  Every new profit center idea requires locating new information, new explorations and new learning. 

Doing the necessary homework before you start out gives you focus, direction and confidence. Yet many people have no notion about how to begin gathering information.

At the beginning stage of the process, you aren’t making permanent decisions, you’re just collecting all the information you can to help you make an informed decision later on.

Although information gathering is an on-going process, here are some easily accessible places to begin the search.

° Cyberspace. Increasingly many people begin (and end) their search on the Internet. Yes, there is a plethora of information waiting to be uncovered in your computer. As rich a resource as this may seem, there are serious questions about the accuracy of much of the information that shows up in cyberspace. 

I am not alone in questioning the Internet as the final knowledge authority. Movie critic Roger Ebert verbalized it perfectly: “Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.” Amen.

° Associations of like-minded people. In this country (and many others), there are associations for everything you can imagine—and thousands of things you’d never guess existed. 

Aligning yourself with groups that share your interests can be a rich source of practical information, as well as a way to connect with kindred spirits. Even if you live in an area where no appropriate organizations exist, there’s probably a national group that would prove helpful.

Begin your search at the reference desk of your library where you can find a directly of associations. My favorite such source is Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations.

Once you’ve identified the groups that sound promising, write for membership information. In most instances, you’ll receive a packet of material that will help you decide if membership is worthwhile. 

National associations usually have annual conferences which are wonderful sources of learning, networking and information-gathering. These affiliations can provide inspiration as well.

° Adult education. Adult education comes in many packages and you need to understand the differences before you enroll. In addition to traditional degrees, many colleges and universities offer non-degree classes through an extension program. Usually held on weekends or in the evening midweek, these programs are often geared to current trends.

These programs like to keep up with trends and change their offerings as new interests appear on the horizon. Teachers in these programs tend to have hands-on experience and are often quite passionate about their subject.

In almost every town and city, you’ll also find a miscellany of learning opportunities. Community education programs sponsored by  the school district, classes offered through places like the YMCA, and independent teachers conducting public seminars may have exactly what you need, so stay alert to those less formal options too.

And, of course, Webinars and teleclasses are abundantly available.

° Read, read, read. Almost anything you might want to do has been the subject of at least one book. And while not every book on your subject will be appropriate to your needs, the more familiar you become with the subject, the better. So any new search should begin with a trip to the library and the bookstore.

This is so obvious to me that I almost didn’t include it. Then I recalled the many times I’ve been contacted by would-be writers who says, “I think I’d like to write, but I don’t know how to get something published.”

“Have you read Writer’s Market?” I ask.

“What’s that?” they shoot back.

Had they done any homework, they would have been flooded with the wealth of resources aimed at helping people get starting in the writing business.

Or any other business.

In fact, if you test out the suggestions by taking one of your ideas and researching it to the hilt, you’ll think you’ve found a goldmine—providing that you do so with a mind that’s open and a curiosity that’s insatiable. 

Having accomplished that, you’ll be ready to start pulling the best of the information together and shaping it into a project that fits you like a tailor-made suit.

When I first discovered the literature of personal growth and development, there weren’t many titles to choose from. Today there are thousands. I always have a self-help book or two in my current reading pile because there’s so much to learn.

However, the self-help movement has spawned plenty of dropouts. Why don’t all readers find this genre helpful? Here are some thoughts on that.

° Refuse to abandon skepticism. Hanging onto cherished beliefs is a guaranteed way to prevent growth. “I tried that positive things stuff once. Didn’t work,” is the motto of the self-help dropout. Simply reading a single book is not going to produce visible change. It’s more a process of chipping away at limiting thoughts and behaviors that have taken hold over years.

° Exercises are too much trouble. Most of us think of reading as zooming from the beginning to the end of a book. Self-help books invite us to slow down and take a low-speed journey. Exercises are like rest stops along the way, causing us to pause, reflect and apply.

° Wrong book at the wrong time. Personal growth is an evolutionary process and we expand our receptiveness one concept at a time. Sometimes a book arrives ahead of our readiness. When that happens, don’t abandon self-help. Try a different book.

° Don’t have a laboratory to experiment. You’ve got to have context. If you are in a position to try out new ideas and assess the results, you’ll start synthesizing healthier attitudes and behaviors more quickly. That’s one of the secret rewards of self-employment. Running our own business not only requires a high level of self-awareness, but also a commitment to on-going growth and improvement. Best of all, we can try out our new ideas every single day.

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. ~ Henry David Thoreau