Sunday, June 07, 2015

Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar

[This article was written August 29, 2014. Registration for CABS 2015 is still open. Several scholarships are still available with deadlines around June 12.]

Catalogue descriptions, print illustrations, marketing, customers, manuscripts, book fairs, a room resonating with enthusiastic booksellers, librarians and collectors — CABS 2014 was Book Geek Heaven.

I'd plunged into the book world in 2011, opening a bricks-and-mortar shop smack in Recession industrial suburbia. Call me crazy, but the timing was right, with a break between jobs, low rent, and an accumulation of books that needed an outlet.

Bookselling blogs and listservs mentioned the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS). I applied for a scholarship in 2012, but didn't get it. In late 2013 the physical shop, which was finally breaking even but still not paying its owner, closed. I culled inventory, moved books into my house and focused on the online business. 

I was determined to go to CABS in 2014. I'd learned a lot on my own, but didn't know details like types of bindings and illustrations. I wanted to move Tannery Books to the next level — the next level being professional and profitable, or doing work I love and actually getting paid for it. Once again, the timing was right. Thankfully, I won the IOBA scholarship

Denver-to-Colorado Springs logistics were challenging, but I'd saved enough bookshop money to cover hotel and rental car (the car shared with classmates) so I could attend the Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair, my first book fair. The next day we visited four Denver booksellers during their open house brunch, before driving to Colorado Springs.

As expected, the next five days of class were like drinking from a firehose — but I was thirsty. Nine instructors did their best to cover everything: bibliography, research sites, where to buy and sell books, photography, websites and databases.... You name it. We scribbled copious notes.

I'd worried that some classes would be dry and dozy. I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining and personable the instructors were. Several of them told their stories: how they developed as booksellers (or librarians). I particularly related to those who found bookish prosperity later in life, after other careers. 

I got to know a few of my classmates, finally meeting some online acquaintances in person, like Rachel Jagareski. Some had open shops; one had just started her online business; a bookscout; a collector. We visited Clausen Books one night, where I bought a couple of North and South Carolina genealogy books, then savoured German food at one of the local restaurants.

They kept warning us about altitude sickness, but I encountered a different challenge. A two-hour time difference didn't seem like much, but waking up at 3 a.m. Eastern to catch an early flight set off a week-long battle with jet lag. I woke by 4 or 5 a.m. every morning and felt ready to crash by 8 p.m.

No one wanted to miss Thursday afternoon's auction, even to slip out for a bathroom break. Generous bidding led to a record-breaking haul for the seminar, estimated to provide three scholarships for next year! Auction excitement carried over to Friday morning, when a stale muffin used as the auctioneer's hammer contributed even more. 

Homework: Half-Bound Goat over Marbled Paper Boards
Can you learn everything there is to know about bookselling in a week? Of course not. Even if our instructors could cover all they wanted to — and they shared generously — my mind wouldn't hold it all. (Looking at my notes, I completely forgot we had a reception Sunday night. It must've been after 8 p.m.) I still can't tell different types of leather apart, but I know where to look to learn more. We each took home a binder full of handouts, websites, recommended reference books, and contact information for all of our classmates. 

On the final afternoon of CABS 2014, Dan Gregory made us laugh with a fictional letter home: (paraphrased) “Dear Folks, CABS was great! When I get home I'm going to do this, and this, and this andthisandthisand...” Dan reminded us to prioritize. Overwhelmed with ideas, I came home, wrote a list and stuck it in my weekly planner. 

The first week, I touched base with classmates on Facebook, added a list of related books (a mini-catalog) to a book order, and ordered two reference books

Book chatter during a break between classes
I perused next year's book fairs at as a homework assignment from Lorne Bair. I hope to see some of you at Rare Book Week in New York next April. 

The third week, I quoted a genealogy book to a librarian, a past online customer. He accepted the offer. 

I've started writing down what I do each week toward making Tannery Books better. Having just attended CABS, I don't have a success story to share right away, but I consider this a launch point. If I work on something from my list every week, my future as a bookseller can only improve. 

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