Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Meet the ABA Young Booksellers of the Year: Dani Solomon from Readings Kids

In the week leading up to the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) 2018 conference, Books+Publishing spoke to each of the five shortlisted nominees for Young Bookseller of the Year ahead of the winner’s announcement on 17 June.

In this instalment, we speak to Dani Solomon, assistant manager at Readings Kids in Melbourne. ‘Dani has been an integral part of Readings Kids ever since we opened as a separate store from the flagship Readings Carlton in October 2016,’ says shop manager Angela Crocombe. ‘But well before that she has been an incredible relationship builder with both customers and authors … Dani always goes above and beyond the call to provide superlative customer service and care. She befriends everyone and is an incredible champion for many books and authors.’

What are the top three things you wish you’d known when you were starting out in the book industry?

I started out in a small independent bookshop in north west Queensland. The owner at the time was not a reader at all; the bookshop was the only one within a 500km radius and, for him, books were just a way to make money. Looking back, I wish I had understood what great places bookshops can be for local communities—I would love to have helped make that shop more than just a place that sold books.

Another thing I wish I’d known was the power that booksellers have. About a year after I started working on the floor in the kid’s section at Readings Carlton I looked at the sales of one of my favourite books; I had sold more than 60 copies that year and the author’s backlist had started moving on its own. The previous year it had sold only two copies and looking at those numbers was such a wake-up call to me. I had the power to help keep amazing authors and books from fading away. I have the power to help keep stories alive. That seems kind of magical to me.

On a less magical note, I wish someone had warned me about booksellers’ back. I was pretty young when I started and 15 years of hauling heavy book-filled boxes around is catching up.

What has been your biggest achievement or proudest moment as a bookseller?

My proudest moment happened when I was talking to semi-regular customer about a book for her daughter but kept getting distracted because her son had seen the new A L Tait book was out and was so excited he was running around shouting and hugging it. His enthusiasm and happiness were so contagious I had to stop talking and laugh. His mum noticed and said to me, ‘You did that. It has always been a struggle to get him to read books, but you found the right book for him and look at him’. I teared up a bit to be honest. I try to recreate that moment every day.

I’m also very proud to be one of judges for the Readings Children’s Book Prize. Judging this prize means not only do I get to read a lot of excellent books by Australian authors, I also get to shine a light on some fantastic books that might otherwise have been lost in all the noise.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?

I have learnt about the power of books. After reading Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin), one of my young customers passionately informed me he had written a letter to Tony Abbott about Australia’s treatment of refugee children. The same has happened with Zana Fraillon’s books The Bone Sparrow and The Ones Who Disappeared (both Lothian). An entire generation of children are going to grow up with the ability to easily see past facial abnormalities because they’ve read and loved Wonder by R J Palacio (Corgi). My little sister read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (S&S), a story about a girl in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and five years later she is still hyper-aware of wheelchair accessibility everywhere she goes. These kids are going to grow up with these thoughts, passions and ideas in their heads and it all starts because someone put a book in their hands.

I have also learnt about my own book prejudices from my colleagues. I love having my mind changed about books when they point out aspects of them I didn’t notice the first time round. My colleagues help keep my mind open and any cynicism at bay and they know all the right things to say to get me to read books I will love but would normally never picked up. My manager, Angela Crocombe has taught me to relax and trust my bookseller instincts—something that makes my job a lot less stressful!

What do you think this industry could do better?

Publish more Australian science-fiction and fantasy, please! Sci-fi and fantasy are such huge genres and I’d love to see more local stuff. Plus the international stuff sells so well—why aren’t we better at hunting out local talent and jumping on board this ancient bandwagon?

I think we can all work together to support indie publishers better. They’re often putting out voices that might be missed by the larger publishers and its important these voices are heard. Indie publishers can help us remember we’re not just selling books; we’re sharing ideas and experiences.

The other thing the industry could do better is stop publishing books with die-cut covers because they always get wrecked on the shelf! It only takes a day or two of customers pulling them on and off the shelves before the book looks cheap and tatty and it drives me bonkers.

Where would you like to be in five (or 10, or 20) years’ time? And what do you hope the industry will look like then?

I would like to still be where I am right now and doing what I do now, but be even better at it!

As for the industry, I hope it continues to publish more diverse books, particularly in children’s publishing. We need to get as much diversity of cultures, bodies, families (and more) out there as possible. For instance, there is a laughably small amount of children’s books with divorced parents available for kids right now—it’s 2018, someone address this!

Other than that I very much hope the industry keeps growing and remains flexible and open, and that GST is abolished on books.

The 94th ABA conference runs from 17-18 June at QT Hotel, Canberra.

To read all the interviews with the ABA Young Bookseller of the Year nominees, click here. To stay up-to-date with Australian book industry news and hear about the ABA Booksellers of the Year winners, sign up to our Daily Newsletter and Weekly Book Newsletter.

 

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