Meet the ABA Young Booksellers of the Year: Kate Frawley from the Sun Bookshop
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 talk to Kate Frawley, manager of the Sun and Younger Sun bookshops in Yarraville. Frawley joined the Sun in 2015 and since then has shown herself to be ‘perhaps the easiest person in the world to work with,’ says store owner Deb Force. ‘Kate has thrown herself into improving all facets of how the shops work. She is a systems analyst, a social media queen, a human resources manager, a technology adopter, an event organiser, publicist and runner, a reviewer and reader, a great friend to all who work at the Sun.’
What are the top three things you wish you’d known when you were starting out in the book industry?
1. That you don’t sit around reading books all day! This is a myth that I suspect everyone outside the industry believes until they see behind the scenes. Not that this realisation put me off at all when I started, but reading has long been one of my favourite pastimes so the amount of books, authors and stories, both classic and emerging, that you get to discover as a bookseller is incredible.
2. That you do a lot of alphabetising! One of my favourite moments was coming across a colleague quietly signing ‘A, B, C, D…’ while shuffling along the fiction section late on a Friday after a particularly busy rush of customers, sorting the books back into an orderly fashion.
3. That it’s okay if you don’t know or read everything, or the same things as everyone else—you’re allowed to be discerning with your reading tastes. There are so many great resources that you can tap into to help with enquiries about what is out and what is coming out (in particular your colleagues, who might like obscure, extremely specific history books), so it’s okay to not finish a book. This is one of the biggest revelations I had. When I first started, I tried to read everything. I struggled through a lot of them and even started to resent some books before I realised, if something is not clicking, you can put it down and move onto to something that does inspire your interest.
What has been your biggest achievement or proudest moment as a bookseller?
Aside from being nominated and shortlisted as Young Bookseller of the Year? I have to say, this is a pretty big one to try and top or compare anything to! In fact, I might have to say this is my biggest, proudest achievement as a bookseller.
One pretty proud moment was when an author tracked me down to thank me personally for reviewing and handselling their book. When I genuinely love a book, I can’t help but try and pass on that enthusiasm and hype to our customers.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?
I actually have three: patience, communication and flexibility. You need a high level of each of these three factors to navigate the world of customer service, product delivery and order turn-around, product launch—especially if you are really excited about a particular book coming out but it’s months away!—and restocking.
There is so much more to being a bookseller than customer service—even after you’ve taken away the management duties that go with my role. I truly think one of the best things that books contribute to the world is a sense of calm, and having patience, flexibility and the ability to communicate that feeling to your customers, despite working like a duck under water, is incredibly valuable.
What do you think this industry could do better?
This is a hard one because every industry has so many things it could do better. This might be my sheltered view, but I think that we are incredibly lucky in the Australian book industry to have a level of cohesion and support through the ABA and Australian Publishers Association (APA). There is a real collegiate spirit among booksellers and local publishers, partly because so many independent booksellers are thriving, and the bookselling world is not ruled by one or two giant corporations (try as they might). We really do, genuinely, celebrate each other’s achievements.
We’ve got great resources, but those are not always 100% foolproof. However, when questions are raised regarding late or damaged or missing deliveries, or around accessing accurate product knowledge in a timely manner, our voices are heard and moves are made to rectify the issues. Of course, these changes can’t happen immediately and improvements cannot be made overnight, but we are getting there. And we are getting there together.
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 hope to be exactly where I am now: at home at the Sun Bookshop. It’s not only my workplace, but it’s my local bookstore. Before I started working at the Sun, I was a regular customer, browsing, buying and dreaming: ‘What if?’ Working in a bookstore is my dream job. It is literally the job of a lifetime for me—so Deb is going to be stuck with me for a while!
I’d love to see the continuing reappearance of neighbourhood, independent bookstores. So many visitors to Yarraville come in to the shop and say, ‘Oh, a bookshop! These are a dying breed’, or ‘It’s so lovely to see an actual bookshop!’. I’d love to see these people discover their own little literary paradise in their local shopping centre. It’s been amazing to see more and more stores opening and this is a trend in the industry that I would love to see go from strength to strength.
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.