Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Meet the ABA Young Booksellers of the Year: Michael Earp from The Little Bookroom

In the lead-up to the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) 2019 conference, Books+Publishing spoke to each of the five shortlisted nominees for the Young Bookseller of the Year award ahead of the winner announcement on 23 June.

In this instalment, we talk to Michael Earp, a bookseller at The Little Bookroom in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton North. Store owner Leesa Lambert describes Earp as ‘an essential part of The Little Bookroom family’, praising his communication skills and ability to ‘match-make books and readers’. ‘There are few people in Australia that have the knowledge to curate the collection for a children’s specialist bookstore, but Michael has not only successfully taken on this responsibility, but improved our range. It’s a big deal!’

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

Read what you want to. Recommendations are received a lot more readily when you’re genuinely passionate about the book. On the same token, it’s okay to not like something when you’re in a sales position. It’s about finding what other people like about it or knowing good alternatives.

Find out who your publisher reps are and make nice with them. They’re the key to getting those sought-after advance reading copies, so even if you’re not in a buying role, being friendly and talking about what you like can help. After all, you’re the one hand-selling their titles.

Expect all sorts. This could be said of any kind of retail or customer service role, but bookshops seem to attract a particular brand of customer that can know exactly what they want, even if they cannot tell you what it is. It’s all part of the fun.

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

This nomination is pretty fantastic, I must say. But I also feel the two years I volunteered on the #LoveOzYA committee was a wonderfully rewarding challenge. It really helped open my eyes to the state of young adult fiction in Australia and how it’s received and consumed.

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

A little bit of innovative thinking can go a long way. It’s okay to mix things up a bit because a small change can make a big difference to sales. Oh, and that customers need to see the books if they are to buy them.

What do you think this industry could do better?

No industry is perfect, and there are many things the book industry does well, but I’d love to see more cohesion between booksellers and publishers with feedback flowing in both directions. We need each other. I’m not saying we don’t do this already, but I do think there’s always room for improvement.

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?

For starters, I know there’ll still be a thriving community of bookshops where people can browse and discover, attend events and meet other like-minded people. As for myself, I’d like to be spending more of my time writing. I think I’d still like a foot in the door, maybe working one or two days a week at a children’s bookshop like the amazing Little Bookroom. It’s really good to have that reality check and see what books readers are choosing for themselves.

What’s the strangest/funniest thing that’s ever happened to you while at work?

There have been so many funny little anecdotes over the years, but I’m struggling to think of just one that stands out. There were many instances of customer confusion when I worked at Borders in Sydney city. The store was directly next door to an Angus & Robertson and apparently when you ordered a book at ‘the bookshop in Pitt Street Mall’, it wasn’t necessary to take note of which one.

The 95th ABA conference runs from 23–24 June at Pullman Melbourne on the Park.

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.



Category: Features