Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Meet the ABA Young Booksellers of the Year: Kate Adams from Better Read Than Dead

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 Kate Adams, business development manager at Sydney bookshop Better Read Than Dead.

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

Keep a list of everything you’ve read. I only started doing this in 2013. The simple act of recording a title and author down on paper, as soon as I’ve finished a book, seems to commit that whole reading experience to memory.

Booksellers make the best friends. A lengthy book chat with someone who loves books just as much as you is so uniquely nourishing. I had no idea what I was missing until I made my first bookshop friends. I even met my partner (who is also a bookseller) at work.

At the end of the day, we’re not brain surgeons. Props to [Berkelouw Books buyer] Karen Ferris for teaching me this. When there just aren’t enough hours in the day/week/month to get everything that needs doing done, and you’re losing your mind a little, and your perfectionist self makes a mistake, it’s important to remember that it’s just books. So you ordered 20 stock packs instead of 20 copies, there’s a typo in the reading guide, and a wrong price listed in the newsletter. So what? As powerful as books can be, our work is not literally life or death. We can laugh at our mistakes.

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

I feel like bookselling is made up of thousands of tiny achievements, but I’m most proud of having gained such varied work experience. I’ve worked in business development, purchasing, staff management, inventory management, marketing, events, IT support and, of course, customer service. Even when I’ve doubted my capability for a new role or been nervous about taking on added responsibility, I’ve given it my best shot and I’ve learned so much as a result.

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

Self-education is vital. When I first started out, I was quietly terrified when asked to recommend books for children—I wasn’t familiar with the latest releases and the current trends, and I had zero confidence in my recommendations. I hated feeling that way. So I started paying attention when I was shelving and alphabetising children’s books. I read children’s books, and I read about them online. Within a couple of years, I had gained enough knowledge to be able to confidently recommend books for kids of all ages.

What do you think this industry could do better?

Invest in its young booksellers with professional development and solid career options. It’s a total thrill to be nominated for this award, which is a wonderful initiative from the ABA to encourage young booksellers, and I’ve been lucky to work with incredible people who have invested their time and energy in me. But I haven’t encountered many businesses willing or able to offer proper training or interesting job options to young people. It’s something I’m very conscious of, and something I try to do in my role at Better Read.

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’d really like to have a shop dog. Or three. Definitely three. And I just hope the industry is having a ton of fun in the future, trying new things and finding ever more creative ways to connect with readers.

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

In one bookshop, a fire sprinkler was triggered by a very hot January day and started filling the false ceiling in the centre of the shop with water. I was talking to my colleague at the receiving desk when I saw water pouring down into the shop from the light fixtures behind her. It was surreal. We both just stared in shock for a moment, then we all sprang into action. The whole shop flooded. Many books were lost. I very dramatically slipped and fell on my arse in front of a large crowd of gawkers, some of whom were filming on their phones … It was nuts. Although I have some friends who once had to contend with a broken sewerage pipe in a bookshop, and that is way worse!

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.



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