August 27, 2015

Interview with Rachel B., a Bookseller

So earlier this month, I interviewed a cover designer. And I realized I want to interview more industry professionals. So today on the blog, I have Rachel B. She's one of the booksellers at my favorite indie ever, Read Between the Lynes.


Rachel

Born and raised in Woodstock, Rachel ventured to warmer climes for college. She recently graduated from Tulane University with an English degree, or as she likes to say, earned a very expensive piece of paper that says she likes to read. She particularly delights in escaping into books with a fantasy element, although she also enjoyed the occasional foray into other genres - including acquiring a taste for non-fiction. When not reading, she can usually be found yelling about whichever sports team is currently playing.

Emma: Currently, you're a bookseller at Read Between the Lynes. What's the best part of working at an independent bookstore?
Rachel: The best part, by far, is helping get kids into reading. Being able to guide them toward the right book, that book that’s going to make them fall in love with stories. When a kid comes back all excited about how much they loved the book and what else they can read like it - there’s no better feeling. There’s one specific young customer who hadn’t been much of a reader until she picked up Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly. Then the reading bug bit her, and her mom was more than happy to oblige by purchasing her a nice stack. She ended up reading The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste, whose agent knows Arlene (the owner), and we had her write a review of the book. We posted it in the store as well as sending a copy to Tracey, who then sent a letter and some swag back. This young customer was absolutely delighted, and I have it on good authority that she completely freaked out when she was no longer in public. I feel truly lucky to have played even a small role in nurturing her budding love of reading.


Emma: What led you to work at a bookstore?
Rachel: Ha! There are a few versions of this story. One of them is that I always wanted to work there and had wondered how one got hired. The answer turned out to be walk in the door to preorder Ruin and Rising and walk out with a job offer. After growing up with the store (it opened the year I turned 13), there was nothing more natural than the idea of working there.


The less glamorous version is that I’d ended up with an English degree at college, thought the logical path was to work in publishing, realized it wasn’t actually what I wanted to do, graduated college clueless, moved back home, and stumbled into the job as described above.


Emma: What's one thing you wish more people knew about working at a bookstore?
Rachel: Just because you love reading doesn’t mean it’s the perfect job for you. Contrary to popular belief, we DON’T get to sit around reading all day. It’s a lot of work, and it’s definitely still a retail job. Especially at an independent bookstore, customer service is everything. It can be exhausting, because on top of interacting with customers, you also have to do a little of everything. There’s no chance to just sit around and see a task through. So it takes a different kind of focus, to be able to leave something in the middle multiple times to help a customer and then go right back to it. I’m constantly swapping out ‘hats’ throughout the day.


Emma: I know you also worked for a literary agency. Can you tell my readers about that?
Rachel: Absolutely! I interned at Dunham Literary in NYC. I’m going to reveal how absolutely not on top of things I am here, but rather like my job at RBTL, I kind of stumbled into this one. I came home from studying abroad in Dublin for a year and within a week was going stir crazy. So I applied to any and all internships that were still available, and was stunned when I actually got one! I’d never even been to New York City before, and suddenly I was on my way to live there for a summer!


My primary duties (aside from office stuff as necessary) were managing the slush pile and reading manuscripts. Not to brag, but I was REALLY good at the slush pile. I’m a pretty critical person, so it was no trouble for me to pick out the good from the bad without trying to be overly sympathetic to the author. I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, but your query has to be as amazing as your book. Write it, edit it, polish it as shiny as it can possibly be. It’s not my job to overlook the cracks in your query. At the same time, there is a lot of utter crap that agencies get. So at least having something that follows the agency’s rules and sounds vaguely coherent gets you past the first stage of screening. The part a writer probably doesn’t want to hear though is that there’s a certain element of luck involved. Your query may come at the end of a long day when the agent (or intern) reading your query just wants to go home. Your query may come after one that was utterly spectacular. But at the same time, your query may also come with a bunch of bad queries, making yours seem extra special by comparison. As much as I tried to read everything on a fair and even scale, it’s never entirely possible.


I did have a really good time during my internship, and at the end of the summer, I thought for sure I was going to be back after graduation. But when I was settled back at school and did some more thinking, I decided that at this point in my life, publishing wasn’t the right path for me. Kind of like bookstores, reading books is the fun part of the job. There’s a lot more work to it than that. And unfortunately, it’s an industry that doesn’t pay all that well. You have to really, really, REALLY love what you’re doing, because you’re probably going to be living with roommates and scraping by for the first decade of your career. New York was also just not the right place for me to live. A lot of things went into that decision. But it led me to Read Between the Lynes to see how publishing worked on the OTHER end of the production line. It’s definitely been cool getting to see the whole process of how a book becomes real.


Emma: Did any of the manuscripts you read get picked up by publishers?
Rachel: In fact, two of them have. First & Then by Emma Mills was the very first manuscript I read, and she definitely set the bar high. I had no idea how much I needed this book until I read it. How it was pitched caught my eye immediately: Pride & Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights. Although I love books, I’m arguably even more passionate about sports. I went to every home football game in high school, and a good number of the away games too...and was one of the loudest ones there. In so many schools, sports are an enormous part of the culture, whether one is a fan or not, and we don’t often see that reflected in YA books. First & Then managed to capture that spirit perfectly. Also, it’s just plain cute and wonderful and swoony. EVERYONE MAKE SURE TO PICK IT UP IN OCTOBER.


The other one that’s due for publication in February 2016 is The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone. I’m almost more interested to read this one when it comes out, because I didn’t actually recommend it. I had some big problems with it, although the writing was clearly good. I’m excited to see how it got edited and changed to make it better. Remember how I said I was very critical? Perhaps on this one I was a bit TOO critical.


Emma: What advice do you have for teens who want to work in the book industry someday?
Rachel: Read a lot, and force yourself out of your comfort zone. I know, I struggle with this one too. But it will be useful in any job you have, whether you’re selling books to people or helping make them happen. If all the books you read are in an echo chamber, that’s all you’ll ever produce. Also, make yourself present. I got hired at the bookstore because I went in there constantly, I bought books there, I talked with the employees. They knew me. Get on Twitter. Talk to authors, talk to agents, talk to editors. While that won’t help get you a job directly, it’ll help you know about the industry before you even try to join it. I even learned about the internship I ended up getting because someone tweeted about it in my feed. Just because you don’t work in the industry yet doesn’t mean you can’t still participate in it.


Emma: Any recent or upcoming releases you're excited about?
Rachel: SIX OF CROWS SIX OF CROWS SIX OF CROWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


*takes deep breath*


Okay, now that that’s out of my system. It’s no secret that I love Leigh Bardugo’s grishaverse. I was honestly a bit scared to read Six of Crows because of how much I loved the trilogy. I didn’t want to be disappointed. And boy was I not. The word ‘swoon’ is used a lot for YA books, but it’s honestly been a long time since I’ve swooned like this over a book. I told Leigh after I finished that I’m very bad at books with a group cast. I can never keep them all straight. For Six of Crows? I feel like I know each of the characters personally. Plus, my Kaz feelings are through the roof. He’s EXACTLY my kind of character. I can’t wait for this book to be in the world.


And what would be my favorite fall release if not for Six of Crows, I can’t wait for the release of Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This book works its “found file” style to the max, making for perfect dramatic pacing and information reveal. If my Kaz feelings are through the roof, then my AIDAN feelings are through the walls of the spaceship and floating around in the infinite black. You can definitely draw some conclusions about my character from my love of these two. Please don’t.


Emma: And standard question time: do you have a favorite fairytale?
Rachel: I admit, this is the question that stumped me. I’m a wordy person, so the previous questions challenged me to not write a novel for each answer. I never especially loved any “classic” fairytale growing up. I actually prefer fairy stories, like the real ones. Don’t ever screw with a fairy. Don’t walk home alone from the pub at night through the open field. I loved hearing about how one town banded together in Ireland when they were going to tear down a tree to build a road. It was a fairy tree, and no way were they going to risk that. Instead the road splits to go around the tree.


I did always find fascination with Diamonds and Toads (Charles Perrault), otherwise known to myself as the story of the witch at the well. One daughter is kind to the witch and fetches her a drink of water, and she blesses her to have precious gems spill from her mouth at every word. Then when her sister goes to the well, the witch appears differently and she scorns the witch, and is cursed to have toads and vipers come from her mouth when she speaks. Gross but cool, right?

Emma: Thanks so much, Rachel!
Rachel: Thanks so much for having me! It’s been fun! If anyone has anything else they want to know about working in a bookstore or interning at an agency, I’d be happy to talk with you in more detail!

Emma: Yes! Let me know if you want to chat more with Rachel, and I shall get you in contact with her.

2 comments:

  1. Absolutely loved reading the backstory of one of my favorite booksellers! And I'm really enjoying this series of interviews, Emma, giving insights into other roles in the book industry!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview! Thanks for posting it, Emma!

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