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Training and Setting Expectations

The most important aspect of training your employee is preparation. Don't wing it. Be prepared. Have your entire course of training and demonstration of competence expectations written down so all you and they need to is follow along. There will inevitably be a flurry of questions and exceptions during the training sessions and you need the structure of a set plan to ensure your new apprentice takes on the role as seriously as you would have them and move steadily along the success curve.

I've long said the learning curve of the bookselling trade isn't steep, but it is very, very, very long. The length of this curve is what causes discouragement and stagnancy in some that feel they cannot get up to speed or work with the same apparent effortlessness of some others in the business. Patience and diligence is an important trait imbued in the successful apprentice.

If your employee is to mind the store while you call on libraries, let them know all the particulars of running the establishment and what to do when it's not spelled out. If your person is charged with cataloging modestly priced books, ensure they fully understand the two basic parts of a book description and what role they each play in the presentation of the item offered.

I personally have cataloguing trainees study three primary sources to familiarize themselves with the tribal knowledge of the trade - Carter's ABC for Book Collectors (Terminology); Ahearn's Collected Books, and the most recent in-print copy ofAmerican Book Prices Current or ABPC (Pricing) to get a feel for pricing and how prices relate to edition differences; dealer and auction catalogs (Style) to understand the different styles of presentation and clever weaving of presentation and persuasion that makes great items irresistible. After a few days with each of these, they will know, as will you, if they have the mettle and aptitude for executing your plan.

Compensation and Structure

Determining compensation structure is key and should be done at the outset so both you and the employee know exactly how they will be paid, when and for what standard of work. In my own situation, I decided upon a sort of piece-work type structure (with them working as an Independent Contractor) wherein they, working in the capacity of a lister, would be paid a flat rate for each book they listed in a given amount of time. Through a couple of weeks of trial and error we settled on 150 lots per 7 day week - a number which seemed to meld with their schedule (semi-employed actor) and my need to have items listed. I scaled the per-listing payout with improvements in listing quality and the choice and representative nature of the photographs taken. As they improved, they received a higher notch in wage in increments beginning at $2.25 a listing up to $3.25 a listing.

Of course, depending upon your need and the type of operation you have, your worker may have different tasks and objectives, and their compensation may warrant an hourly wage. Just make certain the expectations are clear and the compensation is commensurate with the employee's level of experience and the amount of responsibility they are accepting. Cataloguing the Caxton's may not be the first lots on the agenda.

Coaching and Communication

Your employee should always feel comfortable approaching you and asking questions. The bookselling trade is oftentimes very nuanced, and in whatever capacity your person is operating, they should always feel like they should be able to seek your counsel without fear of ridicule or belittling. We in the trade have sometimes been accused of being pedantic or egotistical (never!) and therefore unapproachable. Some of this is owed to the strange tribal language we speak as we peer at underlings through horn rimmed glasses. Make an effort to be open, honest and accessible, if not self-deprecating. Some people refer to this as being human.

Moving On

According to a study I read awhile back (10 years ago?) 90%+ of booksellers do not end their career with the company they began it with - and that could be said of most employer/employee relationships. Suffice it to say, you and your employee will part ways eventually. Usually, one of four things occurs - your employee decides to hang out their own shingle, they decide to make a career change, the business enterprise ends, or you terminate them (for any number of reasons). The point here is to make sure each of your respective objectives are met - each day - your work relationship endures. Strive to push forward the business enterprise in new ways that challenge the both of you and enrich both the intellect and purse. Find ways to minimize the mundane, the routine, and seek to engage and challenge yourselves via new material, new genres and fresh acquaintances. After the books are gone, and the experience with them is had, all we are left with is the memory and knowledge of them that we should pass along to the next collector, dealer or simply curious party that crosses our path.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that fundamentally and foremost, the book trade is a business of people; the books are only incidental. In the internet age that is a notion that is sometimes lost and should be keenly preserved regardless of whatever technological innovations befall us.

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