From the Editor

by Craig Stark

#158, 19 September 2011

The final part to Science Fiction Editor Tim Doyle's excellent, multi-part series on buying book collections appears today. If you missed any or all of the previous parts, they can be accessed here:

Part I

Part II

Part IIIa

Tim informs me that he will be available for discussing this topic further on BookThink's forum. If you aren't yet registered, there is a two-step process in place to screen out those pesky trolls: Click the "Register" link near the top right corner of the forum page, fill out and submit the form, and wait for an approval email, which should arrive that day, the next day at the latest.

This brings me to something I've been mulling over for some months - forum participation, and more specifically, mentoring that occurs (or not) on forums. Recently, a BookThink forum member posted a note lamenting the absence of dedicated bookselling forums with active participation of experienced booksellers who could provide mentoring - active in the sense of recent participation. And it's true. Many previously active forums have seen dramatic reductions in traffic over the past year or so, and even traffic on the once flourishing eBay BSB has plunged in recent months.

Does this mean that booksellers are a dying species? Not if my email or the phone calls I get are any indication. Questions come daily about book valuation, first edition identification, and more, questions that could be asked on, say, BookThink's public forum for many to see and discuss - and benefit from. That they most often aren't is to some extent indicative of what I see as a changing climate in the community of booksellers: There's less mentoring going on. I'm not sure that I can explain it. It could be something as simple as the evolving nature of online bookselling itself, that is, all of us now competing globally on the same playing field for the same buyers and, perhaps understandably, feeling reluctant to share information potentially beneficial to others.

But this doesn't by any means eliminate the need for mentoring, and I'm not just talking about the needs of booksellers entering the trade. I'm also talking about the needs of experienced booksellers, the mentors themselves, who have a vital interest in teaching beginning booksellers not just how to make a few bucks but more importantly how to uphold standards of practice that will benefit all of us via building a broader trust with buyers in the marketplace. One hundred booksellers who don't know the difference between a first edition and a book club edition of Gone with the Wind, for example, make things much more difficult for a bookseller who does.

And what doesn't seem to be widely understood is that mentoring isn't mentoring at all if the bookseller seeking mentoring doesn't fulfill his or her responsibility to the mentor. This includes doing one's homework or research before asking a question (remarkably easy to do in this day and age) - and, I can't stress the importance of this enough - looking for opportunities to give back. In the context of forum participation, this could mean answering basic questions that more experienced booksellers, who have answered them a million times before, would appreciate some relief from. It could also mean giving moral support to others during hard economic times. Or sharing a relevant book-related personal experience. What I'm getting at is this: No new bookseller is entitled to mentoring. It works best when it's earned.

On a personal level, I get far, far more "drive-by" requests for help than I do requests from those who come back a second time. And even fewer from those who later assume significant roles as mentors themselves. Mostly I never hear from these people again, and over time, it begins to feel like I'm dumping things down a black hole - when the requests are private, that is. This wouldn't be an issue if we were booksellers only. But at BookThink, we've built this website on a foundation of mentoring, and if our own forum, which once thrived with dozens of posts daily, now sees only several weekly, I think it's worth at least one deliberate effort on my part to encourage new booksellers to get on board and experienced booksellers to return. Your chances of success will be enhanced.

Speaking of succeeding at bookselling, BookThink offers many products that can help the cause, including several packages that bundle large numbers of these products at significant savings to you. Our most popular package is also our most complete - a compilation of all previously published Gold Editions, QMR's and 50/50's. Click here for more information.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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