Case study

Bookseller and schools liaison — Gabriel Nicklin

Gabriel studied Oriental Studies (Japanese with Chinese) at the University of Oxford. Discover what a typical day as a bookseller is like

How did you get your job?

I work for Dulwich Books of West Dulwich, London. The shop is part of the MILD Group, a small group working across the publishing cycle through four businesses: a literary agency, a publishing house, a literary events company, and a bookshop.

My parents have both spent their careers in the publishing industry and the shop is owned by my mother. I was glad to follow in their footsteps by joining the business after graduating from university.

What's a typical day like?

It starts with unpacking boxes and putting books out, taking the chance to observe the layout of the shop. We rearrange the stock daily so the shop looks renewed every time a regular customer comes in. Afterwards I contact customers who have ordered books the day before and then read the morning's publishing news.

After that I settle into emails, which primarily involve taking orders from schools and customers, discussing new titles and events with publishers, and liaising with local community groups such as libraries and traders' groups.

As with any profession, the role is seasonal, meaning I have different priorities at different times of the year. At the start of term or around World Book Day, I work more on school accounts, and Christmas is devoted to customers and stock management. At any time of year it is vital to grow and maintain one's knowledge of new books.

The foundation of the role is creating a welcoming retail environment that nurtures discussion about books. That involves keeping abreast of the latest publishing trends to be able to discuss books with customers, while offering excellent customer service, by which I mean a friendly and helpful demeanour that will encourage them to purchase the books you have recommended.

Additionally, much of the role is about making a series of micro-decisions throughout the day, so a consistent attention to detail is very valuable in a bookseller.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I really enjoy the interchange of knowledge about books with customers and colleagues - I have learned so much from the people around me - and it is wonderful being surrounded by books.

Also, the publishing industry in general is very sociable, so I enjoy attending book launches and publishing functions throughout the year.

Another highlight is seeing the delight on children's faces when they get a chance to meet their favourite author at a school event, something I also appreciate when I meet my literary heroes at our events.

Finally, a deeply underrated perk of working in retail is being able to pet customers' dogs when they visit.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree encouraged me to read widely across a range of disciplines and literary traditions, which is useful when recommending titles or thinking of potential events.

How has your role developed?

I started out as a bookseller, and over time, I have taken charge of our schools business. I now work with a range of schools across South London, recommending and selling novels and textbooks, organising author events, and supporting community projects such as fairs and raffles.

I also take a more proactive role in stock management and meeting with representatives from publishing houses to buy in new stock, particularly in the children’s section. Furthermore, I am now on the Bookseller's Association's Children's Bookselling Group, which works on campaigns such as the Children's Book of the Month and Independent Book Week, among other projects. It is extremely valuable having regular contact with the B.A., our trade association, through which we learn about national trends in bookselling and coordinate strategies on relevant trade and political issues.

How do I get into bookselling?

  • The best way is to contact your local bookshop - in person ideally - and talk to them about your experience, both professionally and in terms of what you enjoy reading.
  • On that note, reading widely sounds like obvious advice, but it is certainly true. However, an employer may be even more interested in your ability to read and learn about new titles than just talk about books you have enjoyed previously.
  • Finally, make sure to sell yourself as a friendly, affable person with whom the manager will want to trust their precious customers.

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