Have you ever dreamed of chucking in your ‘real’ job and owning and running a bookstore instead? Of being surrounded by endless books to choose from? A coffee machine whirring away next to you, book launches and that irresistible smell of new books? I did, all the time when I was working in a corporate job and trying to crack a publishing deal. My fantasy life was as a bookstore owner. So I thought it would be nice to ask a real person what that dream is actually like.
The lovely Lucinda Morley, co-owner with her sister at The River Read, answered some questions on what her day job is like.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself (and your sister) and your bookshop?
My sister Natalie and I bought The River Read 5 years ago. For a couple of years we had been on the lookout for an opportunity to go into business together. We had grown up in Noosa and are big book lovers, so when my husbands step mother told me that she was thinking about moving on and selling The River Read it was the perfect opportunity for us. 6 months after buying the shop we added the coffee side of the business which was another great learning curve for us. We had never run a cafe OR a bookshop! We came into the business with a lot of passion and energy, and took on board a lot of advice from experts in both areas. We get told by customers all the time that the shop has a great energy, which we think is a result if it being something we put a lot of love into.
I think a lot of us dream of quitting our day jobs and running a bookstore. Is it really as much fun as it’s cracked up to be?
It’s pretty fun! We still get a buzz whenever new release books arrive, especially from authors we love. It’s pretty great going to a work being surrounded by books all day. It’s especially great because we do it together. Obviously there’s a serious side – paying the bills, hiring staff etc. but overall we love it.
What do you love most about your job?
Reading! It’s funny because people assume we come to work and get to read all day, but the opposite is true. We constantly have people (customers, book reps) telling us we MUST read this or that book and it can be really frustrating because you go home with a pile of books and not nearly enough time to read them.
How many books do you read a week/month? On average I’d say a book a week – sometimes more sometimes less. It depends on the size of the books and how much spare time I get (which is often not much).
What’s been the most challenging or unexpected thing that’s happened since you started? What really amazes me is that after 5 years running and working in a bookshop, there is still not a day that goes by that a customer asks about an author I’ve never heard of. There are so many books and authors out there! It used to really frustrate me but now I just listen and enjoy learning every day. You can’t read everything so we really take on board the wealth of knowledge our customers bring in.
What are your top three pieces of advice for someone who dreams of having their own bookshop?
- Do your numbers. Having a bookshop is wonderful but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of money to be made from them. You need to have a variety of products to be successful.
- Don’t try to be everything to all people – you will never win. You heed to decide what kind of bookshop you want to be, which is determined largely by your location. We are in a tourist area so we stock mainly the type of books people read or buy when they’re on holidays. We have a local customer base also, so we do cater for that too, however we don’t do for example a lot of reference books. There are literally billions of books out there and you can’t stock them all.
- Keep reading books you love. When we first bought the shop I felt pressure to read outside my usual genres so I could sell them but reading really started to feel like a chore. I do read lots of different types of books but I’ve gone back to reading for pleasure. You can’t know everything about every type of book and you’re better off being honest to customers and saying ‘I don’t personally read a lot of that type if book, but….’ There are lots of ways to learn about different books without forcing yourself to read it all – listen to customers, friends, family, book reps. You need to keep loving books or you loose sight if why you started doing it in the first place.