It was an interesting eighteen months at The Grey Wolfe Scriptorium; filled will joy, chaos, and good friends. I learned a lot along the way, and had some ideas and concepts validated, too. It was by far, the best "learning experience" my life has offered, outside of raising a child.
I relished in every day at the shop. There's nothing quite like having a dream held for forty years finally realized. I was fourteen when I took my first job at a small bookshop in a shopping mall. I remember begging my mother to sign my worker's permit so I could do it... working age in Michigan is sixteen at the time, but I really wanted this job. I didn't need it for the money, or for something to do after school and on weekends... I wanted to be with the books. When my mother said yes, I was over the moon with joy. I remember my first day, learning that bookshops were organized like libraries - by genre - which meant that I was already a pro (if only in my own mind). I'd spent a great deal of my childhood in libraries, and this seemed like the next logical step. I remember being entranced with each book as I stickered and shelved it, being a little sheepish about entering the "adult" section behind a red curtain (I kid you not)!
As an adult, the wonderful world of bookshop management was heavenly - for the most part. I loved every day surrounded by the sanctity of the written word, in so many of it's forms; hardback, paperback, even a few audio books on CD. I loved meeting new people and learning their reading preferences, how they read, why they read. It seems, no matter the genre, we all read for the same reasons... escape, education, entertainment, relaxation. The regular customers became new friends, and the new customers became welcome additions to my growing understanding of humanity.
I learned a great deal about small business management, too. I'd worked in the corporate world for years, and even run a small business before, but never a "brick & mortar" shop. It was a new experience for me. So often, we think, "I'll open a shop, it'll be fun"; and it is... but we don't always realize all the other stuff that keeps that shop afloat, aside from the fun. There's a great deal of responsibility and even a little bit of stress... paying bills, managing staff, inventory, maintenance, marketing, and always being the one who fills in when a staff member can't make it. It's a huge undertaking, sometimes an encroachment on personal time, and a lot of work. But my goodness, was it ever fun! When you love what you do, there can be challenges, of course; but it never really stops being fun... until the day you discover it must end, and you realize you have no control or influence over that decision. That, most assuredly, was not fun.
As I studied the metrics one must when one manages a bookshop, I was thrilled to discover that the trends are bringing us back to books - in a big way. We saw more customers come through the door each week, and each customer was spending more money on books, and they were doing it more often. E-readers have had their fifteen minutes of fame, and the book is back with a quiet persistence. In my experience, what I discovered was that those readers a generation older than me relied on "real" books more than e-books, although some used e-readers when they traveled, most regaled me with stories of where they were when they read a favorite title, how they felt comforted when diving into the pages, how it reminded them of their childhood when they turned each page and lived with the characters for a little while.
Readers of my generation said that although they loved audio books because it meant they still got to "read" when they were busy driving or attending to tasks that required their hands, or e-books when they were traveling; they still preferred "real" books. "I just love the feel of a book in my hands", they would tell me. And they passed that love to their children. The kids corner at the shop was frequently visited by parents and grandparents who would sit with little ones at the tiny table and read, choosing just the right book to take home with them that day. It was joyful to see.
I am grateful for all the customers who visited and found comfort in selecting books by authors they had discovered years ago. I am equally thankful for those who also took a chance on Indie Authors who were new to them. It's because of the readers continued support that those of us who live in this wacky literary world get to do what we do. We are humbled by their encouragement of our work.
The best part of my time managing a bookshop, though, without question, was the opportunity I had to meet and support so many Independent Michigan Authors. The diversity of their storytelling... the richness of their imaginations... the comfort of their presence... it was what I looked forward to most when opening the shop door and turning on the lights every morning. Launch parties and signing events, workshops and writing groups... so much happiness shared with people who loved books as much as me. From childhood, I knew that the literary tribe was where I belonged... it was nice to learn that what felt right for all those years, actually was right.
I feel honored that so many authors entrusted me with their books. I only provided a foster home for them until they found their forever shelves in readers' homes; but it felt fantastic to know that I had a small hand in connecting authors to readers. I was so thankful that these exceptionally creative people allowed me to gush about their books at events, and never once looked at me like I had three heads. Michigan really does have some amazing writers with stories that will blow you away! My TBR shelf still has yet to be conquered, and I'm okay with that. Certainly, I will always enjoy the classics... who doesn't love Poe or Shakespeare. And I will forever dive deep into the well of the bestsellers, just for the fun of discovering what a familiar author can do next. But there is an unmatched surge of excitement for me when cracking the spine of a book written by a friend. My own writing career is emboldened by their courage and creativity.
What's next for me? New stuff... four novels that need to be finished, three more that need to be transferred from outline to complete sentences, a new business with a goal to support more Indie Authors, and a little bit of travel - mostly to bookshops. I will always look back on my time at The Scriptorium with fond memories of friendship and learning. I was fortunate enough to visit the mystical realm of the written word, and live there for a time. For that, I will be forever grateful.
New literary adventures await! Huzzah!