Sarah Hill reflects on being a bookseller at Sydney’s Better Read Than Dead.
What do you love most about being a bookseller?
Erm … the books? A healthy staff discount leads to an unhealthy amount of purchases. But really, there are those wonderful interactions with customers in which you really make a connection and are able to introduce them to books that are genuinely going to have an impact. I love it when a customer returns just to tell you they loved the book you recommended.
What’s your pet peeve about book retail?
People who complain about our selling books at the RRP, because they can get it online or in a big-box retailer for a fraction of the price, make me peevish. They don’t seem to consider that the cost of the books goes towards not only upkeep of the store and staff wages, but also community programs in the store. We hold a huge amount of events, author talks and book launches, as well as eight monthly book clubs and even our very own podcast, Talking Words. That’s the kind of community involvement that you won’t find with online retailers.
What can publishers do better?
Australian publishers are doing a great job of publishing diverse voices, and publishers should commit to a full range of perspectives, experiences and expertise. But I would like to see publishers not just producing books by First Nations and People of Colour, but creating space for them within the publishing industry. Readers of all backgrounds want to see themselves represented in books, and the publishing industry should be working towards reflecting the diversity of their readers.
What kinds of books do you gravitate towards?
I mostly read literary fiction, and occasionally dabble in true crime, history and sci-fi/fantasy. For the past four years I’ve made a point of reading the entire Booker Prize longlist, or Bookerpalooza as it is known by absolutely no-one.
What was the last interaction on the floor that made you laugh?
There are always examples of the bookseller equivalent of Misheard Song Lyrics. I had a colleague who was shocked when a customer asked for a book called When Breasts Become Bare, only to realise it was When Breath Becomes Air.