A Reference Book Workshop Q & A with our Master-and-Commander Vic Zoschak

As it is fall and us book folk cannot seem to help ourselves when it comes to books and study, we decided to do a little sit down Q&A with Vic Zoschak… leader of Tavistock Books, previous ABAA President, awarder of Rare Book School Scholarships, all-around mentor and teacher of a popular Reference Book Workshop! Due to unforseen circumstances (after all, who could have possibly forseen 2020) we haven’t been able to hold our Reference Book Workshop in a number of years. So this week we decided to answer some important questions for those just beginning in the business of bookselling!

 

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Q: V, you’ve been in the business of bookselling for a few decades now… and you’ve mastered plenty of roles within it! You own your own store, you’ve advised and trained employees, given Rare Book School scholarships, been the President of the ABAA, and offered several years of workshops at Tavistock Books on Use of Reference Books for beginning booksellers… How many years have you been mentoring others, and how did you begin to do so?

Well, Ms P, mentoring isn’t something I consciously sought out, rather opportunities to lend a helping hand came my way…  besides a personal wish to help a given individual, as you know, I’m a long-time advocate for the ABAA, and in many of those beginning booksellers, I saw a potential ABAA member.  As a result, many whom I’ve aided over the years are now ABAA colleagues as well.

As to my workshops, I started those about 2 decades ago…  I think the first was on “First Edition Identification”, and was offered to help new IOBA members in this particular area.  The workshops then morphed into a day long seminar on the use of Reference Books in the Antiquarian Book Trade, where, besides reviewing trade jargon & condition descriptors, I mainly tried to expose newbie booksellers to the standard references they’ll encounter / need in a few basic subject areas: Literature,  Childrens; Americana, with an emphasis on Western Americana & Californiana.

Now that the pandemic is waning, perhaps time to think about hosting another.  We’ll see.

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Q: If we had to pick the most important lesson you could offer an up-n-coming bookseller, which would it be?

Actually two:

-  with a nod to Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind”

  •  in my bookselling experience, there are two key success factors; Who you Know, and What you Know.

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Q: What do you think is the most difficult lesson, or learning experience, that new booksellers go through when they’ve just entered the field? On a side note, what was your toughest lesson learned?

To my mind, one of the hardest lessons for new antiquarian booksellers to grasp is this: there are always more books.  New booksellers will often overpay for something just to “get it”.   That said, there are occasions when you pay what you have to.  A mature bookseller [hopefully] knows the difference between those two situations.

The “toughest lesson” … ?  In thinking about that I recall a situation quite a while back, not too long after opening my shop in 1997 where I offered an individual $200 for a book.  The individual countered with $250.  I declined.  I didn’t have enough experience at the time to know that had I paid the $250, I would have quickly made back that additional $50.  Today, it’s a bit different, in that much more pricing data is available, between viaLibri & RBH, it’s a truly rare book that doesn’t have some sales history.  It’s then in those instances that one’s professional knowledge & experience comes in… is this book rare because no one cares, or is it a desirable book that is rarely seen on the market?

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Q: What do you think or feel about people beginning their bookselling journey today? What are they bringing to the field, what can they work on?

Good question.  I’m encouraged to see others, younger others, enter this trade I love so much.  I think, no I know, they bring a new perspective to such questions as “What is collectible?”  I’ve been pretty mainstream my career… I mean I specialize in Charles Dickens material, not that he hasn’t remained collectible, he most certainly has, but such collecting hardly breaks new ground.  Other booksellers younger than myself have a different vision, which, as I write this, I think of two of my SoCal colleagues, Brad & Jen Johnson, who, a few years back, put together a “Heavy Metal” archive & sold it to a major institution.  Not something I would have considered.

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Q: Due to Covid and the sheer amount of time and energy needed to offer our Reference Book workshop, until we decide to hold it once more – what is your advice to new booksellers on where they can learn the basics? (Any book recommendations, course recommendations would be welcome!)

My advice…  Invest in yourself, both the “Who you Know & What you know” aspects I mentioned above…  take CABS.  Attend Rare Book School.  Build a reference library [e.g., another bookseller's ABE listing is NOT a valid source for bibliographic information].  Join clubs like the Book Club of California where you can meet like minded souls.

Trust me, investing in yourself is an investment that will, long term, pay dividends.

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