Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Career Question

Frequently in a young writer's life, that writer must say to themselves, "I know I'm a writer... but now what do I do?"

It takes years and years of novels and short stories and more novels for a writer to reach the point where they can quit their day job. Notable examples are JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts.

But let's face it... we can't all be MegaWriters. So what do you do until you hit it big? Or even medium? What jobs can you get that feed the writer in you while earning you good money?

The obvious answer, journalism, shall not be discussed.

Young writer, your choices are limited. You can intern at a publishing house (a very difficult position to get), or read slush piles. You can work at a library, sell magazines, or, my favorite, work at a bookstore.

The three largest bookstore chains in the USA are Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Books-A-Million.

Tips for getting hired:

1) Apply early and often.

Bookstores are a magnet for readers, writers, and pretentious indie kids alike. Most likely they have full positions, and a drawer full of applications they've collected over the past fifteen years. As soon as you turn eighteen, get your butt down to the local megachain and apply. You never know when (if!) you'll get that call.

2) Keep an ear out for new openings.

When bookstores open new stores, what do they need? New Employees! This is where Tip #1 comes in handy.

3) Be available.

Bookstores are inundated with college kids who want to work part time. If you can work full-time, you've got it made. This, however, gets tricky. If you're still in school, that leaves you open only during summer, and seasonal work is a death trap. If, however, like me, you're taking a semester off from college, your hire-ability goes up ten points instantly because you can work anytime.


If you aren't available to work weekends, you will not be hired. End of story.

5) Pit bookstores against each other.

Apply to as many as you can at once. If you get called back for an interview, mention that you're shopping for who can best benefit you in terms of hours, environment, and paycheck.

6) Accept your losses.

Contrary to all logic, bookstores don't pay well. You can make more money frying things at McDonald's. Seriously.


So why apply? Only because your single greatest love in this world is books and writing. Bookstores are a wonderful environment. You get to see all the books early, handle them all day, and you get discounts! Maybe even on the coffee, if they have a built-in cafe!

7) If all else fails and you can't get hired by the national chains, seek out independents.

This works especially well if you're in the Berkley, California area, but for the other 99% of us, shop around. Develop relationships with the owners, and be prepared to work part-time.

Try this locator for looking up bookstores in your area.

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