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All About Cat: ABA’s 2017 Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year

The Australian Booksellers’ Association Gala Dinner was held on Sunday 18 June. The dinner involves, well, dinner, schmoozing (in a nice-book-people way), the announcement of the 2017 Miles Franklin shortlist and two annual bookseller awards; the ABA Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year award and the ABA Penguin Random House Young Bookseller of the Year Award. 
Text has been a proud sponsor of the Bookseller of the Year Award for the past six years and it is a great privilege to be associated with it. Australian booksellers are a special breed and this year’s award was presented to Catherine Schultz from one of the best independent bookshops in the country, Fullers Hobart.

First a little bit about the dinner from our Marketing Manager, Shalini Kunahlan:

Publishers have just spent the day talking nonstop about their Father’s Day and Christmas highlights to booksellers at the trade show earlier that day. And booksellers have just spent the day scouring the trade show and being weighed down by tote bags filled with said books. 

The Gala Dinner is a nice relaxed formal dinner. It’s held at the same place the trade show is held (sans trade-show booths and lighting), at the beautiful heritage-listed Intercontinental on Collins St. This year’s dinner was MC-ed by the hilarious Australian comedian Joel Creasy. He had everyone in stitches with his anecdotes and impersonations (he was mentored by the great Joan Rivers at a very young age and had many crazy anecdotes about her – go see him perform! He’s hilarious!).

Want to know more about what it takes to be  a bookseller extraordinaire? Read on!

Clive Tilsley, Catherine Schulz’s manager at Fullers, describes Cat thus: 

Fullers Bookshop, Hobart, Tasmania

The lovely Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, designed by Cat Schulz.

Cat has been an integral part of Fullers for 27 years. She deals furtively with publishers, she gets good discounts, she chases up delivery problems and every publisher in Australia knows who Cat is and values her opinions on titles.

She even picked Harry Potter: ‘Watch this!’

The shop is designed by Cat. She writes the chalk boards we use to signal our departments. She instructs the window displays. And in December she is here at 6 a.m. to set up the shop for another day. The shop never looks tired – it always looks like we just opened for the first time.

Cat’s input has been crucial for the strategic direction of Fuller’s bookshop, its profitability and its day-to-day ethos. Her insights have led to Fullers occupying a singular place in the community: it is a shop that would be at home in any metropolitan capital, anywhere in the world, and the people of Hobart value it for its reading discussion groups, its detailed program of events and the certainty that compelling books will always be on hand for readers.

Catherine and the team from Fullers Bookshop.

So what does Cat have to say about the prize, life, the universe and bookselling? Keep reading...

How did you first get into bookselling? 
Accidentally in the right place at the right time. I was offered a job! Happened to be in Fullers ordering a book at the same time Clive was thinking he needed an extra staff member for the new shop he was opening. I have also recently discovered my mother had pestered him on my behalf, without my knowledge and to my completely embarrassed horror.

What do think is the biggest change you’ve seen in the bookselling world since you started? 
The internet has changed information – who has it, how they use it and who cares whether someone knows something or not.
When I started we had a set of UK Books in Print (Whitakers? Already a year or so old – cheaper!) plus Thorpe’s Australian Books in Print and it was either in there, or in a catalogue, or in the back of someone’s mind. Oh yeah, microfiche from Baker & Taylor! I remember that! And you had to KNOW. A trip to the Bibliographic Department of the State Reference Library once a week usually solved any we couldn’t work out ourselves. The internet provides anyone with answers and there is no definitive answer. Interpretation, relativity and personal reality are the drivers more so than skill and experience.

What does winning the best bookseller of the year award mean for you? Do you get your own special chair at work now? Do you get served drinks every hour by the rest of the staff? 
Affirmatory relief. That I’ve been doing the right thing, and that what I’ve done up till now matters. Relief, yes. Confidence booster? Not sure yet, but the chair and the drinks were already sorted.

Independent booksellers do a wonderful and glorious thing called ‘hand-selling’. What works best for you? 
Do you mean how do I hand-sell? I don’t have the formally learned words for critiquing writing so I talk about feelings – ‘This is a super sad love story and I cried all the way through. Sometimes you need a good cry’ (200+ copies) , ‘Well yes of course it’s self-absorbed – it’s about herself! And it’s fabulous!’ 
Honesty, too. I never ever pretend either way. When in doubt I say, ‘Look, it’s just not written for me … I’m the wrong person for it.’

Fullers is a bright and lovely bookshop in the middle of Hobart. What is the best thing about it?
Fullers is smart, knowledgeable, friendly and maintains a sense of humour. We are the result of the mix of staff and customers’ and everyone’s responses to and contribution to that mix. We are a world of our own making and it’s a good world.

Tasmanians love their Tasmanian books. Why are you so passionate about your gorgeous isle and anything Tassie-related?
I have a theory that people on islands are naturally curious and outward-looking for survival purposes – completely disprovable – but maybe because we’re also all closer to each other than in big places, we’re interested in each other, our history and our landscapes? Or maybe we don’t care about anyone else? But I know that’s not true! 

What books are on your bedside table right now? (be honest!) 

Cat’s bedside table reading!

Just moved house. Four pallets’ worth are still in boxes with a few loose on the couch in front of the fire.

What’s the most interesting request you’ve had from a customer? 
To choose a book for someone whose first language was not English, who wasn't really into reading, and, because it would be the last book they ever read, it had to be deeply meaningful.

What is the book you recommend as your neverfail fallback when someone’s read everything?
Julius Winsome by Gerard Donovan is a perfect book. But you have to check the reader’s sensitivity to the death of pet animals first. Save the day with The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. So much smarter than you might expect.

And lastly, why do you love the world of bookselling?
You can do what you want, be your own world, and people love you for it.

Catherine Schulz, the ABA 2017 Bookseller of the Year

Australia is incredibly lucky to have booksellers like Cat Schulz and bookshops like Fullers. Next time you’re in Hobart, drop in to the shop, have a cuppa and say hello to the team. Our independent bookshops are a valuable asset, so do what you can to support them.

We’re off to book our next holiday to Hobart! (as well as possibly submit a CV because who doesn’t want to work at Fullers after all that? But don’t tell the management here – although, they never read this far down!)

Till next time and keep reading,

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