I love books. I love bookshops.
I love writing books, reading books and selling books.
It’s doesn’t earn me a lot of money, but that’s never been a motivating factor. My passion – the force that drives me, makes me jump out of bed each morning- is books.
Booksellers as a rule, are a nice bunch. We’re polite, bookish lot. Some of us may be a little eccentric, or even quirky. Our most common trait however, is that we’re passionate about the product we sell.
Bookshops differ in feel and attitude. There are the corporate stores, which are generally bigger, use brighter lighting and have head offices where group buyers haggle over discounts from publishers. And then there are the indie stores – smaller, wood-paneled, hand-written signs and dimmer lighting.
Last year, new indie stores started opening. Large, spacial, dark-paneled and decorated with antique furniture, they were theater and bookshop combined, a fairy wonderland for book lovers.
If you’ve seen one of my earlier posts, 25 Years a Bookseller, you would’ve read how devastated I was to be closing Your Bookshop stores. Retailing, and especially book selling was in my blood, and to lose it was heart-breaking. So when the opportunity arose to join one of the new stores, I jumped on it.
The first and second interviews came in quick successions. The management and the owners looked equally impressed by my cv as I was by their stores.
They had read my blog, seen my accomplishments and were eager to have me join their team. Meanwhile another bookseller – an established Indie store with great reputation – also contacted me and over lunch, I was offered a senior position as assistant marketing. The role was exactly what I had been seeking, an avenue where I can combine my creative thinking with my love of books. So when the first bookstore contacted me later that day for the position of manager, I told them I’m considering another offer. I was perfectly honest with them, letting them know that this new role would be a promotion, a step-up to what I was doing in my previous job.
The owner promised me that he could offer me the same, but first he needs me to help open his store, to help drive sales by looking outside the parameters of his shopfront. He wanted to utilise my social media skills to create engaging posts. We identified three demographic groups in the area and brainstormed on ways to tap in to them. And after a previous lackluster store opening, he asked for my suggestions to celebrate the opening for his upcoming store. When I mentioned that I have my sights set on a senior position, he promised that once the store is fully operational and I’ve trained the current Assistant Manager to continue on what I’ve started, then he’d be moving me to his head office, where I could join his marketing team.
He reiterated his promise repeatedly.
I was so giddy with excitement, so naive, so mesmorised by the spell which the stores had cast on me that it never occurred to me he might not keep his promise.
I was a fool.
In the short time that I was employed with them, my leadership at the store level was continuously undermined by the Assistant Manager who regarded me as clear competition. I ignored most of her annoying traits – interrupting me while I’m talking, listening in on my conversations, continuously looking over my shoulder, and claiming she can do the jobs which I thought were clearly in the category of Management roles. I put it down to her being still very young, largely inexperienced and possibly over excited. I didn’t want to dampen her enthusiasm or self esteem.
In any case, I was confident in my skill base. The owner’s wife, the creative force behind the store’s amazing design, had told me they’d been desperate to have me on board. The owner flattered me repeatedly by introducing me as not just his manager, but also an accomplished writer, an International author and a marketing expert. I was posting daily photos and short video clips for their social media platforms. The head office was fielding me more events to organise. I was about to design opening party invites and hampers with a collection of book and non-book items as giveaways.
I thought I was valued.
I was wrong.
Just seven days into the role (and before the store had even opened), I was dumped unceremoniously, without any prior warning or explanation.
I was handed a letter of termination which read:
‘The business has reached the decision that you are not suitable to the role of store manager.’
I pressed for answers. I thought at least I deserved to know how they went from being ‘desperate’ to have me to finding me ‘not suitable’.
I received no answer.
‘A gut feeling’ was the best I got.
As if having consumed a particularly bad meal, he’d gone to bed and woke with an upset stomach, and decided to fire me.
I was mortified. Humiliated. Played with.
I felt I was led to the ravine under the guise of seeing the view, but then pushed in to it from the back.
The effect of my experience didn’t fully hit me till another 24 hours. Having fallen asleep in front of the television, I woke and stumbled to the bedroom. Still half asleep, I proceeded to put out the next day’s clothes, ready to step into them in the morning as per my habit. Gym clothes, followed by work clothes.
And suddenly I felt it.
It came at me like a runaway train, slamming into my solar plexus. It cut short the air in my lungs. My knees buckling, I crumbled to the floor.
Curled in foetal position, I sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed, my shoulders jerking with every cry that ripped out of me.
My husband, ever so gentle, gathered me like a child, holding me, letting my tears soak his skin.
‘How could they do this to me?’ I kept repeating. ‘What did I do to deserve it?’
He did his best to soothe me, murmuring assurances.
‘It was a business decision,’ he said. ‘It’s not a reflection on your abilities.’
I eventually fell into an exhausted sleep, only to wake a few hours later, remembering, sobbing, then dropping into another restless dream.
I may never know why I was treated the way I was. I do know that legally, the owners are not bound to explain their decision. I also know, it was a gutless, cowardly act. And I did not deserve it.
Over the past year, my family and I have come a long way, closing businesses, negotiating with shopping centres and banks, dealing with tightening of cashflow. We learnt from everyone of those experiences. And we grew stronger. Closer. More unified. This too is another loop in an ongoing learning curb.
I’m not sharing this experience out of some misplaced revenge. I’m sharing it because I know I’m not alone in my experience. More often than not when treated unfairly, we suffer in silence. We internalise the shame. We say and do nothing. We fall in a pit of self-doubt. We let the wrong-doers hold the power.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
As I write this blog, I’m starting to heal. And learning to move on.
I’m now working in a different company, in a different industry. And though I’m no longer surrounded by my beloved books, my role allows me to harness the experience, passion and creativity that I poured into my businesses. I still feel the stab wound of my short stint in the hands of my ex-employer. However that experience has not curbed my enthusiasm for booksellers. We are after all good, decent people, bound together by our common love for the writtenlanguage.
Till next time, Happy Reading.
Have you had a similar experience? Does my story ring true for you?
Feel free to leave your experience and comments below. If you are leaving a comment, best not to mention individual or company names.