While it seems actual physical bookstores are rapidly disappearing, there are still some wonderful stores to be found, many of which specialise in particular strands of literature or non-fiction. For me, a regular stop by Phoenix Rising Books in Glebe is essential. The owner, Sue Sharpe, is not only a very lovely lady, but a vastly knowledgeable one who is invested in her subject area – namely, new age, wellbeing and spiritual texts and audio, amongst other things. We had a chat about these categories, her support of self-published authors and where she thinks books and bookstores are headed.
Tell me about Phoenix Rising Books and what your business is ultimately all about.
Phoenix is a bookstore plus. Our specialty is mind, body and soul, and broadly that covers material you can read, listen to or watch which has the potential to shift your level of awareness beyond the physical day to day realm to the universe beyond. What has become very special is the diverse community Phoenix attracts and how many people share their experiences with me as they read books they select. I have customers that have been with us for 15 years and it has been a delight to watch their progression and transformation, not to mention my own learning and development as we share experiences. We stock titles ranging from the beginning of a subject right up to the expert level from authors across the globe.
How long have you been in “new age”?
I purchased Phoenix Rising Books mid-1999. I have always had a passion for books and can recall as a youngster thinking that having a bookstore would be great. The genre at that time was very new for me. I had my personal reading, which I soon realised was just skimming the surface. So the learning curve has been huge, and it has only been in the last two to three years that I have felt like an ‘expert’, and by this I don’t mean in knowing it all, but knowing where to research and find the leading edge of authors in this field.
You’ve mentioned before that you reject the ‘self-help’ label. Why is that and what do you prefer?
I sense that self-help has a ‘fringe’ element tag to it and so when that label is used it can switch people off as what comes to their mind is the 1960’s alternative living community. I don’t actually have a label as such. The material offered in all the books we stock has, in the most part, been created to open the reader’s thoughts to ideas outside their current reality. They can learn skills to change behaviours or emotional responses, to bring into their current work and family life and to nourish their soul at times of difficulty.
There’s a lot of talk about the “death of print publishing”, but in my own experience, it seems there’s still a huge market for it, particularly in non-fiction. What are your thoughts on this?
I feel there is still a huge market for print material. As the younger generation grows up, maybe that will change. What I am seeing is that whilst it is easy to get an e-book, the reading experience is not the same. It’s a bit hard to curl up with an electronic device! What customers are telling me is that for this genre they prefer the paper format as they can make notations, go back to it, pick it up and put it down without having to worry about power source.
What are your best sellers and what do you think makes them successful?
Over the years there have been two titles that stand out in sales volume. The first was the film/documentary ‘What the Bleep Do We Know!’ Released in 2005 it was one of the first in this category to talk about the world beyond our physical body. It was screened at the Dendy in Sydney for many months and the DVD still continues to be a good seller. For many people it was the first time they had considered the importance of their thoughts, the impact on the environment they may have and how they can choose to change their reality. Supporting the storyline were a credible team of scientists, neuroscientists and the like.
The second title that comes to mind is ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael A. Singer. Released in 2007, it just keeps attracting people to read it. Singer very clearly takes you through the process of how we close our hearts based on trauma, fear and or anger. He explains what impact this has on our physical and psychological bodies. As you are reading he takes you with him, so when he suggests ways of opening your heart, it becomes easy. Easy is not the right word – because to make that change requires paying attention and practice.
Do you find that the classics remain popular for particular reasons?
Often they are referenced by many other authors and so still stay in circulation. Mostly though they resonate with us at a core level as the archetypes they relate with are components of the human condition, regardless of gender, race or culture.
Where do you see the new age industry headed, particularly with the rise of oracle decks and self-published gurus?
The challenge for any author or artist, regardless of the product type is to get heard in the ‘noise’. The wellbeing and health industry, where I put our genre, is growing and so I suspect we will see more and more product and noise. The challenge will be to cut through this noise and find what is just right for you. This is where somewhere like Phoenix can assist in the sense that based on customer feedback we can help to make a path through the noise. The challenge is that what will be ‘noise’ for one person will be ‘gold’ for another.
You have good relationships with a lot of self-published authors. What are you looking for when they tell you about their books?
Firstly, my admiration for self-published authors is enormous. It is a very gutsy thing to do and for that alone I would like to support. As we talked about earlier, cutting through to what works for our customers is my role. To help with this I take books on consignment, list them in our new release program and see what happens from there. If customers purchase then we will take the title on as a permanent title.
What advice would you give to self-published authors?
To get your social media platform as robust as you can. You need to build your audience; no one else can do this for you. A great resource is a book called ‘Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World’ by Michael Hyatt. In this book he takes you through a plan, based on his extensive knowledge and experience as a writer, publisher and speaker.
How can people follow what’s happening in store and online?