Uses This

1193 interviews since 2009

A picture of Tanner McSwain

Tanner McSwain

Owner, Uncharted Books

in mac, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Tanner McSwain. I'm the owner and founder of Uncharted Books, an adventure-themed used bookstore/event space/coworking space in Chicago. Uncharted Books won the Chicago Reader's Best New Bookstore award in 2012 and has been featured in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, and on the Netflix series Easy. We just moved the bookstore into a new location and introduced the Adventurers Club, a secret club behind a hidden bookcase door that members can use as a fancy event space and coworking space.

I grew up on a chicken farm in rural North Carolina and graduated from the UNC Honors Creative Writing program in 2008 before moving to Chicago on a whim. I worked in publishing for several years for Agate and McGraw-Hill before opening Uncharted Books in 2012. I'm also a fiction writer. I'm married to the incomparable Renaissance woman Rachel Adams, with whom I have two excellent cats, Pete and Margot, and a somewhat famous bookstore dog, Ramona.

What hardware do you use?

I'm a very analog kind of guy, so with the exception of the tech I'm obligated to use for the bookstore, I mostly use pens and notebooks. I have a hard time remembering things that I type, but physically writing something down makes it more likely to stick in my memory. Growing up on the farm, I got used to using whatever equipment was available and affordable, and then using that equipment for several decades after obsolescence until finally, one day, it became entirely, irreparably nonfunctional. I tend to opt for refurbished "good enough" tech for the bookstore and spend the money I save on antiques and decor, which I think ultimately leads to a more interesting bookstore experience for everyone involved.

The Uncharted desk.

At Uncharted, we have a 2014 Mac Mini with used peripherals I bought on the cheap at the wonderful FreeGeek dungeon in Logan Square. Prior to this upgrade last month, we were using the 2008 iMac I got as a college graduation present. It was, surprisingly, running a bit slow. We also just got a fancy Square Register point of sale system that I adore and a Sonos Play:5 speaker from eBay. For personal use, I have a 2014 MacBook Air and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone.

I have a Little Notebook and a Big Notebook, and without both of them my life would be a never-ending series of nervous breakdowns.

My Little Notebook is a Moleskine Weekly Notebook with a Uniball pen that I keep in my back pocket at all times. I would rather lose my phone than lose my Little Notebook. It has my calendar, my employees' work schedules, and lots of notes I pick up throughout the day. It even has a little pocket I can keep business cards and scraps of paper for processing later. For you GTD users out there, it's my main Inbox. Best of all, you can slide the pen clip into the notebook spine so you're never without a pen. I'm a huge evangelist for these little dudes, and I give them as presents to any friends who mention having trouble staying organized or remembering things.

My Big Notebook is a 9x12" Canson Field Drawing Artbook that I use as my primary workbook and carry around in my backpack. It has big, blank, unlined pages that can be used for writing first drafts, journaling, doodling, working through math or layout problems... anything. The sketchbook paper takes both ink and pencil really nicely, and because it's spiral-bound and hardcover I can write with the notebook on my lap if needed. It's very flexible if you want to use one main notebook for everything, especially if you like to doodle or sketch alongside your writing.

In general, I just use Uniball Roller pens. They're fine. I used to write with special fancy pens, but I would inevitably lose them and feel guilty. I don't mind losing a Uniball, and as far as cheap pens go these tend to write on lots of surfaces, last for ages, and not leak in my pocket. I'm sure there are better pens out there, but these guys are workhorses and I can get them at Target and that's enough for me.

I prefer to carry around a backpack rather than a briefcase. I have no idea what model my backpack is, but it has lots of pockets, a cushioned laptop pouch, plenty of space for books and my water bottle, straps and clips so it's hard for some rando to just reach in, some cool faux-leather parts, and most importantly, lots of cushioned surfaces for me to display my Pieces of Flair. It makes me feel like a plucky little hobbit going off on a quest.

And what software?

Uncharted Books sells our rare books online, and we have a special backend setup for that. We have a custom website from Bibliopolis, which specializes in websites for rare book dealers and can auto-populate our inventory to the different online marketplaces we list on. For example, if I sell a book on AbeBooks, that sold listing will be delisted from Alibris, eBay, and elsewhere. It's very handy, and I appreciate having the specialized site that does exactly the things I need it to do. Great customer service and support from Bibliopolis as well. They're pricey, but if you're selling rare books on multiple marketplaces I strongly recommend checking them out.

I use BookHound 8 to catalog our rare books. It's a pretty basic book database software that integrates easily with our Bibliopolis site because they're made by the same company.

I have recently started using Tula software to book time slots for our Adventurers Club space. It's primarily used to book yoga studios, but it has the features I need, a simple UI (which is a big plus for me), and is run by a group of genuinely good folks here in Chicago. I don't have much experience with this yet, but so far so good.

You Need a Budget is a surprisingly great budgeting system and software. I use it for both the bookstore and home. I also recommend the companion book of the same name by Jesse Mecham.

As I mentioned before, I use Square for both credit card processing and point of sale hardware. I don't think I've ever liked a piece of technology more than I like our fancy new Square Register POS system.

For editing and writing, I use Scrivener, my all-time favorite word processor. As the digital equivalent of my Big Notebook, it's an extremely flexible writing tool that can feel like a blank canvas to noodle around on or a serious editing engine when I want to get down to business. It has a split screen mode so I can have my working document and reference docs open simultaneously, a black-screen composition mode, and a great organizational system that reminds me of a superior Evernote.

I just use G Suite for spreadsheets and stuff. I neither like nor dislike it.

What would be your dream setup?

The Adventurers Club room.

I'm completely in love with the new Uncharted Books space and wouldn't change much at all on the front end. There isn't much existing technology that I lust after since it's almost entirely utilitarian for me. My dream tech setup involves whatever I don't have to think about more than I want to. Maybe a functioning printer, which I have neither owned nor encountered.

Aesthetically, I'm very much a maximalist. Having tons of crazy crap around sparks joy and makes me feel calm and productive. For a dream office/writing space, I've built something close to my fantasy in our Adventurers Club: a cozy, old-fashioned study with more mysteries and secret artifacts than anyone could reasonably explore.

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