Monday, October 30, 2006

Let the books find you

A reader asked the following question:

"Would you care to share what is your "good source?" We live in WA state but am still looking for a good source beside happening on a few good books at thrift stores and garage sales. I really do not know where else to find some really good buys."

If I had to narrow it down to one good source I'd say "everywhere." Everywhere includes:

  • Library sales.
  • Thrift shops.
  • Garage sales.
  • Flea markets.
  • Church sales.
  • Used bookstores (try the clearance section. Try asking if they have books in storage that they would be willing to unload).
  • The book dumpster behind Half Price Books.
  • Estate sales.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) sales.

You can find announcements of most of the above sales at Also make sure to check the classifieds every week. Sometimes library sales aren't listed on booksalefinder so it pays to check the library websites too.

It's also important to let the books find you. Start by telling everyone you know that you are an online bookseller and that you'd be happy to buy books from them or sell on commission. Most people will be happy to give you books and you won't have to pay. They get empty shelves and an excuse to buy more books and you get free inventory. They are probably relieved that you aren't asking them to buy anything or come to a Tupperware party. Others will want a commission but you won't have to pay until the book sells.

Not everyone you know will have books but they have the potential to give you leads. They might be related to a newly retired professor who wants to unload their books. They might visit a garage sale in their neighborhood that wasn't listed in the classifieds and, after spotting several shelves of vintage ballet books and photography books, give you a call. They might be oppressed by a garage full of obscure books they inherited from a friend and want to free up their storage space.

You'll be surprised by what you find. "How can someone spend their whole adult life reading nothing but book club books?" you'll wonder to yourself. Or you'll look at several boxes of scientific and philosophy books and wonder, "Did this man never indulge in light reading?" and then the next box you'll open will be full of 50 Betty Neels romances and you'll scratch your head. The best part is that you'll be able to go through the books leisurely, in the privacy of your home, with no other dealers around you. The more books that find you the less dependent you'll have to be on the sales and thrift shops.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Perhaps the most boring sounding title in our inventory

Micrographia: Or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, with observations and inquiries thereupon. ZZZZZZ. (Sorry. I dozed off while typing that title.)

It's a Dover book. Dover books usually aren't worth selling, of course. But Dovers from the 1960's with hyper-specific titles like these can sell in the $20-30 range. This title is a bit more exotic: Theory of the Motion of the Heavenly Bodies Moving About the Sun in Conic Sections.

I think I like this one the best: The Bad Child's Book of Beasts and More Beasts for Worse Children and a Moral Alphabet.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Shiny Books

I like shiny things. Shiny floors, shiny mirrors, shiny silver bracelets. And shiny books. A reader of my article for Elaine Krieg Smith's blog asked for further clarification about shiny books, so here goes.

When I'm at a sale and not finding much, or it's crowded, or I'm feeling tired, I look for shiny books. I start in the children's section and look for shiny picture books. More often than not I can find some picture books that aren't hypercommon and that will sell for $10.00 or more and have a good sales rank. I'll sell books for as low as $5.00 if the sales rank is in the four figures. Shiny young adult books are, in my experience, mostly worthless. Educational/homeschool books, text books are another area where shininess often pays off. Fiction? Not so much.

I know, I know. It's the children's picture books before 1963 that are worth the big money. It's the esoteric non-fiction with dull covers and titles that are worth money. And so on. I'm simply tossing out the idea that a steady stream of sales of $10.00 (or more) shiny books is motivating to the beginning seller as they learn the ropes and it helps the bottom line of the experienced seller.
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Sunday, October 15, 2006

ScoutPal has turned her into a Scout Pal

I knew that buying some new technology would reinvigorate our business but I didn't anticipate the free labor it would bring me. Well, not entirely free. I sometimes dole out Twix bars or Starbucks coffee as compensation.

First Daughter has become my constant companion at sales since I purchased a new Motorola RAZR cell phone and activated ScoutPal. She is 13 and, previously, was more than happy to stay home while I went to sales. Now she is more than happy to tag along and sit and do price lookups, giving me more time to pick books.

I don't have many skills to pass on to her. I can't sew, knit, garden, make furniture, fix engines or cook very well. But, by golly, I have a cell phone and ScoutPal. Along the way she is absorbing a few flashpoints and learning that making money working for yourself is, in fact, a possibility. She even listens politely now when I sometimes go on at length about why I picked a particular book from the shelf. I hesitated before purchasing the Motorola RAZR - it's a bit more expensive than many of the cell phones on the market - but now I see it was a very worthwhile investment indeed.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Smoking or Non-Smoking?

This past week I received at least three e-mails from potential buyers asking me if the book is from a non-smoking home. One of them also wanted to know if my home is pet-free.

Until this week I've never received this question so it makes me wonder. Did someone recently publish an article about malodorous books, telling buyers to beware? Do online booksellers have a reputation for being smokers? After all, our workplaces don't have restrictions on smoking. We can even wear white bathrobes and drink (Wild Cherry Pepsi in my case) while listing books.

I never use the "from a non-smoking home" line in my eBay descriptions but maybe I will start doing so. I wonder how much a book's value would increase if the words, "read by Audrey Hepburn while smoking" were included in the description. That might be one instance where smoke would increase the value of the book.

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Here's a Flashpoint For You

A fun title: Men are From Locker Rooms, Women are from Luxury Boxes: A Woman's Guide to Understanding Spectator Sports

The cheapest copy on Amazon is $225. But why? Would women rather fork over $200 to read a book about sports than sit through endless hours of games? Tomorrow I will be at a library sale and will be sure to check out the sports section. It's the type of book one would expect to find at a sale. Surely there are 1000's of men who bought this book for the women in their lives (along with some astro turf negligee), women who would probably happily donate it to a library sale.

The sales rank is slightly more than 1 million so it's not a brisk seller. I looked on Google but couldn't find any cached pages with recent sales information. I suppose it's one of those books where one could price it high initially and then gradually lower the price until it sells.

I'll have to drive through football traffic to get to this library sale tomorrow. Finding this book there would be a nice reward.
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Branching Out

I wrote an article for Elaine Krieg Smith's bookselling blog. Research is Elaine's specialty and her blog and book lists are valuable sources of information for booksellers. This article is the first in a series of three. The next two will be about ScoutPal and smartphones vs. regular cellphones.
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A week in mid 20th century England and Scotland

Thanks to the D. E. Stevenson novel I sold on eBay last week, I was able to spend a week in Scotland and England. Well, not literally, but through the story, which I decided to read during the week it was for sale on eBay. Bookselling might not providing the funding for international travel but it puts books in my lap that I wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

David is the main character in Five Windows, which is set in mid 20th century England and Scotland. He is the son of a Scottish minister and spends his pre-teen years in rural Scotland. He spends his teen years living with his uncle in Edinburgh and attending a day school. After graduation he moves to London and works as a junior clerk, rents a flat from a bookseller and helps him with the store and begins writing books.

Yesterday I packaged the book and mailed it to the customer. I felt a tad wistful because if I want to buy this book, and dip into a world where community - with its wide array of interesting and sometimes borderline dysfuctional characters - matters, where settling down with a girl you've known your whole life suddenly becomes more important than seeing the world, where a boy's favorite past time is to visit the local shepherd and the local mechanic, then I will have to pay $60 or more for my own copy.

Happily, my local library has copies of many if not all of her forty novels, including Five Windows. I will try Mrs. Buncle next. This also means that her books might show up at upcoming library sales. Many of them have excellent resale value, even the mass market paperbacks, so it will be a dilemna: sell them or keep them?
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Monday, October 02, 2006

Sometimes it pays to show up late for a library sale (Or: A Primer on library sales)

Normally I show up on time at the beginning of a library sale. Bookselling is my job, after all, and I figure that I need to be there when the largest number of books are available. Or do I?

Let's look at the cons of showing up on time. Library sales attract dealers and they tend to show up early and stand in line. I have never managed to arrive early enough to be the first in line. The next time U2 goes on tour and I want someone to stand in line for me for several hours to buy tickets I think I will hire a bookseller. Anyway, the presence of these dealers can be a distraction. The dealers in my area are civilized, for the most part, and rarely do I see a scan monster, but even so I find myself looking at their stacks of books and watching them as they work. "He's buying THOSE books? HAHAHA!" I'll think. Then I'll second guess myself and wonder if he knows something I don't. Sometimes a dealer will have a stack of highly eBayable books and I kick myself for not getting to those shelves first.

The physical presence of all the other dealers plus the normal people who are there simply to find reading material (imagine that! People actually goes to sales to find something to read! Maybe I should try that sometime!) is also a nuisance. Sometimes I'm forced to reach over someone's shoulder to pluck a book from the shelf. There's much stepping on toes and bumping into each other. Also, dealers and other buyers will often carry around stacks of books for an hour or two and ultimately reject many of them and leave them behind for the workers to reshelve. You never get a chance to lay eyes on those books.

So, last Friday, I went to a library sale that had begun the evening before. The library is 25 miles from my home and it was tempting to skip it because I was unable to go to the sale on opening day because I actually had a life that evening (kids to feed, a meeting to attend). I went on Friday anyway because I like road trips and even if I find nothing it helps keep my scouting skills sharp.

I had the place to myself, for the most part. Aaaahhh. I could work at my own pace and in silence. Except for the chatter of the library workers, who said there was a huge line the night before and several dealers, one of them a woman with five kids who spent the entire three hours there scoutpal-ing everything with her oldest daughter. Oh. I see. So every book I touch at this sale will have been handled, and rejected, by another dealer. There's probably not going to be anything left. I'm wasting my time. Eventually I forced myself to change my thoughts. "I know things other dealers don't know. Surely I can find something."

I looked at the large print books and there was a D. E. Stevenson book there! I didn't need to Scoutpal that one to know it was valuable. If you are a bookseller, grab your scouting book and write down that author's name. Her novels are extremely scarce and in demand. I have it listed on eBay right now for $49.99 and there is a bid and a couple of watchers. There were also two large print books by Georgette Heyer. They are now listed on eBay for 14.99 each and I sweetened the deal by saying that if you buy both both the shipping will be free. They picked up bids immediately.

OK, so I had three books, worth at least $80. I glanced at the children's section but figured the mom with the five kids probably cherry picked everything. I was right. I went back to the non-fiction and looked at the bird books. I've loved bird books ever since I read The Burgess Bird Book For Children to First Daughter eight years ago. Whenever I list a bird book on eBay it sells, but good bird books are hard to find. I saw three bird books that I had never seen before. The books are large (13 x 10) with gorgeous color plates. I paid a total of $6.00 for the three books. These were books that, if I didn't sell them on eBay, I'd be happy to keep them in my own library. Whenever I feel that way about a book I find in the field I buy it. If you like birds, take a look at the pictures in my auction (item # 160036710118). One of the books has a plate of the white-throated sparrow, my favorite bird, so that cinched it for me, and I was sure to include that in the listing.

OK, so where was I? Oh yes. Library sales. One of the library workers said that someone had brought in a bunch of bird books earlier that morning. She said that people keep coming in and donating books even though the sale started the night before. This is an important detail to remember about library sales in small communities. Once the library sale starts and the signs go up, people drive by and notice. They think of the boxes of books in their garage or the books cluttering their shelves and the next day they haul them in. After the start of the sale. After the other dealers have come and gone. Heh heh heh.

Bottom line: when you are at a library sale remember that you know things other dealers don't, even if you're a newbie. If you're there when it's crowded, focus on your specialty, your strengths. Don't waste your time doing a lot of desperate ScoutPal lookups on books you don't have a clue about. I came away from that library sale with six books for $9.00 and all of them have picked up early bids (oh how I love early bids!) and will sell for at least $95, so sometimes it's not a bad thing to leave a sale with only six books. In other words, think quality, not quantity (unless, of course, there's a box of 75 science fiction books all written by the same author and in that case think quantity and cut yourself a deal). And don't forget to show up late.
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