Chapter 245 Advice for New Booksellers: Choosing Books for Resale

It’s Sunday. I’m busy writing names inside of sweatshirts and jackets and packing school supplies into backpacks in preparation for Tom and Huck’s first day of school tomorrow. I know some of you subscribe to the Bibliophile email list, and for those of you who don’t, I am re-printing (with permission from the author) a recent post from that list written by bookseller Susan Halas (Prints Pacific and Friends of Internet Booksellers). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experience with new booksellers. Here it is:

“Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years for spotting the big ticket item in a sea of dreck.

(More experienced book buyers may want to skip this advice which may seem obvious to them).

For the record I’m a believer that condition is secondary to content. I like clean bright copies with priced dust jackets (who doesn’t?), but when it comes to high value, especially with non-fiction, I don’t think condition matters that much.

Here are a few guidelines to help you increase your profits:

1. Know how to spot a Book Club edition:
Book Club editions are generally:
* A little smaller than the original edition
* Lack a price on the dust jacket
* May have a dimple (impressed mark) on the back board near the base of the spine.

Proviso 1 – not every book club edition is a dud, some true firsts were issued as BC editions, but in general a smaller book with a dust jacket lacking a price and sporting a dimple on the back board is something for you to pass up, even if it’s free.

Proviso 2 — the exception to the rule is sometimes university presses which may omit the price from the dust jacket.

2. Stay away from big books
Big books take up space, they are hard to ship, in a post internet world they are no longer as desirable as they once were. Look for the small book. The priority mail flat rate envelope measures 9×12″, you can send it anywhere in the world for a reasonable pice — look for things that will fit into that envelope securely packed.

Proviso – if it’s a big book full of signed lithographs by Chagall or Matisse or Miro ignore this advice. Also ignore if it’s an unusual binding, has interesting stuff laid in, has handwriting or limitation anywhere, if you think you’ll never see it again — then disregard the big book rule.

3. Stay away from reprint publishers
Is the publisher Bonanza or Dover in newer book? Does it say Blue Ribbon or Modern Library or Everyman in older? (except with dust jackets in primo condition). Those are books that seldom bring a premium price. Not buying them is a good way not to have to figure out a way to re-sell them.

Proviso–a reprint edition of a truly scarce title in a short run is sometimes an exception to the rule. Look for statement of limitation on the reprint, or for a good foreword by somebody notable, or for new material added.

4. Always check the paperbacks, especially the science fiction, poetry & spiritual/oddball paperbacks, or titles with jazzy art or covers. Lots of good stuff in small editions came out in paperback, sometimes these paperback command a nice price. For example the true first of Fahreheit 451 is a paperback, lots of other good stuff is in paper back too like early City Lights, early Grove Press, early New Directions, small presses of all kinds, poetry of all kinds. If its a Beat title from the 1950s or 1960s in paper wraps, even if its in shreds you probably want it. In
a sea of fat, tall, new paper you are looking for the short, thin, old paper.

5. Ephemera commands a premium
Two of my best recent sales illustrate the point–

I sold an incomplete issue of Aspen #9 in portfolio wrps to a dealer in Spain for $250. It wasn’t in good condition and it wasn’t all there. He wanted it anyway.

I sold an April Greiman’s Does It Make Sense poster that was one of the
first big pieces done on a MAC computer to a graphic designer in Denmark for $300 (which I bought for 25 cents off the ground at the swap meet). It was issued in a portfolio wraps by the Walker Art Center. I could tell the moment I had it in my hand that this was not a common item–because it
looked and felt unusual, unsual with its portfolio design, unusual size, unusual production values.

Both of these sold out of my eBay store where the price to list them was 3 cents for the month. Both sold the first month they were listed, though neither had sold when listed at auction.

6. Check the back as well as the front of the item. Even the newest book dealer usually knows enough to figure out the information on copyright page, and what the number line means. If you don’t know there are lots of guides to help you.

But it’s surprising how many people never look at the back of the book, the last page or near the last page where there is sometimes quite a bit of additional information such as how many copies were printed, the signature or mark of the printer (if a small press) the signature or mark of the author/artist, important other info. Also ads for the publisher’s other titles, or the author’s other titles. All that information helps to justify a higher price. Repeat, after you check the front, then check the back.

7. Look for laid in material, signatures, inscriptions other factors that will make your book different from all the other copies offered. Is there a review of the book when it came out clipped and laid in? A letter with a comment about it? Is there handwriting, is it in ink, does it look like something the author or illustrator might have written? Check it out — is that somebody important? Take a chance on things with that kind of look or feel. You’d be surprised how often a little research will help to establish that your copy is unique.

8. Price, ISBN number, Zip Code
Looking for older books or ephemera? How can you tell if they are really old?? Older books have lower prices printed on the dustjacket, usually in the single digits .Prices like $3, or $4.50 on the
flap usually means something published mid-20th century or a little earlier. Prices like $17.95, or $25 means NOT old. Same with paperbacks. Prices like 10 cents, 15 cents, 25 cents and 35 cents on cover mean an older book. Prices like $3.95 mean more recent. Doesn’t matter what the copyright page says, the price is the better indicator of age.

Zip codes and isbn numbers are fairly recent inventions — the absence of a zip code or an isbn number is a good start to establish that the book is older than the middle 1960s or early 1970s.

9. Look for esoteric subject matter.
In my case it’s UFO, alien abduction, para normal, hypnotism, alchemy, off beat relion etc. These are are all things that sell for me. But almost all books and ephemera on off beat subjects have an
audience .If you think you once heard about it on Coast to Coast AM in the wee hours chances are good somebody else wants it. The more offbeat the theory the more ardent the seeker. Almost all of this stuff came out in small editions and was self published or published by very small and often defunct presses. Good prices on all of it. Just because you don’t believe in it doesn’t rule out the ready willing and able buyer on the other end.

10. Bound volumes of magazines are good. Really ratty bindings of bound
volumes are even better.
It is my experience that libraries often toss the best and most interesting and valuable material into the free or discard pile or route them to the dump. That’s their mistake and you can profit from it. I’m a sucker for old magazines like National Geographics (especially 1930s & 1940s) 1930s or vintage New Yorkers (any date).

Farther back I like old Harper’s or Bookman or Studio or Scribner’s from late 19th or early 20th century. If the price is right take it, and look at it carefully (page by page) for early appearances, unusual technology, vintage ads, etc. etc.

Don’t worry about the condition of the binding, the binding doesn’t matter. Do worry about the condition of the pages, no worming, no water stains, no chipping. If you plan to break it break it carefully and don’t forget to PENCIL in the dates NEATLY on the pages.

11. Foreign language stuff is often good value. Ok so you don’t read Swedish, Japanese or Russian, or Italian or Czech or Korean, but trust me there are others who do and it’s a lot harder to find those books on this side of the water.

See something a little odd and it’s not in English, take it. Is it signed? Even better. Does it have pictures? Terrific, you want it. Last year I picked up for free about 20 titles in
Romanian. I sold 19 of them at good prices.

12. Attitude counts:
In the old days selling books, especially better older books was a small clubby world where people all knew each other and did business by mail and phone and through the AB.

There were only a few hundred name dealers and their reputations had been established by years in the trade and much diligence.

In the new internet world a lot of booksellers have been dealers about 10 minutes and they have no sense of being part of a trade that streches back hundreds of years.

If that’s you, remember: this is a good business and one of the best ways to succeed in it is to treat the other members of the trade as friends and colleagues. That means to share your specialized knowledge, to be generous with people who are not as experienced or well versed as you are, and to try to learn it as you go along by putting in the time and energy to understand the special language and practices of bookselling.

Now, there are hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people selling books and a lot of them don’t know zip. So what? We all started at that very same place once upon a time.

Be generous, be tolerant, learn from your mistakes.

Questions — happy to answer questions, write me off list:

Want to post or forward this info to others individuals or lists, by all
means.- permission
granted, credit FOIB and Prints Pacific, Ltd. please.”

Susan Halas
Who has seen a lot of stuff in her day.
A service of FOIB (Friends of Internet Booksellers)
Prints Pacific, Ltd.
1939A Vineyard St.
Wailuku, HI, USA 96793


Filed under A Bookseller's Education

4 responses to “Chapter 245 Advice for New Booksellers: Choosing Books for Resale

  1. WM

    If you’re in doubt about an item, and in looking over the title page you’ve never heard of the publisher or place of publication, then buy the book.

  2. Good one, WM! Thanks. Anyone else have any tips to add? I can use all the help I can get. 🙂

  3. Hello,

    I would love to let you know about upcoming events at the Center for Book Arts. Please let me know where I could email you that information – thanks very much!

    James Copeland
    The Center for Book Arts

  4. Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "1940s" - JabberTags

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