Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Scouting 101: Save the Drama for Your Mama

Hello and welcome to a very special edition of Reading Under the Covers.  Rather than a book review, this week I want to tell you about the fun, rewarding, and slightly stinky world of book selling.  We will return to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

Over the summer, I found myself being drawn into the strange little profession of online book selling.  This endeavor came to fruition with the aid of my book-pushing mother.  You see, she sells used and in some cases quite rare and collectible books through  Her store, The Moonlighting Librarian, offers over 1,400 books, with an impressive 40 being books I have listed.  In an attempt to increase my emaciated inventory and sales, I joined my parental unit on a trip to Bloomington, IN for a used book sale.  This is my story.  The day in the life of a book scout: raw, uncut, and uncensored.

10p.m.-I got home from my night class and we loaded up the car with carts and bags for books, as well as enough luggage for even Diana Ross to utter, "That might be a bit much."

3a.m.-We finally find the fairgrounds where the book sale will be held the next day.  No one is there.  All I am aware of is the sound of dueling banjos and the smell of my own fear.  The point of driving down in the middle of the night was to get the first spot in line, but the gates are locked so it's off to a hotel for the night...what's left of it.

8a.m.-My sainted father goes to the sale ahead of us and gets the 10th spot in line.  Success.

11:30a.m.-Bleary-eyed and under-caffeinated, my mom and I arrive a half hour before the sale.  We are dressed quasi-homeless which is not uncommon for book sales.  In fact, a book sale is probably the only time I don't care how I look in public.  No one cares.  The dealers just want books, not a fashion show, and they make this fact painfully evident.  I wait impatiently amid a sea of culottes and fanny packs for the sale to start.

Noon-The sale opens and we rush in like a herd of cattle into what is basically a barn.  It's actually rather appropriate considering the circumstances.  Now here is where things get down and dirty.  Book sales smell.  The books smell, the people smell, and eventually you will smell too.  I know I did.  But that's OK because all that matters is finding cheap books to resell for a profit.  I use a scanner which tells me what a book is worth for resale.  I have to consider the condition of the book and how many are already listed on amazon.  If it's a good deal, then it goes in my cart.  However, you have to act fast or someone else will get "your" book.  Actually, everyone at this sale was very friendly which is unfortunately a rare occurrence.

My mom and I do our own thing at the sale.  She goes her way, I go mine.  Every once in a while I can see her crazy-eyed and scanning like her life depended on it.  Her best deal of the day was a book she bought for $3 and listed online for $75.  My best was a book for $3 that I can resell for $20.  Not great, but not bad either.  All in all, we will more than pay for the cost of the books, travel to and from the sale, hotel expenses, and multiple stops at Steak 'n Shake while still making a profit.

As you can see, being a book dealer is by no means glamorous.  My hands were black with dirt and dust by the end of the sale and I sifted through hundreds of books to find the 50 that will make a profit.  I don't make enough to earn a living doing this, but it is fun.  I love books and I'm not too ashamed to say that it's a rush to find that "one" book that makes the trip all worthwhile.

I hope you've enjoyed this bizarre journey into the book selling world.  Perhaps you would like to do this for a living?  It's a lot of work, but with time, effort, and persistence, you too can be insane!


  1. I knew that behind all the glitz and glamour of books there was a seedy underbelly! The next time you go book hunting, would you mind if I joined? I'd love to see this whole shpiel in person :)

  2. I would love to have you come along! I'll let you know when there's a good sale in the area. It's always more fun with a fellow bibliophile.

  3. Oh my gosh that sounds thrilling!

  4. Thanks for this post. It sounds fun. What kind of scanner do you use?