From The Editor

by Craig Stark

#129, 3 November 2008

Historically, first editions of collectible author's debut novels often prove to be the most valuable. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that, given that the author has no publishing track record, these books are often printed in more modest numbers than subsequent publications. Among hypermodern specialists, there's understandably much speculation afoot regarding which debut books will make a splash in the marketplace and which won't, also keen and persistent observation of current events, etc., surrounding publication - which can significantly affect values down the road. Throw a National Book Award at a debut novel, for example, and watch first editions soar in value.

If there's a hot debut book this year, our vote goes to David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. From the outset, this book has attracted much interest, and several months ago I was patting myself on the back for doubling my money on several signed copies. Of course, this was before Oprah stuck her nose into things and selected it for her book club. Had I waited for this resounding market event, I'd likely be tripling or quadrupling my money now. We can't always get it right - and our timing is almost never perfect.

I'm discussing this today firstly because occasional contributor and Links Editor Judy Lanskey has been researching past Oprah picks - specifically looking to see if there is an association between these titles and elevated values of their first editions. Turns out there is (in most cases), and we're publishing the first half of her findings in today's newsletter.

But there's another reason for bringing this up - a concern once again that the profession of bookselling is taking an unnecessary hit. It's fine and dandy, in my opinion, to make a few bucks in situations like this, provided you're armed with integrity and knowledge, but numerous booksellers are either ignorant of what constitutes a first edition of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle or are getting away with murder. I've seen dozens and dozens of copies misrepresented, often sold as first editions on eBay and other venues since Oprah's book club edition hit the streets. Sadly, these outnumber offerings of the real thing!

The "problem" is that Oprah's edition bears the statement "First Edition" and a full number line beginning with 1 on the title page verso. And yet it's anything but a first edition. There's a trimmed fore edge on the text block, for one thing, whereas the first's fore edge is faux deckled. Paper quality is inferior in the OW version, resulting in a lighter, slightly thinner book; and one of two slugs may be present on the dust jacket. The good news is that you can forget about all these issue points and focus on only one thing - the ISBN. The first edition ISBN is 978-0061374227, Oprah's 978-0061768064.

At one time or another, all of us have done the dumb thing, guessed when we should have found out for sure, but in this day and age of mounting buyer skepticism, it's doubly important to find out what's what before putting somebody's else's money in your pocket.

Some of you may have noticed an uptick in forum activity this week, due largely to the addition of a new sub-forum - eBay East. Some of eBay's best and brightest have already contributed. If you haven't taken a look yet, here's where to go.

Today's issue of the BookThinker features seven new articles:

  1. Battening Down the Hatches: How to Cut Costs and Improve Business in Tough Times
  2. Your New Scouting Book? The Amazon Kindle
  3. The Dinosaur We All Ride (A Fresh Look at Book Grading)
  4. A Book Made Entirely of Diamonds (An Update on and Interview with Mariah Mundi Author G.P. Taylor)
  5. Selling on Alternate Venues: Observations on Biblio and Barnes & Noble
  6. BookThink Special Report: What Oprah Means to You as a Bookseller
  7. Scanning Solutions for Booksellers: Converting an Ordinary Scanner to a Book Scanner

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