January 2009 will mark the beginning of my third year in business as an antiquarian bookseller. By the standards of most people in the trade, I am still a newcomer, a mere rookie when it comes to the knowledge and experience needed to buy and sell antiquarian books. I have, however, learned a few things in my first two years in business that have consistently served me well. I'll share them in hopes of helping those of you just beginning or even just contemplating antiquarian bookselling as a career.
- Learn what you can about antiquarian bookselling before setting up your business. You can read books, magazines, attend book fairs, and enroll in courses like the Colorado Antiquarian Book Market Seminar. But the best thing you can do is to get to know other booksellers. They are the ones on the front lines; they are the ones who can tell you how to learn the trade and which things can only be learned through experience.
- In addition to having colleagues from whom you can learn, knowing other booksellers can also provide good business opportunities. Other booksellers who become familiar with your specialties will sometimes offer you books at a favorable price. You'll also be able to learn their specialties and offer books directly to them. Further, you can often partner up with another bookseller at a book fair and split booth rental costs, which saves both of you money. Most recently and perhaps most valuably, I have been able to team up with booksellers with whom I have a close working relationship and purchase expensive, high-end items jointly. The ability to improve the quality of my stock while sharing the liability and the profits with another bookseller makes it easier for me acquire those high-end items that help a bookseller make a name for herself. I couldn't do this if I did not take the time to cultivate relationships with other booksellers.
- Invest in reference books. A longtime antiquarian bookseller who I respect very much has an immense reference book library. More than once he has come to my aid by allowing me access to his reference resources and more than once that reference goldmine has yielded a nugget of previously uncatalogued information that adds value to a book I am trying to sell. Early on, I started to save a portion of my bookselling profits for investing in building my own reference library. I've got a long way to go to reach a critical mass of several thousand reference books, but I'm steadily increasing my library each year.
- Invest in online sources of reference. It's not inexpensive to subscribe, but having online access to American Book Prices Current
and Americana Exchange, both of which provide auction prices realized for books helps greatly in pricing research.
- Support and read book-related magazines and online publications such as BookThink, Fine Books and Collections, Firsts,
Rare Book Review, and Book Source Monthly. If you are experienced enough and write well enough, contribute to these publications as well. Sometimes a sale comes because someone read
your article on a particular type of book in which he is interested.