Now and again, I've started this column with the question, "How are sales?" Or, along the same lines, "Have you found anything good lately?" In a sense, even though I'm guilty of asking them myself, these questions may throw too much emphasis on things that are out of our direct control. We can't force sales to happen, for example, and finding outstanding inventory - well, isn't that more or less left up to chance as well if we do most or all of our scouting at local sales?
In this context, take a look at this paragraph from Chapter 4 of BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling, "How to Make Money Selling Books While You Learn How to Sell Books":
"... if, like most of us, you have limited means and need to make some early money, it's important to allocate the resources you do have available to those things that promise the best payoff. Time is your most valuable resource, and, though this may seem counter-intuitive, the worst thing you can do is spend most or all of it buying and selling books. If this is what you think you have to do, this book isn't for you, and you'll most likely be looking for some other line of work in a year or so. However, if you're willing to commit to a serious apprenticeship - say, a 50-50 split between bookselling and knowledge acquisition - your chances for long term success improve dramatically. If this seems like a lot - and 30 hours of dedicated study might seem downright daunting if you plan on working 60-hour weeks - I guarantee that you will notice very soon that this knowledge will repay itself many times over in ways you might never have suspected."
Funny thing about apprenticeships, these are totally within our control, and in bookselling, they are never over ... if they are ever started, that is. And that's the kicker, isn't it? Most booksellers never start them. They're just out there spending all of their time buying and selling books. You can make some money doing this - and learn a few things indirectly - but I guarantee you that it will become more and more difficult to grow and even sustain an income because most of your competition does business at this level too. It's easy. It's safe. But it's so darn crowded at the bottom that it's sometimes impossible to beat others to the small stuff.
I see this manifest itself time and time again at (for example) estate sales in two significant ways. First, important books are often not recognized as important, and many booksellers pass them by. Second, even if books are sensed to be important, there is a reluctance to risk serious money on them, say, more than a few dollars, and this follows from a lack of confidence, which follows from ... a lack of knowledge. But once knowledge is added good things can be consistently found and sales can be consistently good.
There are different kinds of bookselling knowledge, of course, some less obvious than others, and in today's article and a Part II to follow, I'm going to discuss perhaps a much less obvious kind - gaining familiarity with historically important books, those that are sought after by collectors at the highest levels. Why bother with these when most of us will never handle any of them? Well, a funny thing happens when you spend more time with better books - in this case intensely collectible books. You gain a sense of specifically what makes them so desirable; and more importantly, you begin to see patterns, qualities they share, and it's a familiarity with these qualities - we call them flashpoints at BookThink - that will help you see them in lesser but still very profitable books, the kinds of books you will handle.
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Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC
Copyright 2003-2011 by BookThink LLC