BookThink's Proverbs of
Bookselling Revisited

by Craig Stark

25 October 2015

The Fifth Five

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21. A collector's copy is never read. A reader's copy is never collected.

John Carter, of ABC for Book Collectors notoriety, defines a reader's (or reading) copy as follows: "A usually apologetic but occasionally slightly defiant term meaning that the book is not in collector's condition. A reading copy will probably look worse than a second-hand copy but better than a working copy." In turn, he defines a working copy as "the humblest term in the vocabulary of condition." There's not much to add to this other than to note that a collector's copy may have started out life as a reader's copy in the sense that it was purchased new to read, and, as applies to most collectible books, didn't become collectible until years later, assuming it survived in collectible condition. Once it acquires this pedigree, of course, handling it should either screech to a halt or at worst slow to a bare minimum.

Also, this process is time sensitive to some extent: Go back hundreds of years and nearly all books were born as reader's copies and evolved into collector's copies.

22. Books that sell best are the worst to sell.

Books that "sell best" meaning bestsellers. Bookselling is often a numbers game, and bestsellers are more often anticipated by publishers than not - and this is truer today than it ever has been. Corporate thinking is much less inclined to take risks now, that is. In any case, this anticipation translates into large first printings, and values suffer accordingly.

23. Don't judge a book by its cover.

This applies to bookselling in the sense that a book's appearance is rarely its only collectability factor, if that. The presence of an important signature, edition state, illustrative content, etc., have the potential for adding desirability. This can also apply to the many (coveted) books that look like nothing on a shelf but are actually something.

24. Judge a book by its cover.

Applicable to books, obviously, whose elevated values depend significantly on their shelf appearance. Historically, there's been a persistent contingent of booksellers who feel that this species of bookselling is beneath them, perhaps because such books resemble, I don't know, pin-up girls - things admired only for their physical appeal. But it's perhaps easy to forget that booksellers are book sellers and not literary critics. And besides, there's not much money in book reviewing.

25. A watched book never sells.

When sales slow, there's an understandable tendency to lose heart - and with it the drive to actively pursue what you've been doing to get to where you are. Looking back, watching books that have already been listed, doesn't get them sold; listing more books, for example, almost always improves sales. Never forget that bookselling, when successful, isn't a passive pursuit but an activity that requires daily, forward-looking involvement. Sit back and wait for things to happen at your peril.

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