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At tryouts, you're given a chart to evaluate individual performances. Most coaches use them, dutifully record the number of hits, ground balls and fly balls caught, or throws accurately made, and refer to them often during the draft. I used them for something else entirely. After evaluating kids by body language, an observable intensity, a look in their eyes - whatever it was that suggested to me that they were competitive - I wrote down a single number from 1 to 5, 5 being the most competitive. By the way, you can spot competitive players in any number of ways, but the most reliable way, I discovered, was by watching their eyes when they were up at bat, noting especially how they looked at pitched balls just before swinging. Competitive kids want to do something to the ball, hurt it, and aren't the least bit focused on the possibility of it hurting them. It's a huge distinction, and more about it in a later article.

Anyway, my subsequent picks on my first draft night raised some eyebrows because I passed over players that other coaches snapped up, took some players they didn't want, and only occasionally, by coincidence, competed head to head for a few others. Despite my uncertainty about how this would all play out, I stuck with my plan. If nothing else, I'd surrounded myself with competitors, and I knew it would be fun.

Surrounding yourself with the right crowd, not getting yourself mixed up with the wrong one, most definitely produces a similar result in bookselling: winning. What you want, of course, are books that will compete strongly for you in the marketplace. Spotting them isn't always easy, and if there's a common thread to almost everything we do at BookThink, it's to facilitate this, show you what the best competitors are, or at least offer you clues that will lead you to them.

But none of this will help unless you first make a decision to kick your non-competitive books the hell out of your sight and start living with competitive books - and then actually follow through on it. If you have trouble finding performing books, there's a good chance that it isn't because they aren't out there in significant numbers; it's more likely that you aren't able to see them yet because some of them aren't conventionally recognized as "good" players. Or players at all. Or books! That's right. Some performers don't look anything like books.

Performing books, oddly enough, aren't necessarily high-dollar books, but if they're not, they'd darn well better be books that will sell quickly with a minimal investment of time. Sit on them after building large amounts of labor into them, and you're headed in the wrong direction. It's much better, in my opinion, to focus on higher dollar books - $20, $30, $50 and up. Preferably up.

The moment you decide to become a higher-dollar bookseller, you might think that the most pressing task becomes that of finding better books - redoubling your efforts, going to sales, thrift shops, and any other thinkable venue endlessly looking and looking. And looking. It stands to reason that there aren't nearly as many good books out there as bad, and it's going to take some serious time to find them. Right? Not always.

In the first place - and if you're an experienced bookseller you know this already - this assumption is based on a misperception that only uncommon books sell for good money. The truth is that some common ones do too. Second, more than once I've advocated spending at least half of your bookselling time looking for inventory, but if you can't see a good book when you're staring at it, no amount of time will make up for it. I think it's more productive to improve your vision first.

I have three suggestions for doing this.

  1. Start Hanging Out Where Good Books Hang Out

    Go every day. Get to know them. See what they sell for. The very best place to do this, hands down, is eBay because everything you need to know about them is there and there in quantity - descriptions, pictures, and prices for books that have actually sold.

    To make certain that you're hanging out with only good books, go to the books category and do a search of completed auctions over $40 or $50. Next - and this is extremely important - as you look through them, write down the titles of books that you would have not have purchased at a sale. Surprises. These will, more often than not, consist of two kinds of books - those that have a ho-hum appearance and those that appear too common to be worth anything.

  2. Start Thinking Outside the Bookselling Box

    Do some mind bending, broaden your definition of what a book is. To repeat, not all performers look like books. Some of them are masked, and once you take the masks off, profit is suddenly there for the taking. Note also that many, many flashpoints that apply to what we conventionally think of as books also apply to the following "books":

    Book Lots. A book that might be tough to sell for a few bucks may readily sell as part of a set or topical grouping. If you can get $50 for a set of 25 books that you paid $5 or $10 for, who cares if this only computes to $2 a book? The time invested is essentially the same, and the only significant difference is that the box you ship them in is bigger and heavier.

    Magazines. Truly, if you haven't been selling magazines until now, this can be a gold mine, especially since these so often get overlooked at sales. Some individual magazines sell for big money, but even common ones - again, if grouped in runs - will often sell for significant amounts. EDITOR'S NOTE: December's Gold Edition will discuss magazines in detail and include an extensive list of what to look for both individually and in runs.

    Catalogs. Always give them a good, hard look. Even relatively common, more recent ones may have surprising value.

    Ephemera. Booklets, brochures, calendars, documents, greeting cards, letters, menus, postcards, programs, scrapbooks and more. If the topic is right, collectors love this stuff.

    Photographs. Okay, you really have to bend your mind to see these as books, but if your business is already set up to do books, you'll already have everything you need to do photographs as well, along with at least half the knowledge, and at times profits can be huge.

    Telephone Books & City Directories. Genealogists love these.

    Yearbooks. Patience may sometimes be required to snag your buyer here (unless you've got John Belushi's Wheaton High School yearbook in your hands), but get two or more bidders going after one, and watch out.

    Maps. Snapshots in time, and there are many collectors.

    Correspondence Courses. Surprisingly good. Original prices for these are often high, but just as often they can usually be had for next to nothing at sales and, in turn, be resold for - guess what - large profits.

    Audio Books. Increasingly popular and widely available at sales. If necessary, think "groupings."

    And more!

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