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About a year ago I conducted an experiment that illustrates this, and I've been saving the results for a time when I felt they would have more impact. Back then, when the first waves of the bookselling flood were pounding the shores, it was definitely time to sound the alarm ... The Great Flood - Armageddon For Booksellers?

... but too early to predict the future. The future has arrived, and we're up to our necks in it. It's time.

Anyway, here's what I did. In the metropolitan area I live in, there are approximately 25 to 30 thrift shops, 50 to 60 within an hour's drive. At the time, I was visiting perhaps 2 to 4 a month, down from at least 10 or 12 the year before. Why? When I thought about it, I assured myself that it was because the well had gone dry. I simply wasn't visiting as many shops because it had become more difficult to find quality books in them. It seemed more productive to focus on estate sales and online sources.

However, it also occurred to me that I was coming home earlier on Friday and Saturday mornings, often immediately after sales were over. The year before, especially if I hadn't had much luck that morning, I'd often continue looking in either thrift shops or used bookstores, sometimes until noon or later, sometimes in such a stubborn frame of mind that I refused to come home until I found something. What had happened was this: I was now standing back on my heels, letting my feelings lead me right past those very places I had once found good inventory in. Somehow, negative feelings had stockpiled over time, and I grew fearful of re-feeling them. I'd largely forgotten about my successes and begun to dwell on my failures - walking into thrift shops and coming out empty handed again and again. It might well have been true that things had dried up, but I didn't know with any certainty because I hadn't been keeping track. It was time for an experiment.

The very next month I made a special point of visiting thrift shops at every opportunity, now matter how I felt at the time or how much I wanted to go home, even if it meant going once or more a week to some of them or driving out of my way. Or going on Monday. I was pretty sure I could stand doing this for one month, even if I struck out with regularity, and my plan was to resume sporadic visits the following month and compare. Funny thing. I never completed the second part of the experiment. By the third week of the first month, I'd already purchased over $1,000 in quality inventory from thrift shops, and there was no way I was going to stop. I've got the list right here. 23 books in all. And some of these was purchased in shops that I'd totally given up on based on a handful of bad experiences (which in turn had produced those bad feelings).

Once I was able to put these feelings aside, new vistas opened. You see, it wasn't that these shops had dried up as sources. It was simply that more buyers were competing for the same books. Visiting more often, putting one foot in front of another, meant that I was increasing my chances of being there at the right time, before somebody else had gotten to the books I was looking for. Also, the negative feelings that had been clouding my vision dissipated as I paid less attention to my fears. I was seeing more clearly. The books were back. Thrift shops were fun again.

This is only one example, of course, but the principle of coming to the ball applies to many aspects of bookselling. Almost nobody does this naturally because it's more comfortable not to. And unlikely to be fun. Instead, almost everybody lets their feelings lead them. But be the exception to this, and watch out. You'll be coming up in those searches we make at BookThink on successfully completed auctions over $50. And having lots more fun.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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