Proverbs of Bookselling
by Craig Stark
#45, 13 June 2005
Bookselling knowledge is widely available and, if sought, acquired. Couldn't be simpler. Any and all expenditures of effort will produce results, and if there's any theme that BookThink hammers on relentlessly, it's this: bookselling success depends critically on acquiring book knowledge, the more the better.
However, knowledge without wisdom, wrote T.S. Eliot, "brings us nearer to our ignorance." It's wisdom that breathes life into knowledge, gives it power and direction. Unlike knowledge, wisdom can't be acquired, even through prodigious effort. It's something that can only be awakened in you from a slumbering cache of gathered experience.
Moments of awakening - those precious aha! times - are triggered by various things. Sometimes they arrive with the sting of ignominious failure but by no means always. Other times they come more quietly, when it's least expected, when there seems to be no trigger at all (though it only seems so because we've missed it). And sometimes they come in perfect silence, by a reading a group of words whose very function it is to wake you - the proverb.
Proverbs have been used for this purpose for eons. A proverb breathes life into knowledge because it's embodied with wisdom, not detached from it. I don't know if anybody has ever deliberately written a collection of bookselling proverbs, but this won't stop me from trying.
Maybe one or more of these will awaken something in you; maybe not. It's the very nature of a proverb that it will mean absolutely nothing to somebody who isn't ready to meet it. Whatever you do, if you come to one that makes no sense whatsoever, don't try to puzzle it out - and don't EVER ask anybody to explain it. This will only make it more elusive. Instead, leave it as a question, and perhaps next time it'll light up your sky.
It's important to note that proverbs can be misunderstood, misapplied, and otherwise shamelessly abused. Some seem to mean one thing at first glance - and often seem overly obvious - and something entirely different, more profound, the next time. Some reveal themselves in steps, over time. Some can be taken too far. Consider Mark Twain's cat, the one who jumped on a hot stove. Bereft of wisdom, the cat never returned, whether the stove was hot or cold. Ah, the meals it must have missed!
Some readers may already be awake to most, maybe all of these proverbs. If so, you've probably been selling books for years and could contribute some of your own. Ultimately, I'd like to build the list to 100. Here's where to contribute: email@example.com
And here's my list:
- In bookselling, the exception is the rule.
- You can't find good books unless you're where they are.
- You can't consistently find good books unless you consistently look for them.
- You can't sell a book for its best price unless you sell it.
- Book collectors follow quality.
- The early scout gets the book.
- The late scout gets the book.
- A book is no stronger than its weakest hinge.
- Booksellers rush in where cleaning women fear to tread.
- Persistence in book scouting is the mother of good luck.
- Luck without book knowledge is no luck at all.
- Books are everywhere.
- Buy a bad book today, and you'll forget it tomorrow. Pass up an opportunity to buy a good one, and the memory will never leave you.
- Expect to find good books, and you won't. Seek to find them, and you will.
- The smaller your bookselling vocabulary is, the less money you'll make.
- Don't put all your books in one basket.
- Books (or ephemera) not printed to last often have lasting value.
- There is more than one way to sell a book.
- Eventually, every bookseller will have his or her day in the sun. Knowledgeable booksellers have nice tans.
- Bad books in, bad books out. Bad books out, good books in.
- A collector's copy is never read. A reader's copy is never collected.
- Books that sell best are the worst to sell.
- Don't judge a book by its cover.
- Judge a book by its cover.
- A watched book never sells.
- A bookseller's work is never done.
- The worst place to sell books is often the best place to buy them.
- Failed booksellers make the most noise.
- A book unlisted is a book unsold.
- All roads lead to eBay.
- Bookselling is difficult before it's easy and easy before it's difficult.
- All books are not meant to be sold.
- Keep thy bookshoppe, and thy bookshoppe will keep thee.
- If you buy books you don't need, you'll sell books you need.
- Don't pick books by candlelight.
- A book expertly-photographed is half-sold.
- The end of bookselling is not "book" but "selling."
- - or, books do not a bookseller make. Sales make a bookseller.
- A fast nickel may be as good as a slow dime, but a fast dime is 10 times better than a slow nickel.
- One $100 book is 10 times more valuable to a bookseller than 10 $10 books.
- There is no time like the present to sell a book. The next best time is now.
- The fewer books you have, the richer you will be.
- The bookseller's race to the bottom is to the hare, the race to the top the turtle.
- Old books are old; valuable books are valuable.
- Scarce books are scarce; valuable books are valuable.
- First editions are first editions; valuable books are valuable.
- Valuable books are valuable.
- A book smells best that smells of nothing.
- When bookselling times are good, beware. When bad, be hopeful. Nothing is certain but change.
- And, finally - what a difference a day makes.