Best Book Scouting Tips

by Craig Stark

#51, 5 September 2005

How To Case Sales

When I first started book scouting, I tried my best to arrive at sales a few minutes before they were advertised to start. If you've been scouting for any length of time, I'm sure you'll agree that this isn't smart. It doesn't take long to figure out that you're getting beat to the goodies using this method. It's much better to get wherever it is well before that - for example, if it's an estate sale or church sale, early enough to be among the first 5 or 10 in the door, and sometimes this means investing an hour or more.

But it's also important to arrive at moving sales (or any other sale held by private parties) early as well because the reality is that most of them open before they say they're going to. Often it's a half hour or more, and if you get there late, odds are that you won't find anything of significant value, though this isn't as true of books as it is of many other items.

Anyway, once you adopt this early-arrival strategy, you may think that you've finally got things nailed, that you can compete on a level playing field with anybody and everybody. Well, if this is where you are with your scouting, I'm here to tell you that you that there's an altogether more advanced level of scouting above this that can pay off big.

The central problem with buying at sales is that there is only one of you; you can only be in one place at one time. What if there are two or three promising sales scheduled to start at the same time? Based on my observations, many try to puzzle this out on the basis of comparing ads, looking for subtle clues that point to better quality or quantity. This does work to some extent, and you may recall that we put together a dictionary of terms to assist with this (which will soon be updated with your contributions).

Reading between the lines will only take you so far, however, and it's not by any means foolproof. It's much more effective - and this is what the advanced buyers do - to case sales ahead of time.

Not all sales can be cased, but most can, and there are different levels of casing, ranging from quiet observation to bold, doorbell-ringing inquiry. My advice is to pick whatever fits. Here are some suggestions:

  1. If the ad has a phone number, call and ask questions.

  2. If there's no number, look up the address in a reverse directory.

  3. If neither of the above works, drive out the day before and investigate. If the house is obviously unoccupied, you may have an opportunity to look in one or more windows. Also, if professionals are running the sale, odds are they'll be there getting things ready, and they're usually happy to field inquiries. If it isn't clear what's going on, you always have the (admittedly more audacious) option of knocking on the door.

  4. The most efficient tactic for me is to drive out the day of the sale and investigate. Things are often stirring an hour or more before most most of them start, and, if so, you can either see into open garages or ask questions. Or something. The trick to making this work well is to lay out a logical, more or less straight-line route ahead of time and leave about an hour before you think you have to. You can always back track, adjust things on the fly, etc. If you haven't done this before, it's likely that you'll be surprised at how many dealers you'll run into doing the same thing.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but when I suggest that booksellers spend at least half of their time book scouting, this is partly what I mean, what part of what scouting is - or should be if you expect to consistently find quality inventory.

Enter Book Title or ISBN

Powered by FetchBook.Info
New & Used Books