BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling

by Craig Stark

19 July 2010


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This is not a quick-start guide, a guide to getting rich or a book of insider secrets. Books like these already over-populate the marketplace, often promising what they can't deliver. In bookselling, there is no such thing as a quick-start, most booksellers never get rich, and today's insider secrets are tomorrow's public knowledge. My purpose is to deliver what can be delivered -essential knowledge (and the principles to apply it) that will enable you to become a successful online bookseller.

By essential knowledge I mean the skinny.

The skinny is what you absolutely must know to compete, and if you don't know it - cold - you'll compete at a disadvantage. Be warned: Part of what you must know includes some things you might think you can get by without - for example, collation. Those of you who have even glanced inside the cover of Fredson Bowers' standard guide, Principles of Bibliographical Description, know how daunting collational formulae can get.

Some of you may recall a delightful hippie-era book titled How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. Very few copies of the first edition have survived without significant oil staining because this was a book most often purchased by somebody who didn't know the first thing about working on a car and consulted it under fire, that is, while lying in the grass under the rear end of a Beetle, oil dripping, holding a wrench - a hands-on guide in the truest sense of the word, and it was written with a sense of easy clarity that immediately took the mystery out of tuning an engine. In its honor (and more in keeping with the skinny approach), I've titled my discussion of collation How to Collate a Book: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. I won't show you how to collate the 1640 folio of Sandy's translation of Ovid, but you will learn how to readily collate and/or paginate most of the books you'll encounter in one somewhat painless lesson.

First edition identification can be similarly daunting, sometimes for intermediate booksellers as well as beginners. But you don't need to possess knowledge acquired over a lifetime or an outrageously expensive reference library to accurately identify most books. What isn't often understood is that any identification protocol can be greatly expedited by learning something about books that aren't first editions. Therefore, it's no accident that this guide includes an exceptionally detailed discussion on identifying book club editions. Similarly, keys are presented that will enable you to quickly eliminate second and later printings of trade editions. And what about reprint publishers? You'll get the lowdown on these as well. Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to quickly eliminate from consideration many books that resemble first editions but are in fact not. Time is a bookseller's most valuable resource, and saving it on the front end will enable you to spend it where it's most needed - on the back end, and only on those books that need to be researched further.

Speaking of first editions, do you know what a First Edition Thus is? Well over half of the definitions I've seen for this term over the years are incorrect - and yet it's important for your long-term livelihood to understand exactly what it means. As you probably know, there is no shortage of book-related websites that host glossaries of bookselling terminology, and yet most of them are riddled with ambiguities or errors and often include little-used terms and just as often omit more pertinent terms. What is presented here is an essential glossary - the most relevant terms clearly defined, with accompanying illustrations when applicable. Mastering them will be a solid first step toward accurately and effectively presenting a book for sale.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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