Tactics for Establishing Contacts

by Craig Stark

7 November 2018

Why Booksellers Have a Leg Up

Printer Friendly Version

I was thinking back today - way back - and in all my years as a bookseller, I can't recall doing business with a single liquidator who knew much about books. Oh, there were two who hired so-called book specialists to price their books, but it didn't take long to discover that neither of them had a grasp of more than a few niches - and were clueless about most everything else. I'll never forget how one of them prominently displayed a forgettable, jacketed novel with their proprietary "Heritage First Edition" slip inside along with a dust jacket front panel that screamed "Third Edition" in a huge font. The other one frequently overpriced some things (presumably that which she felt she knew something about) and underpriced the rest. And most of the other liquidators priced almost all of the books uniformly low and only up-priced stuff if something was obviously valuable to almost anybody's eye.

The point of this is that, unlike many other categories of buying and selling, most liquidators need help with books. There's just too much out there that has value for less-than-obvious reasons, and of course not even booksellers can know it all. What we can do is establish trustworthy relationships with liquidators and give them reasons to, for example, let us pre-shop sales. What are these reasons? Put yourself in their shoes. If nothing else, wouldn't it maximize their outcomes for clients if you were able to identify most if not all of the material that had significant value and/or offer them a fair price for it? For one thing, this would prevent something important being sold for a buck or two during the course of a sale. And note that these venues aren't necessarily optimal for selling some books, especially if those books target narrow market niches. Some of them need much broader exposure than a two- or three-day, locally-advertised sale can provide.

Also of note is that liquidators themselves cultivate contacts, and if a potential client calls to inquire about selling a book collection, especially one which wouldn't rise to the level of holding a sale for it, they can preserve the contact if they can provide a referral to a bookseller who might buy it. This is a primary source of leads for house calls - perhaps a topic in itself for another newsletter.

Booksellers can be useful to liquidators in other ways, not the least of which is offering accurate pricing advice on books of otherwise little or no interest to them. (Remember, conflict of interest should always be avoided here.) But still, this begs an obvious question: How do you go about establishing contacts? First, because the issue of trust plays such an important role, this likely will take time. Even so, there are things you can do to both accelerate the process and increase your chances of ultimate success. The following list of tactics is by no means exhaustive but a good starting point.

Show your face. There's really no substitute for getting out there and showing your face. Often. Repetition makes an impact, and ultimately liquidators will recognize your face and know you buy books.

Spend money. It doesn't have to be a lot but, if it's often, this will have an impact, perhaps the most telling impact you can make.

Talk. Introduce yourself. Hand out business cards. If you can do this without being pushy at the same time that you're spending money, great. If not, it often helps to visit some sales late, after the crowd is gone and liquidators are far more available. Oh - and as for business cards, repeat the process. Hand them out much more than once. These things are forever getting misplaced. Or thrown out. Give them to fellow dealers as well.

Teach. Many dealers guard their knowledge closely. Don't do this. The best booksellers - and this applies to so many other professions as well - are teachers. If you see an opportunity to help, help. Perhaps it's a book that's mis-labeled a first edition. Or a signature that's questionable. Something dramatically underpriced. Whatever it is, if you can discreetly inform a liquidator of a mis-step, it will likely be useful and also demonstrate that you know your stuff.

Get and use a tax ID. Many may disagree with this, but a tax ID will communicate to a liquidator that you operate a legitimate - and professional -business. If you're a liquidator, would you rather deal with somebody who skirts the law?

Dress appropriately. You certainly don't have to overdress, but so many dealers look like they've slept in their clothes. Or haven't recently bathed or shaved.

Here's something that may be hard to swallow: Be willing to pay a finder's fee. After the sale, if you discover that you've purchased a book for far less than you'll sell it for, call the liquidator and offer a finder's fee. When you send the check, enclose a business card. How many booksellers do you know who do this? Ultimately, isn't the idea to separate yourself from your competition?

          < to previous article       to previous feature article >

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark


Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment