I bought a bunch of books a couple weeks ago at two charity rummage sales (two! two charity sales in one weekend!). I don’t usually find much at this kind of sale, but I did that weekend. Children’s books at the one; since I am relearning the business, I am buying things I’m not familiar with, taking chances, so newer children’s books than I would normally buy, paperbacks, even. The other sale had a mass of old fiction, from the late 40s and early 50s – a period I’m not very familiar with, really. I don’t tend to like the writing from the 50s. Too terse, too clinical. Kind of rapid fire. I like older stuff, long lush rambling sentences, lazy deep unfolding characters. But I am in bookseller mode here, the I will buy anything I think I can sell for more than I buy it for mode and lots of people like that period. I think. Someone must.
It wasn’t only fiction, it was fiction in hardcover in pretty decent condition with fairly nice dust jackets. It wasn’t book club – well, some were – and there were lots of first editions.
Honestly it looked like someone else had bought the lot, pulled out the things they thought were worth something (I wonder what those were?) and donated these. Whoever it is, however, didn’t know how to tell first editions. I don’t, off the top of my head, I know a few publishers, but I generally try to carry a little first edition guide with me. I didn’t have it that day, however, so I bought a few and went back the next day with my guide. G P Putnam’s Sons, for instance, a first edition isn’t marked, but later ones are. So if it says nothing, it’s a first. Oops, I just let out a trade secret.
If you look on ABE, you’ll notice a dearth of first editions by authors published by Putnam. Because the new breed of book dealer doesn’t know, doesn’t care to invest in a guide, or because they are so busy scanning books with their scanners? Famous authors are different! But there are authors who have a small following, people who want to collect firsts by them because they believe in them. Someone might make a movie of one of their books. Or they might be republished with a big fanfare and then people will be scrambling for firsts. Or perhaps they just like them.
People like me, who are nickel and diming it, while I’m trying to get the business going, look for areas that fall between the cracks. Not popular enough for the established dealers to know about and nothing that the scanner dealers would take a chance on. You want to get in at the beginning, when it’s a rising trend just beginning to happen. Once other dealers know about it…
However, popular enough that it sells.
I think my fiction is going to be a real SLOW sell. But I got it cheap, so good investment, I think. Those 70 year old books aren’t getting any younger, you know, and the condition is pretty nice.
I am glad I’m almost done working with them, though. It soon became apparent that the former owner smoked. I didn’t notice the first couple of days – is my nose dead? – but after a few, I did, and now all I have to do is picture the books and I smell it.
Something else about the 50s! The incessant smoking!
One of my friends said Wouldn’t it be great if your books (meaning the books I write) would sell enough so you didn’t have to do anything else (to make a living)? and I’ve been thinking about that. I can’t even picture it. Me making enough money from writing books to live on? You’ve gotta be kidding. Right now I’m at the stage where I’m looking forward to the time when my used book business generates enough so I can just do that and write my own books. And not have to do all the crazy side jobs.
I really love bookselling. I love the thrill of the hunt, the high when you find a really good book (and yes, there was one gem in that collection). I don’t usually love putting on the dust jacket covers, but I do with these, because they are so old and so rare and the djs are in such nice shape. Once they get in their covers then they’re preserved, will stay that way. And I love the way they look on the shelves. I love old fiction. I wish they were older, of course, from a period where I really love the writing! But hey, church rummage sale, cheap, starting my life over again, I’ll take what I get.
All I need is for the stuff to start selling. Hey, people, anybody want to read some Peter Bourne? Pamela Hill? Mika Waltari? I’ve got em here! Nice copies, too. Just a little smelly. Which should go away, eventually.