Used Book Fair Shopping—Pro Tips
I recently learned that the Japanese have a word—“tsundoku”—for the habit of buying reading material and letting it pile up. I love that someone named this phenomenon. I adore my baskets of magazines, shelves of books, and nightstand pile. Until now, my word for this has been “decorating.”
Every new book in my hands is a new chance to learn something about writing. Writers are readers, must be readers, and those of us who wantonly add to our stacks anticipate with joy the big sales. I’ve got some pro strategies to share so that you too can be fully prepped for used book fair season.
1-GO ON EARLY BIRD NIGHT
Even though you’ll line up in the rain with 200 other people 30 minutes before the doors open, the early bird crowd is usually lighter. Yes, this early access might cost you $10-$15 (leave the kids at home this day). But if I buy 30 books for $1-$3 apiece at my city’s largest used book fair, which is realistic, that’s about $450 worth of books. A bargain.
2-BRING THE RIGHT CONTAINER
If you decide to take a wheeled utility cart, keep it as close to the table as possible so people can get around you. Forget the aisle-clogging full-sized shopping carts used by the book dealers. I recommend a flat-bottomed reusable shopping bag that you can scoot between your feet and tuck just under the table. Bring a second bag folded inside the first, just in case it’s a particularly good fair.
3-KEEP YOUR MONEY IN YOUR POCKET OR ON YOUR BACK
Five minutes into your browsing you’re going to hate the purse that’s slipping down your shoulder. Wear a small backpack or keep your money and credit cards in your pocket. This might be a small adjustment from your norm, but you’ll be glad you did it.
4-LEAVE YOUR COFFEE IN THE CAR
I know you have visions of yourself browsing the used book fair aisles and sipping your latte, but this is an impractical fantasy. If you have coffee in one hand and you want to flip to the first page of a book, what do you do? You have to set the book down on top of other books and flip with one hand. Which leads me to….
5-DO NOT SET A BOOK DOWN ON TOP OF OTHER BOOKS TO FLIP THROUGH IT
When you do this, you are obscuring the title of at least six other books that the efficiency-obsessed blonde browsing along beside you, and who must now go around you, will miss. And for all that is good and holy, if you brought a box or crate to haul your books in, leave it on the floor.
6-START WITH THE SMALLER SECTIONS
This tip is important for those of us who end up shopping the big categories like literary fiction. Shopping the big sections will leave you with crossed eyes and a neck ache from tilting your head to the left for an hour. You’ll be in no mood to head to the cookbooks after that.
Plus, some of the most valuable books are in those smaller sections—art books, academic texts, etc. You’ll want to get a jump on snagging some of those gems. There will be plenty of copies of The Girl on the Train when you get back to fiction.
7-GRAB BOOKS FOR GIFTS, PRIZES, AND GIVEAWAYS
When I run across copies of books I love but already own, I snatch them up for friends. Newish copies of kids books are great for donating to teachers. And I buy copies of my favorite writing books to use as giveaways in my classes.
8-KNOW WHAT YOU ALREADY OWN
I never organized my books by color (God forbid), but I did used to shelve them randomly and chaotically—Sedaris right up against Atwood. When I finally alphabetized them, I also scanned them into a library app on my phone so that when I was out book shopping, I could take a quick look to make sure I wasn’t buying something I already owned.
9-CHECK FOR DUPLICATES BEFORE YOU CHECK OUT
Before you head to the checkout lane, find an out-of-the-way corner to sit down and sort through your bag of goods. I swear you will have stuck a book in your bag and found the same book 30 minutes later with no memory that you already grabbed it. This is how I ended up with three copies of The Corrections.
10-USE THE RESTROOM ON THE WAY IN
As Francine Prose says in her book Reading Like a Writer (a book I’ve purchased several times at used book fairs), “What writers know is that, ultimately, we learn to write by practice, hard work, by repeated trial and error, success and failure, and from the books we admire.”
Originally published at the Writer’s Fun Zone.
I loved these tips, especially #8 Thanks
Glad you liked them! Hope to run into you at the book fair 🙂
We will be there Friday morning. Maria and Jim and the kids are also coming
Have a great time and I hope you take home a good haul!
Loved reading about your great summer reading and bonding with your daughter.
I appreciate you reading and the comment 🙂