9 Ways to Make More Money at Book Sales

Make Money At Book Sales

If you’re like most booksellers, book sales are your primary source of income.

Because you rely on them for such a large portion of your income, it’s really important that you make as much money as possible while you’re there.

Which leads us to the point of this post… making more money at book sales.

This list of 9 tactics will make you more money at your next sale:

  • Get there early.
  • Check for other book sources in the area.
  • Eat and hydrate before the sale.
  • Pick your initial section.
  • Stack your books carefully.
  • Scan with your eyes.
  • Stay as long as possible.
  • Pick up profits others won’t.
  • Scan through the sections most people skip.

A spot near the front of the line can be the difference between making $500 and $1500.

If a sale has a cluster of expensive textbooks confined to a small area, the first few sellers in line will take the lot, while the rest of the sellers are forced into less profitable sections.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made $500+ in the first minute of a sale because I was first to the textbooks.

Because I quite like making hundreds of dollars in mere minutes, I try to get to every sale at least three hours beforehand.

If you get to the sale early and secure a spot in line, you should have plenty of time before the sale actually starts.

Searching for books at thrift stores, book stores, and estate sales in the area is a great way to pass that time.

  • To find thrift stores, type “thrift” into Google Maps.
  • To find book stores, type “book store” into Google Maps.
  • To find estate sales, use estatesales.net and search using your location.

This might seem obvious, but it’s so important that it’s worth a mention.

Your energy level and focus the next few hours will determine how much money you make.

A sluggish and unfocused seller is going to scan less books than an alert seller, and they’re more likely to leave early because they’re tired and hungry.

If the sale has a map, study it and memorize the route to your section of choice.

If the sale doesn’t have a map, ask a volunteer if you can use the bathroom.

You often need to walk through the sale to access the bathroom, which will give you a chance to scout the different sections and choose your targets.

When I’m near the front of the line, I’ll almost always head for the textbooks first.

If I’m near the back, I usually head to other non-fiction sections like business or computers.

This is completely dependent on a number of factors:

  • the size of the sale
  • the number of booksellers vs. regular patrons ahead of you
  • how accessible each section is

When in doubt, just use your best judgement. 

Don’t haphazardly toss them into boxes or bags.

This can warp/damage the books and downgrade their listable conditions.

It doesn’t take much to warp or tear a book, and the risk of damage increases as you pile more books into the same space.

If you do toss them into your bin in the heat of the sale, make sure to stack them correctly when you have a moment.

Instead of blindly scanning through each and every book, use your eyes to identify the most likely books of value, and then check those individually.

There are a number of tells that a book might be expensive. Here are a few of them:

  • Publisher: As far as non-fiction goes, university/academic publishers are always a good bet. I’m talking Princeton, Harvard, or any other college.
  • Subject matter: the more specific the better. If I have to choose between “An Overview of American History” and “An Anthropological Study of Post-Revolutionary War Siblings,” I’m going with book number two every single time.
  • Dust jacket quality: Newer hardbacks will often have a sleek, glossy quality to their dust jackets. This isn’t always indicative of value, but it’s enough for me to check the book.
  • Used stickers on the spine: I’ve found that books with used stickers on their spines are often valuable. More often than not, they’re textbooks in disguise.
  • Spiral-ring binding: I’ve found spiral-ring bindings are most often found on textbooks, so I scan every spiral-ring book I see.
  • Three-ring binders: If you see an unmarked three-ring binder, there’s a near 100% chance the binder contains a loose-leaf version of a textbook. Some of my most valuable books have been in unmarked binders that a bunch of other sellers overlooked.

There are always more valuable books to be found at a sale.

Most sellers leave after an hour or two, but they’re missing out on a lot of extra profit.

Even if the sale has been going for a week, you can walk in and come out with profitable books.

It’s true that most of the scannable books will be gone… but books with exposed barcodes only make up a portion of the total number of valuable books at any given sale.

Check the shelves and tables for the following kinds of books:

  • Books with ISBNs that you can key into your scanning app.
  • Pre-ISBN books that you can check with the Amazon Seller Central image scanner.
  • Books with stickers covering the barcodes. Peel/scratch the stickers off and scan away.

Many sellers avoid books that sell for less than $15 because they aren’t willing to put in the extra work to process them.

If you’re willing to put in the extra hours, picking up those sub-$15 books can net you a few hundred extra every sale.

My general rule is that I’m willing to spend a dollar for every dollar I make.

As most sales sell books for $1-$2, this means I pick up every normal-sized book with a sales rank under 1,000,000 that sells for at least $11.

It does add to the amount of work I’ll have to do, but I’m okay with it.

I justify my decision by looking at the amount of time I invest in each book compared to the profit the book brings me.

In my experience, each book takes less than two minutes to deal with.

  • five seconds to scan it and put it in your box
  • three seconds for the volunteer to add it to the tally
  • one minute to grade and list it

Even taking into account the additional shipment boxes you’ll have to deal with from the extra inventory, the time spent dealing with each book is well under two minutes.

If I’m making the bare minimum of $1 every two minutes, that’s still $30 an hour — a pay rate that might be low for a good bookseller, but is spectacular compared to the other jobs we’d be working if we weren’t doing this.

So if you’re willing to put in the extra work, pick up those dollar profits.

Just remember that size and weight plays a role… if a $1 book that sells for $14 is roughly the size and weight of a mid-size sedan, it’s best to leave it on the shelf.

You know the sections I’m talking about. The sections other sellers avoid like the books contain contagious diseases:

  • Childrens’ books
  • Audiobooks
  • Cooking.
  • Gardening
  • Mystery
  • Trade fiction
  • And probably a dozen more I forgot to mention.

Here’s the truth: every single section has profitable books.

I’ve pulled books worth $50+ from every single section I just listed.

The profits are out there. Sure, they’re rarer and smaller than the lucrative non-fiction sections, but they exist nonetheless.

In my experience, while the profits from these sections are smaller, they’re still quite consistent.

I pull a lot of books that make me $2 – $10 from these “unprofitable” sections… and that adds up quick when you’re the only person scanning through them.

Look at it this way: five minutes into a sale, you should absolutely be looking for the expensive non-fiction stuff. No question.

But two hours into the sale…

…it’s probably smarter to scan through the untouched trade fiction instead of becoming the 37th person to rummage through the desolate remains of the textbooks.

Summary

Book sales are the bread and butter for most every bookseller.

Using the following tips, you can upgrade your profit game from stale toast and margarine to fresh baguettes and top-notch Land O’ Lake’s butter.

  • Get there early.
  • Check for other book sources in the area.
  • Eat and hydrate before the sale.
  • Pick your initial section.
  • Stack your books carefully.
  • Scan with your eyes.
  • Stay as long as possible.
  • Pick up profits others won’t.
  • Scan through the sections most people skip.

Steve Rajeckas

Hi! I'm Steve. I've been selling books using Amazon's fulfillment service for more than two years. I love learning new things about the online bookselling world, and I hope my tips help you build and expand your own bookselling business.

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