Fri
Aug 11 2017 9:30am

6 Steps to Rock a Book Sale!

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I don’t need to tell you that books are the best, especially those with kissing. But sometimes? Sometimes my budget tells me that I need to slow my book-buying roll. For those of us who like to read in paper rather than (or in addition to) digital, we have a few options: used bookstores, libraries, and… library book sales! A library book sale is like the best of both worlds: you get cheap books and support a library at the same time. I’m such a fierce supporter of these that I spent an entire weekend helping to run my own library’s most recent sale. As a former yard sale rummager turned book sale connoisseur, I have a few tips to help you make the most of your experience.

1. Schedule Your Sale(s)

Ask your librarian if they have a book sale. Some libraries have an “ongoing sale,” which means they have a few shelves or boxes always available for perusal. These tend to change inventory regularly, and it’s really hit or miss as far as what you’ll find within. If you live close enough to other libraries, give them a call or check their websites for the same. I’m lucky enough to live in a place with lots of libraries, which means that sometimes there are sales going on the same weekend, or three weekends in a row. Because we have winter, the sales tend to all be crammed into the short summer weeks, which makes scheduling in advance a necessity.

2. Check the Dates, Pricing, and Location of the Sale

Some sales, like the GIANT one in Ithaca, NY (my favorite) run for three consecutive weekends, with the prices reducing each day. Resellers and avid readers wait for hours in huge lines to get in first thing that first day. If you don’t want to wait in that line? Plan to go the second day or later. It’s also helpful to scope out the location ahead of time. Sometimes these things are in locations without easy parking nearby… not so fun if you have a giant box of books to carry home. It’s nice to know what to expect.

3. Set a Budget and Set Your Priorities

This is important. Before you go to the sale, figure out how many books you can afford to buy (or can fit in your bag on the subway or whatever). It’s easy to become overwhelmed by choice and pick up 40 books, simply because they’re $1 each. If you have a limit in mind before you go, you’re more likely to avoid buyer’s remorse. If you do overbuy, however, you still get to feel good about having supported a library, so there really is no way to lose here.

Beyond quantity, decide what type of books you want to buy. If you don’t use cookbooks, tell yourself in advance that you will not be buying cookbooks. If you have fifteen unread thrillers on your shelf, you might not want to pick up more. Is there an author you’d like to stock up on? A publisher? A subgenre? Try to decide beforehand what books you hope to find. You’ll have the best luck with older titles from well-known authors and newer titles that were runaway hits. In my experience, there’s always a table full of Nora Roberts and Debbie Macomber.

4. When You Go In, Scope Out the Sorting Zones

Huge sales (Ithaca, again) give you a map. Smaller ones won’t, but you can ask someone at the door where to go for fiction and they can direct you. Our sale has sections for children’s, paperback fiction, hardcover fiction, and nonfiction, the latter of which is broken down into categories. Some sales sort out fiction by genre, but many don’t. Before you get distracted by the closest shelf, figure out where you need to be and how to search through.

5. Kill Your Darlings

Unless the sale is small, you’ll probably end up with more books than you had intended. It’s okay, you’re human. Unfortunately, when you get home and start to unpack your haul, you’ll probably discover a few books that you regret buying. Maybe the spine is broken, it smells a bit, or it’s the third in a series, but you haven’t read the first two. I suggest taking a few minutes before hitting the checkout to sort through the books you’ve grabbed and decide if you really love all of them. If you aren’t sure you’ll read it, put it back. Someone else will love it.

6. Bask in the Glory That is a Shelf Full of Books

You’ve carried a box of paperbacks two blocks to your car, into the house, and up a flight of stairs. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for: the unboxing. Take those lovely books out of the box and welcome them to their new home.

Bonus tips!

  • Don’t bring a coffee, you won’t have a place to put it once your hands are full of books.
  • Do bring a friend to talk you into/out of book purchases.
  • Do donate your used books back to the library after you’re done.
  • Do offer to volunteer beforehand. You’ll get first dibs on books!

What are some of your strategies for tackling a book sale?


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When not reading All of the Things, Suzanne is raising two small valkyries and trying to open a bookstore. Book, comic, and assorted other tweets at @cerestheories.

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4 comments
Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
I love this! What great tips. Thank you! Now I want to go find a sale... I've found some cool classic editions of favorite romances through used book sales I've happened to come across.
Jerrie Adkins
2. filkferengi
Join the Friends of the Library at several branches, in several jurisdictions. That way, you'll get first notification of the sales. Lots of sales have friends-only hours, so you'll get first dibs. Some branches have pre-sale sorting activities, so you can volunteer & get even earlier dibs.

Tip 4 is key. Especially for the larger sales, it's important to have a plan of action. Plan your priorities. For example, lots of sales also have cds, so I check those out first. Adult hardbacks are the highest priced and bulkiest, so I look at those last. I tend to do cds, kid books , mysteries, science fiction & fantasy, then romance. Nonfiction is something I look at for other people.

With so many goodies, even if you don't find what you came in for, you'll find something fun. Serendipity for the win!
Cait0915
3. Cait0915
HI, This is so appropriate right now as many libraries are having sales. All the ones in our area are organized and run by the 'Friends'. I especially liked your tip about joining the Friends to Preshop the sales while putting the books out. But you have to join and then work. We always have a good time chatting, snacking, or and selling. (It's always fun to take money and see what the public is buying) ( We are loaded with James Patterson this year.)
And we need both Men and Women. I am so disapponted that younger people are not joining. The membership is aging (all retired) and we are running low on volunteers. This is causing us to concider cutting the hours of the bi-yearly big sale.
So if you love books, join a FRIENDS' group. The committment is not large and it's nice to meet other book lovers. To find you local FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY, check the homepage of the library. There should be a link there.
Cerestheories
4. Cerestheories
@Caito915 - I am about 20 years younger than the next youngest person in my own Friends group. I totally hear you there!
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