Top 10 Rules For the Book Scout


This picture is of two of the bookshelves in the authors reading room.

I started my bookman career as a young man of twenty.  At the time I was stating a new family and a new job and money was extremely tight.  However, like most good bookman I found ways to make money in the book world so that I could purchase those desperately sought after treasures for my own collection.  There are many keys to being a world class genre collector but I believe the first of which is being a good book scout.  By book scout I mean a person that seeks out and finds books that they are not interested in keeping for their own collection and sell or trading them to someone else for a profit.

For me during these early years of scouting I poured all the profits back into my own rapidly building personal genre library. For others it could be a great way to have a second income. But whatever you reason I believe that even today in the digital world we live in there is room for the book scout apply his trade.

Below are 10 rules that I believe every book scout should follow in order to be successful.

Top 10 rules for the book scout

  1. Only purchase books that you know you can turn a profit of at least 30%
  2. Professional book scouting is a business, treat it like one.
  3. Keep book scouting funds separate from you personal accounts. There are other expenses that go along with scouting.  Gas for driving around finding your treasures, brodart covers, telephone, etc.
  4. Keep good records of your purchase, sales, trades and expenses etc.  Keep a journal of your communications, thoughts, wants and goals.
  5. Set goals and strive to reach those goals.  Keep a journal of your progress, particularly your mistakes.  You’ll always remember your wins but you learn the most from your mistakes.
  6. Study prices daily, they fluctuate often.  Learn the ebb and flow of your expertise and when the best time to buy and the best time to sell.  For example.  The best time to buy books is summer.  This time of year folks need cash for vacations, weddings, graduations, etc and they will sell their books cheaper or in mass so you can get a better deal.  Then when the weather gets cold folks are stuck in the house and read books so prices tend to trend up in the winter because there is less selling and more buying.  Another good thing about summer is that you have a lot of garage sales and estate sales going on…these are prime money making areas.
  7. Concentrate on cash flow and not percentage gained.  Now this may sound weird but as a book scout you want to buy high demand – high priced items with good equity rather than low price items that you make 200% on.  For example, I would rather spend $200 on a book that I can make 30% on than a paperback that I pick up for $1 and sell for $3.  Remember that you only have so much time for scouting so you need to make the most of your time.  Also when selling paperback you have to put in the time it takes to pack, ship and drive to the post office or bookstore.  In short, even though you may have doubled your money on the $1 paperback you’ve lost money because you are only making at best $2 an hour before expenses.
  8. Be professional; get a business card with your name, number, email address etc.  This will let dealers and collectors know that you are serious about your trade and someone they can take seriously.  A professional looking business card will open a lot of doors that may never have been opened to you otherwise.  Keep your business cards on you at all times and hand them out to bookstores and collectors.  You can get a phenomenal amount of new clients and potential clients by handing out cards at book conventions and shows.
  9. Get to know your customers idiosyncrasies.  For example if a store owner tends to buy more books at the beginning of the month than the end make sure that you hold off on bringing in the books until the first of the month.  If a dealer tends to have a huge sale at a specific time of the year look to purchase rather than buy at this time.  I’ve had dealers that I’ve purchased books from at a certain time of year and then sell them back the same book later in the year at a profit.  Dealers are just like everyone else.  If they have a vacation they go on every year you’ll likely find that they are in a much better mood to give you a big discount than any other time of year because their head is on getting cash for their vacation and not on the businesses bottom line.  Take advantage of that.

10. This kind of goes along with rule number 1 but it deserves repeating. Be a shrewd buyer.  As a book scout you should only be saying yes to purchasing a title about 5% of the time.  Remember that each book you purchase needs to bring you a profit of at least 30% and it means if you are selling to a dealer you have to be buying the book at 60 to 70% discount.  This may sound impossible but it’s not.  Remember that most folks don’t know the value of books so as long as you do know their value, you can make a profit.

Larry L. Roberts

7 Responses to “Top 10 Rules For the Book Scout”

  1. chrisperridas Says:

    I’m taking notes! Thank you.

  2. Yarmak Says:

    This is a great blog with great advice.I am wondering if this will be expanded on anytime soon? I have learnt you have to try and find out values and the selling indosyncracies of books that you would otherwise steer clear of.
    It makes for a great learning curve but it can be fun.
    One thing I have learnt is never,ever buy the latest mmpb and to steer clear of any popular author in the mainstream fiction buisiness if you can.
    I learnt this the hard way.These books just do not sell and if they do , do not expect them to move anytime soon

    • I would love to expand this topic as it is so near and dear to me. If folks want more posts on book collecting, book scouting, book care, etc I would be happy to post more.

      Knowledge, when creating a world class library or even trying to bring in a monthly income with books is the most important factor of success. The knowledgeable book scout will always be profitable. However, just like with any skill, gaining that knowledge takes time, effort and practice. I would suggest having a specialty…horror, science fiction, fantasy, modern firsts, fine press, fine bindings, etc. There is far too much to learn to be an expert in all areas of book collecting.

  3. Here is one person who would love to learn more. It is interesting that you mention a specialty.Friends in Melbourne who happen to be powersellers on ebay and have their own websites specialise.Romance and fantasy. I am guessing the reason they are powersellers and get many sales through their websites is because they do specialise.People I guess will come back to them knowing the sellers will always have what they are looking for. It is something I need to take a long hard look at with my selling.

    But sure if you have the time any and all information you pass on will be accepted with open arms and I garantee there will be at least one very grateful seller out there who will appreciate this

  4. I buy and sell books on natural history, fantasy fiction and treasure hunting. This is an excellent blog entry. Thank you.

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    • Thanks so much for the kind words they are greatly appreciated. We hope to be putting out many such blog posts in the future. We’re glad you’re finding them interesting and entertaining.

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