This is part two of Spotting Trends and the Rules of Book Collecting:
1. Collect what you love
The old adage that states you should do what you love also holds true for book collectors. Chances are if you love an author’s work, the likelihood of another collector liking them is very high. The first rule of book collecting, and the most important, is collect what you love. Then at the very least if these books happen to go down in price or never become collectable you still have a book that you’ll enjoy having in your library. For example, back in the 1980’s Wayne Allen Sallee was gaining some popularity and I collected some of his limited editions. Sallee then kind of dropped out of the scene and only recently have I seen new work by this author. However, I still have the limited editions and never felt sorry about the purchase because I can reread the book and enjoy the stories all over again.
As a contrast, many collectors began reading Brian Keene’s short fiction in small press horror magazines so when his first novel, THE RISING, came out collectors bought them up quickly at a cover price of $45. Now, several years later, these same editions sell in the range of $500 to $600. As Keene continues to grow in popularity this book will likely maintain and increase in value.
When you are purchasing collectable books the only books that you are looking for are in Fine to Very Good condition. Nothing else will do. If the book was published within the last twenty years then only Fine condition is acceptable. There are some collectors that will purchase books of lower grade to complete a collection but I’ve never been a proponent of this and would prefer to wait until a copy in at least Very Good condition comes around. And folks, they always do. Never for a second believe that you’ll never see an edition of this again. They are out there and you will see them come around so long as you’re patient.
For years I wanted a copy of LAST CALL by Tim Powers, the lettered edition published by Charnel House. This edition of LAST CALL has been described as one of the most beautiful books produced anywhere in the last thirty years and arguably one of the most collectable books in the small press horror genre! This first edition, limited to 26 lettered copies, hand bound in full green Morocco (goat skin) with a tarot card and two authentic Flamingo Hotel poker chips recessed into the front cover, gilt lettering on the spine, endpapers made from uncut sheets of one-dollar bills, limitation page made from an uncut sheet of two-dollar bills signed in silver ink, a piece of a two-dollar bill laid in for a bookmark, and tarot card illustrations by Peter Richardson set inside borders by J.K. Potter with tissue-guards laid in.
I finally saw one come up on an auction site and bid $3,500, which was the extent of my book collecting budget at the time. I was outbid and lost what I thought was one of the key books that should be in my library. I waited another four years and was offered one on consignment, which I ended up buying myself.
The moral here is, don’t do something crazy in order to purchase a special book; don’t mortgage the house, sell the car, spend the kid’s college fund. As hard as it may be to believe the book will come around again, they always do.
3. Quality vs. Quantity
Many new collectors and book scouts will make the mistake of thinking they can make far more money or trade credits on cheap items than on buying more expensive quality collectable items. Their theory in premise is correct; if they can purchase a used paperback for a $1.00 and sell it for two then they have doubled their money.
The problem with their theory is, it’s not the percentage made but the time involved with the collecting and then selling of these books that causes trouble. Let me explain. In most cases the best you are going to get from a used bookstore on previously read paperbacks is 25% of cover price in trade credits. Most if not all of them will only allow you to use the credits in the “used paperback” area. Rarely is cash given for these. So trading up to first edition hardbacks or limited editions is highly unlikely.
Our next option is then to put them on an auction site like eBay or Horror Mall to auction them off. If you sell them there individually you’ll likely double your money on a per book basis. However, by the time you take pictures, write the ad and list the book it’s taken about thirty minutes and this is if you’re good at it. So now once you take the time to find the book, put it on an auction site, invoice, pack and ship the book to double your dollar we find that you’re working for about a $1.00 an hour. Secondly, you get the reputation of being a second hand paperback seller rather than a high end, first edition or limited edition horror genre dealer.
So let’s take the example one step further and spend a week finding a great deal on RAVENOUS GHOST by Kealan Patrick Burke. You get lucky and find a first edition hardback for $100. You take this book to the used genre bookstore and will likely get $175 in trade credits or $120 in cash. If you were to go through the motions of selling the book yourself on eBay you’d likely get $200, doubling your money. The difference is you only have to list one book, take pictures of one book, grade and pack one book.
After only a few times selling books of this caliber you will have collectors emailing and asking if you have other books available. Which you may or may not have. If you do, that’s great because you can offer them other books you have in stock or books that you’re willing to trade for. But even if you don’t, you can ask these collectors to send you a want list and now you have built in buyers for books that you may find in your searches. It’s far easier to purchase a $500 book if you know that you have a buyer that is willing to pay $700 to fill a spot in their want list.
As you can see it’s far more profitable to hunt for those books that are truly collectable rather than those that take far too long to process and sell. Think about it: if you can find one book a month like the RAVENOUS GHOST we talked about earlier, you can in-crease your collection by $100 a month without even dipping into your own funds. Do this ten times and now you’re building your collection with $1,000 a month.
We’ll get more into how you can pull this type of cash and trade from deals where you never even see the book in another chapter. But for now the lesson of Rule #3 is buy quality rather than quantity.
4. Know who you are buying from
There is no doubt that the Internet has changed the book collecting world. There was a time when the only way the average person could find collectable books was either through a brick and mortar used bookstore or from mail order book catalogs.
I remember pouring over ten to fifteen different catalogs a month from dealers who carried genre books that interested me. These catalogs not only let you see the wonderful books that were available, but also kept your finger on the pulse of market trends as well as price increases and decreases. However, even more importantly, you had only a handful of booksellers that you could trust in both grading, giving you good trades on your unwanted stock and more importantly, friendship based upon a respect and love for books.
The Internet has now opened up the world to the book collector and some of those books that we only rarely saw up for sale can be readily found with a Google search. It really gave the book collector the same advantages as the bookseller due to the ability to quickly find rare book titles and a list of comparable prices. Over the last decade this has been a great boon for the collector because in most cases it meant that they could now find those nearly impossible books at a more competitive price.
Now novices and experienced booksellers alike have an even playing field in which to peddle their books to the consumer. This of course, as you can imagine, has brought with it some great deals as well as some problems. Book selling takes a lot of effort, particularly in the area of determining printing and grade not to mention authenticity.
Over the last several years we’ve found that there are more and more people selling books on eBay who are uninformed, ignorant or just plain deceitful regarding their listings. I once saw a signed second printing of DAGON AND OTHER MACABRE TALES by H. P. Lovecraft on eBay. As most collectors know, Lovecraft never had a hardcover edition of his work published while he was living so having a signed copy of this work would be impossible. However, the new collector may not know this little fact and plunk down the $800 at the “buy it now” price. I also recently heard a claim from a reputable bookseller that specializes in Stephen King books, that up to twenty-five percent of flat-signed King books sold on eBay are forgeries.
In the past we had reputable dealers who had the knowledge and ethics to stand by the books they were selling. If you received the book and didn’t like it you returned it for a full refund. Today there are only a handful of brick and mortar used bookstores and very few Internet bookstores that send out catalogs. So we are left to hunt for our books in cyberspace. In short, make sure on all large purchases that you know whom you are dealing with and that they have a money back guarantee. If you don’t know their reputation make sure that you start out purchasing books with a lower price tag that allow you to test the waters with this new bookseller. Once you’ve built a good relationship and find that the bookseller is reliable and knowledgeable, you can increase your purchases to more expensive items.
The same can be said for trades here. If you don’t know the dealer and you send him $2,000 in books for sale or trade you may have just donated your books to a crook in another state or foreign country.
5. Research before you purchase
In the investing world this is called doing your “due diligence.” Many of the same things that you are looking for in a good stock, you also look for when purchasing a good collectable book.
When purchasing a book from a yet unproven bookseller I al-ways try to find out why the person is selling the treasure in the first place. There can be any number of reasons but the conversation helps me determine the person’s ability to price and grade the book appropriately. For example, if the person has acquired the book in a collection from his uncle’s estate and he’s not a collector but knows that they are valuable, you should be very leery. First most of the folks out there that have valuable books given to them from the death of a loved one, or find them in the attic of a house they recently bought, will do just enough research to be dangerous. By that I mean they will get a few price guides, look at similar books online and instantly believe that they have a first edition in unread condition when in fact what they really have is an unread book club edition that is nearly worthless.
One of the things that I’ve always liked about signed limited editions is that you can be pretty confident in regards to its authenticity. However, the same cannot be said for first trade hardcover editions.
Those who collect first editions must be much more careful about their purchases. Here are just a few examples why: publishers have never been very good at following their own rules regarding first editions and first printings. Some of the older small presses that did second printings didn’t state so on the copyright page and so the collector must look for other “points” in the book to dictate printing. Sometimes only the date of publication changes or the cover price on the dust jacket is all you have to go by to determine if the book is a true first edition, first printing. We’ll later go into some guidelines that will help you determine true first edition points that you’ll be able to use as reference material for your research.
The main point to be made by rule number five is to make sure you do your homework before purchasing anything. Even if you miss out and someone else buys the book before you have done your research, you’ll have learned a lot in the process and be able to make a quicker, more informed buying decision in the future.
6. Read books
I can’t tell you the number of collectors I speak with that don’t read the books they are purchasing. They are not absorbing the history and the culture behind the book they just put on their shelf for display.
Please don’t misunderstand me when I say ‘read the books.’ I’m not saying that you need to pull down a $3,500.00 copy of THE RISING ultra edition, of which only 6 were produced, to read when you could buy a used paperback of the same book for $2.50. I’m saying that you need to read and understand the books in your collection. So pick up that $2.50 paperback and read it, know what you paid $3,500.00 for and be able to talk about its history by asking questions of genre booksellers and publishers, etc. Read interviews with the author and make notes regarding his comments on the book.
This, folks, is how we will carry on and grow the great tradition within the small press horror genre and book collecting. I can’t help but be inspired by some of the collectors that you will read about later in this book. They are the maintainers of history. They will be seen in later years as the preservers of our genre’s heritage and ephemera. You, as a collector, are now part of this heritage.
Collectors, booksellers, and book scouts alike will find that their knowledge about their books will pay dividends in the form of getting more return for their books from other collectors and booksellers. I can’t tell you how often collectors have allowed me to sell their collections for them because they know that I love and respect the books within their collection and furthermore would ensure that the person who purchased them would further the course of our fine genre by spreading the word and inspiring those in their life about the value of genre collecting and the significance of book collecting in our culture.
There is only one way to do this and that is to read the books and to communicate our experiences about the books with others of like mind and those that show an interest in horror fiction.
Countless times I’ve sat around tables with fellow collectors as they’ve retold stories of how they found their treasures, the experience they had in its purchase and the joy of absorbing its culture, history and further, how they later passed that joy onto another collector.
I’ve had very expensive books even given to me by high-end collectors as a way to ensure and carry on this heritage. They know that I will respect and care for the treasure and they are happier knowing that they’ve had a part in the history of the rare gem and the pleasure it will bring to others.
I’m not telling you to make small press horror collecting your life’s work, but what I am saying is that if your intent and purpose is wholly monetary, you’ll likely not last long in this business and, if nothing else, your collection will be lacking due to ignorance and lack of inspiration. Read and love the books, the rest will come naturally.
Larry L. Roberts