My Best Book Sale Yet + A Lesson In Integrity…

Things have been pretty quiet around my blog lately…and for good reason. Earlier this week I attended one of the best book sales I have ever attended since I started dabbling in selling books on Amazon. I mentioned in my last post that I planned to attend two major sales this month and this happened to be one of them.

I am slowly making my way through my purchase, but I wanted to set aside some time to share my experience with the sale and some of the awesome books that I purchased. Hopefully after reading this, many of my regular readers will understand that I may be on hiatus from this blog for a while as I sort through hundreds of books and prepare them for shipment to Amazon.

Not Your Typical Book Sale…

I tend to shy away from Friends of the Library sales. In fact, I have only attended two of them since I started dabbling in selling books. I generally stick to my usual sources for books which includes thrift stores, estate sales, overstock stores and liquidation stores. Occasionally I will follow up on an interesting Craigslist ad, but those instances are very rare.

This particular “book sale” was actually apart of an estate sale. I had known about it for at least a week and after glancing at photos of the sale, I knew that I had to attend. Thousands of books were up for grabs and these were not your typical run of the mill books (as you will see later).

My attendance at this sale wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for my mother being in town on vacation and my husband being a good sport. My mother provided much needed childcare and my husband agreed to waking up at the crack of dawn so that I could attend the sale. We are a one car family (by choice), so if I wanted to arrive at the estate sale 2 hours before it started, that meant that I would have to drop by husband off for work 2.5 hours early.

I knew I had to arrive early, but I also knew I didn’t want to sit around for several hours. Judging by the contents of the estate and the fact that it was advertised to the company’s private mailing list, online, and on Craigslist (specifically for booksellers), I didn’t want to chance showing up 30 minutes ahead of time like I usually do at estate sales.

Once I arrived at the sale, I had about 30 people in front of me which isn’t too bad. After chatting with a few people I knew from previous sales, I found out that some patrons had been camping out since 3 am. To be fair, this estate wasn’t just filled with rooms full of books. There were signed paintings, African art, and other valuable household goods up for grabs. I imagine a lot of collectors and dealers were among the group that camped out.

What Happened Next Was a Blur…

Once the doors opened, the rooms that were filled with books became a mad house of scanners and “ka-chings” — you know, that sound your PDA or phone makes when a book meets your buying criteria. (Thankfully, all of the scanners were courteous — but it was definitely crowded, hot, and hard to maneuver.)

Knowing that the first hour is crucial, I didn’t use a scanner for any of the books I picked up. Actually, I rarely use my scanner at sales of this caliber. Using a scanner would only slow me down and cause me to miss out on some very good books because my eyes would be focused on a screen as I overanalyze mentally calculate whether or not I should pick up a book that my app says NOT to buy.  I cannot afford to lose focus on the books in front of me even for a split second as there were hands flying every which way. In my opinion, every second counts so I proceeded in the manner that I did at the last estate I attended that was filled with books and I grabbed anything that I knew had value. I have absolutely no regrets about not scanning.

Once I felt that I had all of the books that didn’t need to be scanned, which amounted to 10 banker boxes (approximately 180 books), I went back into the home for round two, but this time I planned to use my scanner to see what remained.

Let me just say, you would not believe the amount of valuable books that were left behind! It is absolutely astonishing to me the criteria that some book sellers operate under.

Here is an example of three books that were left behind…and I was still in the room with four other people scanning right alongside of me:

Update: I’ve removed the links/images to books from this post to protect the identity of my Amazon account.

All three of those books are new. They were purchased and sat on a shelf, but never read or thumbed through. The cover literally had never been cracked open until I picked them up. I believe they are apart of a series of Ophthamology books because they were clumped together and there were tons of other similar sets of medical books.

What baffles me is why these books were left behind. Why did a room full of scanners decide that these books weren’t worth buying? What criteria did they have if they were basing their judgment on what their scanning app tells them to buy?

At a minimum, I will gross $200 when these books sell — and that is if I match the lowest FBA price, which I never do. I don’t know about you, but $200 isn’t chump change when you’re only investing $3 per book.

I suppose they were left behind because of their rank. That is the only “logical” conclusion I can come up with seeing as though they have a rank of 1 million.

Let me just clarify one thing: “ONE MILLION IS NOT A HORRIBLE RANK!”

Do you know that a book ranked 1 million is in the top 10% of books sold on Amazon? As I type, there are over 21 million books in NEW condition on Amazon. There are over 23 million in USED condition. That means that a book with a rank of 2 million is still in the top 10% of books.

If I may digress for a second, I was reading a long-standing and popular book seller’s blog last week in which he made a statement saying that book sellers should never purchase books that are ranked above 500,000. I was shocked that someone would write something like that, especially someone so “seasoned.” His reasoning was that anything above 500,000 just won’t sell fast enough for someone wanting to make a living selling books.

…and then I thought back to those books pictured above (and plenty of others) that were left behind. Things like botany textbooks and surgical procedure books worth hundreds of dollars were just sitting on the table because they were ranked anywhere from 1 to 2 million. I happily picked up all of them!

Round #1 Complete…

I spent 2.5 hours during the first half of the estate sale and wound up purchasing 240 books. Books were priced $3 each and other  more collectible books were individually priced. I also purchased four individually priced books for $40.

If you’re doing the math, I should have spent a little over $700, but things did not work out this way…

A Lesson In Integrity

Once my books were unboxed and sorted into stacks of ten on the checkout table, one of the crew members began to tally my items. I should have paid more attention to her calculations, because due to leaving off a zero and some other strange math, she charged me $220 for 240 books. At first I thought she was giving me a deal because I had been there so long that it was close to “1/2 price” hour, but it wasn’t until I began boxing up my books to place in my car that another bookseller whispered to me: “…hey, you know she just made like a $500 mistake…but I’m not going to say anything.”

…and then it hit me. I had prepared to spend well over $700 at this estate sale and yet I was about to walk away having only paid $220. As a Christian and as someone that claims to have integrity, I knew I had to do what was right. I would have felt guilty walking away knowing that she made a huge mathematical error.

I continued to box my items until I saw that she was finishing up with another customer. I pulled her to the side to let her know that she made a mistake in her calculations and that I owed her more money. She proceeded to tell me that something didn’t seem right to her after she was done, but she was going to let it go.

We took another look at her calculations and then realized that I should have been charged $748 (not including the $20+ discount she had already given me for buying so many books). What happened next was nothing short of amazing. She proceeded to ask me if I was okay with just paying another $400 instead of $528. I happily agreed and after signing for my purchase, she went on to say something that stuck with me the entire day: “…you know, you were here in my book, but because of your honesty, you’re now up here!”

Those words totally made my day! Those words meant more to me than all of the valuable books I purchased that day. It was definitely a lesson as well as a test for me because usually when money is involved, we as human beings put our morals on the back burner.

I didn’t want to allow the promise of “money” or “riches” to cloud my judgment or cause someone to look less favorably upon me. If I say that I am “Christ-like” then I sure better act like it! Furthermore, the last thing I wanted to do was be prevented from ever attending another estate sale run by this particular company. I value the people that I have met there far too much.

Unload, Recharge, and Prepare for Round #2…

After leaving the estate, I went home to unload my car, check in on my mom and daughter, and grab a bite to eat.

Unloading my car seemed much more complicated than getting the books in. My trunk, backseat, and passenger seat were filled with banker boxes full of books. Something that I failed to mention earlier was that I had every intention of trying to “buy out” the estate when I first learned of the sale. I honestly did not expect all of the books to sell. I knew that there would be books left behind and my original plan was to rent a truck and come back towards the end of the day to buy what remained.

Those plans never panned out and I’m glad they didn’t. As it turns out, our little car was capable of transporting all of the books from my first round of buying and when I returned at the end of the day for the “box lot” hour, I was able to squeeze another 12 boxes of books into our car for a total of $60.

At the end of the day, I used my book scanner. I knew that I didn’t want to take home junk, so using my book scanner was necessary to prevent me from picking up duds. Most of the books I purchased were ranked from 2k to 200k and they generally belonged to a certain genre that I will be on the lookout for from now on.

After going through a few of the boxes from the “box lot” hour, it appears as though I was able to fit anywhere from 25-30 books per box. That averages out to approximately $0.20 per book.

Total Spend

I don’t have an exact number yet of the total # of books I purchased since I’ve only listed and labeled the books from the first portion of the day, but I estimate that I purchased just over 540 books for $680.00. I also spent $18.95 on additional banker boxes from Staples once I realized that the boxes at the estate sale were nearly gone.

Thanks to the books I purchased at the end of the day, I was able to bring my average cost per book down to $1.25 per book. I consider that a HUGE success given the quality of the books I purchased.

A Sneak Peak…

I usually don’t share items that I have actively listed (or in this case, will have actively listed soon), but to fully understand the caliber of the books available at the estate, here are just a few of the books I picked up:

Update: I’ve removed the links and images of books I purchased to protect my Amazon account.

A great deal of the books up for sale were medical in nature, but there were also a lot of other genres to choose from. My plan of attack was to pick up all of the profitable medical books first and then go back to scan everything else. Approximately 60% of the books I purchased are medical in nature. The other genres I purchased included religion, poetry, nature, California history, Art History, and bird watching.

The books pictured above should gross at least $500 when they sell. That’s almost enough to cover my expenses.

Takeaways…

Attending this estate sale taught me quite a few things:

1.) “Go big or go home!” – I knew before going to this sale that I was going to spend more than I usually do in any given month for inventory. I actually pulled money from my “Operation Q4” account to pay for this purchase. I also knew that I wanted to purchase in bulk and the only way to do that was to make an offer on the books that remained at the end of the day. Even though I never got to make an offer (because so many other booksellers stayed around as well), I still walked away with more books than I take home from my usual sources.

2.) Get to know the other booksellers – I showed myself friendly at that this estate sale like I usually do at any other estate sale. I introduced myself to other book sellers that I see on a regular basis and I got to know many more.

To be honest, I had this image in my mind that the average bookseller is a recluse, single person given some of the stories I’ve read from Facebook groups about “those scanner types.” Those horror stories ranged from book sellers who don’t bathe in order to keep the competition out of their path to book sellers who are so robotic in nature when scanning that they don’t speak and are incapable of carrying on a conversation even after they’re done.

My experience so far has been the opposite. It is amazing what things you can learn and what pre-conceived notions you can dispel if you just talk to someone.  🙂

3.) No two book sellers have the same buying criteria – At this sale I met a man who has been selling books for over 20 years. He actually owns a small bookstore and refuses to sell on Amazon. He explained to me how he sources books and how he actually makes money selling books that are considered “penny books” to people that patronize his bookstore for either the sticker price or a little less. This is far more lucrative for him than selling on Amazon. Towards the end of the day, I noticed that he didn’t use a book scanner. Instead, he just heaped piles of books into a box. Come to find out, he actually didn’t even own a scanner. He mentioned that he didn’t come early in the day because he didn’t want to cross paths with the “scanner crowd.” Apparently he makes a living off of the books that nobody wants and he is more than happy with it.

I talked with another woman who does something similar, but she looks for a specific genre of pre-ISBN books.

As I was driving home, I realized that your “competition” really isn’t competition at all. I don’t believe any two booksellers are alike because experience has shown me that what I may view as profitable, another book seller may see as not worth the trouble.

Did I Speak Too Soon?

In an earlier post I mentioned that I might have met the end of my book selling days after spending 5 days processing books that left me wiped out mentally and physically. As I write this post, I may have to eat those words. This latest experience actually has me on a book selling high. I knew books could be profitable, but I honestly didn’t realize how profitable they could be outside of textbooks. Now that I’m armed with a few new genres to scan, I’m pumped about sending more books in.

Now that my estate sale “high” is over, I realized that I spent a lot of money and have a lot of books to process (which also includes the 300 or so that are still sitting in my garage from previous hauls). I didn’t expect to take money from my Q4 spending to use on books, but I do believe it was a wise move in the long run, even if these aren’t your typical “holiday” items.

I fully anticipate that I will make back what I spent by the end of September, if not sooner. To put things in perspective, this haul will more than cover the balance of my student loans — and that’s assuming that only 50% of the books sell.

…Now you can see why I consider this to be my best book sale yet! 🙂