Are You An Optimistic Book Seller?

This is a special guest post by Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday



Many booksellers I’ve met are notoriously pessimistic, even cynical,
particularly about the future of the bookselling trade. Paradoxically, one
thing I’ve discovered since becoming a bookseller is that optimism —
relentless optimism — is a requirement for success.

Take, for example, my monthly attendance at a large library sale in the area
where I live. This sale offers three large rooms with, rumor has it, 60,000
items for sale. Additionally, ephemeral items can be found in boxes outside
the sale. I always find good books here, and I always try to attend the
sale. Upon hearing that I attended this sale each month to purchase books
for my antiquarian bookselling business, one of my non-bookselling friends
expressed surprise.

Really! You think you’re good enough to search through 60,000 used books
and identify a single treasure?
Uh-huh. And I’ll guarantee you I can identify more than one treasure.
Indeed, I might add that I am disappointed if I find less than a dozen
treasures per month at said sale. Booksellers with more experience than me
find more than that. And, used booksellers, whose stock is somewhat
different from that of an antiquarian bookseller, often leave with boxes and
boxes of treasure, or, in the words of a cynic, a bunch of old books.

I don’t know how you find can possibly find previously undiscovered value
in other people’s discarded books, she said, shaking her head with both
pity and skepticism.

In my experience, value isn’t necessarily in the book. It’s in the way one
sells the book. It’s in the person to whom one plans to sell the book. It’s
in the knowledge a bookseller has that allows him to identify a ‘sleeper’ at
the bottom of a dusty cardboard box of library discards.

I couldn’t possibly attend a library sale with joy if I went with the
attitude that I wouldn’t find anything of value. Though I have occasionally
attended sales and been disappointed, I return each month in hopes of
letting a book I haven’t previously noticed find me.

Some time ago I found this book at a library sale.

Optimism by Helen Keller

A bit battered, it is an unlikely title by Helen Keller. Despite
enormous challenges in her life, she found reason to be optimistic. And,
despite the challenges in the bookselling trade, so do I.

Chris Lowenstein

Book Hunter’s Holiday
3182 Campus Drive #205
San Mateo, CA 94403
(415) 307-1046
Blog at:

8 thoughts on “Are You An Optimistic Book Seller?”

  1. You don’t necessarily have to identify the exact treasure when bookhunting, just the general shape.

    Think of it like quality control. We have no problem believing that an inspector watching a production line can spot the bad cookie, oddly colored widget, shirt with the upside down logo, etc. The guy off the street can’t be expected to do that on the fly, but the trained inspector may view that many items in an hour on a conveyer belt. A book seller is just looking for the good in the sea of bad, rather than the bad in the good.

    You don’t have to know EXACTLY what it is or how valuable it is, just that one of these things is not like the other…

    And I’ll admit to be a used book dealer that carts off box loads of books. I’m not looking for a $200 book. I’m looking for the $20 and have a good idea what it “looks” like. I take more books to make same volume of sales. I usually only go on the supercheapo and free day. But even then, after the serious dealers have picked over stuff, I’ll find some $200 books! I’ll haul home an equal amount of drek and blockbusters. It’s a bell curve. Found a $1000+ one that way that dozens of dealers had passed over. It hadn’t fit in their scan range, so they’d passed it over. I picked it up thinking it was in my $20 range. I got it for free!

  2. As a die-hard optimist myself, I salute you! And as a bookseller, I totally agree. The stores I know that are doing well — both new and used — are those with owners and staff that are excited, forward-looking, enjoying their jobs, and full of confidence that they can succeed. As one bookselling colleague says (she runs a new age bookstore), you create your world with your thoughts about the world. And I’v observed that that’s not mystical mumbo jumbo — it’s as practical as going to the sale, over and over, and being delighted by each treasure you find. Congratulations on loving life and bookselling, and best of success to you!

  3. I find I’m much happier when I am optimistic than when I am pessimistic. Even if I’m not actually selling books today I know I will tomorrow…

    Where’s my copy of Pollyanna?

  4. Increase the optimism with a new way to attract and retain your interested customers. Instead of them having to come to you. Set up a Virtual Book Tour where they can call in to you on a Teleseminar at their convenience and hear you the seller interviewing the author. Set it up as a weekly or bi-weekly event and your customers can be entranced by the author with you being the beneficiary. You can do it fom the office, at home or even at a coffeeshop and extend your range and reach. See for al the details.

  5. I am fairly new to online bookselling and as you all know if you are setting up a new site, it takes about a year to have any significant impact on Google. On the optimistic side, I know that time will come and it is worth the patience that it requires.

  6. I am very optimistic every time I find a new back roads used bookstore or flea market that I have never visited before, I aways find something interesting.

    The more you know about the niche or category of books you plan to deal in the easier it is to find the deals. So I think the knowledge level of the dealer greatly influences optimism – mainly because you find more deals if you know what people are buying.

    My brother is a master of 70s records. He can walk a flea market and find all the albums that sell for $1 there and bring $20 plus on eBay.

Comments are closed.