Yes, I know what a Dust Jacket is…

…And that’s about it. My name is Larissa Swayze and I am a book-selling virgin.

Even as a child, every autumn when the small town I grew up in held its town-wide garage sale, my used copies of Sweet Valley Twins went untouched. I hear the word Flyleaf and think of the female-fronted Texas rock band. When faced with acronyms such as ABA, ABAC and IOBA, I have to turn to ever trusty Google to decipher. I have never worked in a bookstore or attended a book fair. Is there some kind of omniscient booksellers’ newsletter I can subscribe to that will inform me of important things I should know and events I should attend? Perhaps it can also include a step by step guide entitled, “Selling Books for Newbies: How to Turn Other People’s Words into Your Cash.” Thankfully, I’m not quite naive enough to believe that immense riches will befall me through this endeavor. At least not monetary riches – but that’s okay. Because what I’m in it for, is the glory. The passion. The same reason I assume (or at least hope) others who are fortunate enough to do it for a living are:

The love of books.

I love to look at them. Smell them. Hold them in my hands. Discuss them. Collect them. Scold those who dare to disrespect them. And most importantly, I love to read them. I just want to be around them as much as possible. Currently, the only book in my vicinity is the Alberta Building Code of 1997 and my friends, Shakespeare it ain’t.

So how do I begin?

thinking of booksMy recent trip to a tropical destination was supposed to be an intellectual quest of sorts. Read some books about books; come up with “The Plan”. Of course, what ended up happening was a lot of staring blankly out into the ocean and drinking free Brahma. I am no closer to a solution now than I was when I set out on my journey.

I’m just going to have to find myself a bookselling Yoda. Someone who can show me the way or, at least give me a job in their bookstore. (Anyone?) If I can’t find a mentor, then I suppose I’ll just do what any other booklover would – turn to the written word. I’ve already found 17 how-to guides on Amazon that I’m positive will assure me bookselling is easy and anybody can do it.

Leaving my comfortable and well-paying desk job for a strange and unknown world, where people speak another language and know things I don’t, really won’t be so different from visiting a foreign country. All I have to do is soak it all in because fortunately, I don’t believe in mistakes. Basically, at this point, nothing can go wrong.


[editor’s note: Help us welcome Larissa to the group here by leaving a comment for her, or maybe a job invitation??]

Part 2 of Larissa’s Story Getting a Job in a Bookstore

10 thoughts on “Yes, I know what a Dust Jacket is…”

  1. My only advice is to offer to volunteer in a used bookstore on week-ends or of an evening. You need the exposure to ALL books, not just those you want to read. If it’s a busy store and you’re shelving or whatever, you’re bound to pick up great information…there’s a lot to learn. I’ve had a B&M store for over 15 years and I’m still learning.

    I’ve been to 1 ABA and 2 Romantic Times conventions and they are fun, fun, and very informative. You also get lots of free books!!! Jump in and have fun!!!!

  2. I’ve been in the used book business as an on-line seller since around 1999. I do have a full-time job. I have to tell you, if you plan on doing this on a full-time basis, I would not quit my job but get your feet wet first. The last year has seen an immense influx of sellers, most have no idea about the business but roam the used book sales armed with a scanner, scanning every book they can get a hold of. Used books are a finite supply and it’s getting harder and harder to purchase quality books. Lots of people sell books very cheaply, for way under one dollar, but you won’t be able to make a living. Attend a few used book sales and see if you even like this extremely competitive event, where most people are beyond rude. That’s one way to see if this is something you’d like to pursue. As for owning a used book store, can’t offer any advice there, I just know that lots of them are closing because of on-line competition. Best of luck to you.

  3. Hi Somer, Thanks for the comment I’m sure Larissa will ponder that. As for rudeness and competition I think it varies a lot from place to place. I have heard your story a few times before and feel quite fortunate that this sort of behavior doesn’t really occur here. It’s a city of over 3 million but there seems to be only a handful of book dealers.
    It also pays to have good connections and owning a B & M shop helps a lot in this regard. I often donate many boxes to church sales and to say thanks they let me roam around their sale the day before the public comes in. And I do my best to be courteous and only select a couple dozen books. I wouldn’t insult them by showing up with a scanner or carting off all of their good stuff. In fact I’ve yet to see anyone use a scanner here – and I go to just about every sale and thrift shop that comes up.

    May I ask what city you’re in?

  4. Josie and Somer, thanks for the advice and warnings. The “get your feet wet” part is what I’m already planning on doing. I just hope it is followed by “quit my office job”. I feel that if it’s something I’m passionate about – I should do it. It may seem by my post that I’m kind of just throwing caution to the wind but believe me when I say I have put A LOT of thought into this. I appreciate everyone’s comments though and would love to hear more!

  5. Hi Bruce, my, you are indeed lucky. I’m right outside Washington, DC. So we go to sales in DC, VA, and MD. Pretty much the same in all three areas, massive amounts of people, pretty much all with scanners. I just can’t imagine that all of them can make a living at this. It’s gotten so bad that I just avoid the larger sales. Where are you?

  6. We’re in Montreal. Some of the sales are busy but like I said I’ve yet to see a scanner and the real dealers are few in numbers. In fact most of us know each other and are quite cordial.

  7. “You make your money when you buy, not when you sell”. With this in mind, I would be looking at other successful on-line seller’s stock to see what they sell and if they sell. I’d be trying to acquire a starting inventory of books worth listing, yet something I knew about. I’d be in most of the used bookstores looking at condition, grading, type of books. amount of stock necessary to make a go of it. I’d be looking at things most booksellers write about on the talk channels… space, shipping costs, shipping methods, data bases, sites to sell on. Overhead. And I’d be entering books on a data base as acquired, ready to upload in one swoop rather than list 1 x 1 and pay fees while doing it. Does this sound like a business plan??? One should be in place.

  8. Like you, I’m a relatively new bookseller. Good luck finding a mentor, as mentors can be helpful with both information and contacts. Don’t be afraid to further your education as time and your budget allow. I highly recommend the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, held for a week in August in Colorado Springs, CO. I attended last year and gained lots of helpful information and got to know many other booksellers. Scholarships are available for this great course. Their website is at

    You’ve already said you love books. Now you need to learn about the trade. Don’t forget to enjoy it along the way. Bookselling is a wonderful trade.

  9. Someone was using a scanner at the McGill Book Fair
    here in Montreal last fall. First time I saw it,
    though I think I’d heard of the practice before that.

    But it could only be seen as “harvesting”. It was the
    computer book section, and the woman was just ripping
    through them all without looking at titles. She didn’t
    find much that fit whatever criteria she was searching for.

    As I wrote at the time, that sort of thing means you don’t
    have to have knowledge, or intelligence, to do that.

    I merely go to used book sales to buy, but simply by doing
    that I certainly have an idea of what’s common. There was
    a time when you couldn’t go to a book sale without seeing
    copies of Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock” but now they
    actually have become “rare”. In quotes because I have no
    idea how desired it is, and given the large number of copies
    printed, are there many who actually need a copy that don’t
    already have a few? But of course, knowing what’s at the sales
    is only part of it, you need to find the books that will sell.
    In some cases that does mean the best sellers, in other cases
    it’s the obscure ones that you may see only one in thirty years
    (though, that also depends on a market for that obscurity).

    What interests you doesn’t mean that someone else will be
    interested, but on the other hand, an interest in a genre means
    you pay more attention, and can apply that interest. It always
    seems like any given book store has some sections that are better
    than others, and I’ve always assumed it’s because the owner has
    an interest so they can specialize. That always seems like a good
    start, if you like science fiction you can start with that (though
    maybe not a whole store) and use that to build the business.]

    In going to used book sales for 34 years, there are some books
    I’d love to have that I’ve never seen. Obviously a combination of
    it not selling many copies in the first place, and local interest.
    Plus, even if someone had a copy of that “Final Score”, they’d have
    to want to get rid of it and give it away to a sale before I could
    even come close to finding it.


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