How To Master The Second Hand Book Sale

​I love second hand book sales. 

Look at the atmosphere, the books, the colour, the smell, the people. I love the thrill of the hunt and that burst of pleasure from finding the book you had on your TBR list of $3 and that joy you get from finding a book you read years ago and forgotten that you loved.

I don’t just mean stores that sell secondhand books like ‘Elizabeth’s Bookshop’ but I’m referring to the charity or fundraising sales held my organisations and run by volunteers. The books there are sold for less than a cup of coffee so it’s an amazing bargain.

There’s one in USyd that I make sure I go to every year and I try to go to as many as I can throughout the year. I practically exclusively stock my shelves at these events though I will grace expensive full-priced retailers with my presence for the ocassional non-fiction and new release that I must have.

Everyone should go to one. It’s so much more economically viable to buy books second hand than to buy them new once in a while because books never date or go out of fashion. And reading can be an expensive hobby if you insist on owning a copy.

So as a veteran of secomd hand book sales, I’d like to share with you some advice on how to get the most from your bargain hunting:

  • Bring a bag. Or several. Or if you’re weak like me, bring a wheelie bag (I have seriously done this before). Because you may be buying a lot. Some sales will give you bags and most will have boxes for you to cart your books around but you may not be so lucky.
  • Go on the first day. And as early as you can. This is to ensure you don’t miss out on the best selections.
  • Make sure you have a list of the books you want. Now is not the time to be umm-ing and ahh-ing over whether you should buy that book. It’s the price of a cup of coffee, so just do it.
  • But remain open to choices. You’d be surprised what you’re prepared to consider when the price is low and you get addicted to the thrill of adding one book after the other into your bag. And you never know, you may just find a new love.
  • If you do want time to consider a book, don’t peruse it at the tables or in the aisles. Take all the books you want to consider and go to the outer edges and review them at your leisure. Don’t feel pressured to make a choice at the tables, you can always put them back.
  • Before you start just quickly look around the room to see what kind of categories there are. This is so you don’t focus on the wrong sections for example, you may be searching the “Paperbacks” for some science fiction but there may be a “Science Fiction” category.
  • With that being said though, don’t limit yourself to the descriptions on the tables. The people who organised the events are volunteers and have not read every book, nor will each person be able to categorise things consistently. For example, I found Annabel Crabb’s ‘The Wife Drought’ in the “Lifestyle” section when it’s a political and social comentary on gemder equality. Therefoe, if you like science fiction, look at the sections titled “Fiction” and “Science Fiction”.
  • Do two rounds. You could easily find a book you missed in the first round and volunteers replenish the tables with new stock as the day progresses so you could find some more items.
  • Take a few copies of the same book. This may sound redundant but you can compare the quality, price and cover. I was holding a ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with scribbles on it for $3 when I came across another copy woth no spine creases and no scribbles for $2. Naturally I made a swap.
  • For the Australians in the room, price should range from $3 to $4 (there will never be cents). If its $2 or less the copy will be a little battered. If it’s $5, that copy had better be a hard cover or be brand new.
  • Common book types at these events are: classics, books turned into movies, best sellers, and authors that have written a thousand books (Stephen King, James Patterson, Agatha Christie etc.
  • Books that are part of a long series are a little tricky. It’s very easy to find copies of the first installmenr and the recent releases, but a real pain finding the ones in between.
  • It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get quality non-fiction because non-fiction dates quickly, but you never know, you could be lucky.

As a bibliophile and an accountant, buying cheap books merges my two passions so please feel free to leave some of your tips below.


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