How To

4 of the Best Used Book Sale Hacks

Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

What’s better than a used book sale? Used book sale hacks, that’s what! If you’ve ever wanted to up your book grab game, these are the tips for you.

1. Know Your Book Sale

Book sales fall into several categories. Each has some particulars that you need to know before showing up and each requires its own strategy.

  • Library book sales. These happen once or twice a year. They may include a bag day where you can stuff a bag or box and pay a flat rate. Well organized, regular, and generally the best of all types of book sales, you can often locate them on Book Sale Finder. College libraries are an exception, so keep an eye on local campus events too. Church book sales are rarer, but they are also wonderful and fall into this category. Proceeds usually support the institution.
  • Community book swaps. These free events are typified by a constantly refreshing selection as people bring books in to donate. It’s an exciting event typified by the—ahem—enthusiasm of the participants. Watch out for flying elbows! Book swaps are hectic affairs where organization by genre and condition falls after simple availability in order of priority. They’re also kind of rare at the moment, although swap events in general are growing in popularity. Watch local pages for events like Stop ‘n’ Swap in NYC.
  • Store events. Usually marketing gimmicks, these are best avoided when they occur at big boxes. Nevertheless, you can sometimes find good deals at used book store and thrift store sales. These will often appear on Book Sale Finder as well.
  • Yard and estate sales. These are a larger investment of time due to their scattershot location and timing, but great for the adventurer. The limited inventory and uncertainty of yard and estate sales is offset by the fact that it’s often possible to negotiate prices. The number of locator tools for this type of sale is intimidating. Craigslist is a good place to start, but Garage Sale Finder, Yard Sale Search, and all work well. I use Yard Sale Treasure Map.


    2. Equipment

    Remember that you only have two hands, two shoulders, and a maximum safe carriage capacity of about 20% of your body weight. If you weigh 150, don’t plan to carry more than 30 pounds of books. Try not to exceed this because you will hurt yourself. The average book weighs around a pound. (Textbooks weigh more.) So it you’re 150 pounds, expect to buy between 15 and 30 books, max, for each trip you make to the sale.

    Plan to bring totes to the sale, whether or not it’s a bag day. The bags you’ll get there will be paper that is unready to stand up to the stresses of maybe 15 pounds of books. Avoid the heartache and bring something made of something sturdier. Handles help, too. Without them, you’ll only be able to safely carry one paper bag.

    Before you select a tote, make sure it’s sturdy. Grocery totes get a lot of wear and tear, but they’re not always equal to the stress of book weight. Consider using duffel bags, if you have them.

    Bringing a wagon can significant improve your ability to carry off your own bodyweight in books. Consider the efficacy of rushing back and forth to your car, too, and loading it up between bursts of acquisition. If you do employ this strategy, make sure your trunk and back seat are both clear and ready for the toting. An empty wheeled suitcase can also be a good option for transporting your hoard.

    3. Money

    The book sale really starts when you put it on your calendar. That’s when you can begin budgeting!

    Some of us have the tendency to go a little nuts at used book sales. Be careful not to overextend your budget. You’re not going to be able to keep your books if you lose your apartment. Enter events with a certain amount of cash. Personally I like to keep this level fairly low—$20 seems to hit my personal sweet spot between joyful acquisition and actual mania. If you’re trawling books at yard and estate sales, this is a positive fortune and you’ll have all the fun. Even so, leave all of your credit cards at home. Spend until your cash is gone, and then quit.

    Go completely wild at book swaps.

    4. Beating Resellers

    There is a relatively new pernicious technology assembly that sucks the joy and the good books out of a used book sale when it shows up. You’ll spot it on bag days especially. It’s called a mobile barcode scanner and book scouting software setup. With this tool, a reseller can come in and determine the maximum online resale value of every book at a sale on the spot. They then vacuum up all the ones that they can sell for a profit, which on a bag day means everything worth over $0.50. In a small reseller team, one or two people scan and select—usually at blinding speed, they’re just looking at price—and one or two others pack, pay, and spirit books into a waiting van. I have seen resellers invade a bag day and denude it in 15 minutes flat.

    If you spot a reseller, get moving. You’re in a race against pros with limitless capacity and material support. Grab any book that you even imagine you might want. You can sort, discard, and trade with other true book lovers right before you check out. The name of the game at this point is speed, which sucks, because that’s not what books are supposed to be about. Welcome to the 21st century.

    Annoyed by resellers at used book sales? Commiserate with us. Head over here if you want to love on those gorgeous used books a little more.