I’m sure you fellow bibliophiles have managed to track down similar discount book sales as we have. Betsy was fortunate enough to attend our annual Friends of the Library sale this spring–and even made a quick call to dear Megan to check to see if she had a particular book. This particular sale featured primarily used books–many of them ex-library copies. We have attended other large book sales, some featuring new books but primarily publishers’ overstocks and the like; we’ve done this together and separately.

Picture the scene: you enter the warehouse sized room, or collection of rooms, with the best of intentions. Perhaps you only bring cash (but notice a small credit card sign near the registers). Perhaps you only bring one tote bag–only to discover that they have shopping carts and curbside pick-up available. Perhaps you notice that they have the entire collection of small, hardback Beatrix Potter books for a mere $2 each; a beautifully illustrated edition of your favorite fairy tales for $1; a picture book by one of your favorite authors and illustrated by one of your favorite illustrators for $1; literature classics such as Little Women in a beautiful hardback edition for $2; the examples could go on and on and on and on and….you leave with a trunk load of books having no idea where you’ll put them when you get home.

Here are some tips for navigating the book deals–be they used books, large overstock collections, or simply great sales.

  1. Go with a budget or firm number of volumes…and STICK TO IT. You might have a few authors/illustrators in mind for which you’ll make exception (case in point, Betsy’s never regretted buying that set of Beatrix Potter volumes 11 years ago).
  2. Go with a firm knowledge of what you already have. Yes, it’s true–haven’t we all bought a “great deal” only to come home and find…the same volume lurking on the shelves?
  3. Go with a clear grasp on who you will be buying for: yourself? your children? nephews/nieces? a classroom library? If necessary, write these down. It is much easier to go with one or two groups in mind–otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to scan for every workable title if you’re looking for 4-5 different people/groups.
  4. Be willing to bring home a few items of fluff to enjoy for a time and then move to better housing, especially if you have children with you who are clamoring for a particular book. It can keep them happy while you continue browsing…. Think of this as “renting” books–perhaps it’s worth it to you to buy a few volumes you don’t intend to keep, but which will come in handy for a particular stage in your child’s life. This is okay! You are allowed to re-donate that book to the Friends of the Library, take it to Goodwill, or pass it on to a friend.
  5. Ask yourself the following questions when in doubt:

    1. Can I get this book reliably at the library (for classics, medal winners, and the like, the answer is probably “yes” and will be in the future)? If so, do I really “need” a copy for my home?
    2. Is this copy worth paying money for? Is it remarkable in some way, well illustrated, nicely bound, etc.?
    3. Does someone I know have this book who will let me borrow it (nice for books which the public library often doesn’t have–like missionary biographies)?
    4. If I already have a similar book at home, am I willing to purge the one at home in favor of this one? (perhaps you like the illustrator better in the new volume)
    5. Will I be just as content with an e-book version of this? (Most classics are free for e-readers; most novels or text only books worth quite well in e-book format if you’re concerned about space. Picture books are better in print…)

The Strategy: Gather, then Sort
When we attend major booksales (a favorite is the Green Valley Bookfair in Harrisonburg, VA http://www.gvbookfair.com), we try not to clog up the aisles actually browsing through books we are unsure about. If possible, fill up baskets/cart and pile them in a secluded corner where you can go through them later when you can compare and evaluate more clearly. So the first objective is to gather; then we go into sort mode.

We have realized too many times that if we are at all hesitant about whether or not to purchase a book, we later regret having bought it. When in doubt, leave it out! We rarely wish we had bought something that we didn’t feel strongly about at the time.

If you have the choice, opt for individual titles rather than collections in one volume (except collections of poetry and short stories, of course). A copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is far more portable and snuggly than a big heavy edition. Something is better than nothing, of course, just as a hardcover is usually better than paperback, but there is a good reason that Beatrix Potter originally published her books in small format! This is especially true for large collections of picture books in one volume–frequently illustrations are condensed or left out, and there is too much text/page to work a good read aloud to young children.

Happy Shopping! Let us know what you discover at your next sale!

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