I have always enjoyed visiting bookstores. I followed my brother-in-law into used bookstores for years. He started collecting books in the 1980s when he was on the West Coast.
While I loved flipping through books, I knew nothing about what made a book a collector’s item. I didn’t understand then why my brother-in-law was interested in picking up Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses for a few bucks at a used bookstore… but now I am!
When the Internet took off in the late 1990s, my brother-in-law showed me how to look up book prices using Advanced Book Exchange (abebooks.com) and eBay. He gave me many more tips for collecting books.
So… in 1998, I decided to start collecting books.
Here are the book collecting tips I’ve learned since:
1) A book must be a first edition (also known as a first printing) to be collected.
How do you know that? Well, open the book to about the third page—usually the page after the title page—the copyright page.
Look near the bottom of the page. There will normally be a line with numbers from one to 10. (i.e. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0).
If you see a number line with a “1” in it, it’s a first edition.
Nearly 80% of modern publishers use a number line to show how many copies have been printed.
If there is no number line, look for the words “first edition” or “first printing” or “first published”. For older books, it is best to consult one of the many books on the identification of the first printing.
2) The condition of the book has a significant impact on its value.
Book condition is crucial to the value of a book. Reading a book only once can cause stains, tears, or chafing that can reduce the value by 30-50% or more. The highest grades in a book are called “Very Fine” (essentially flawless) or “Fine. The condition of the dust jacket is very important these days, as the dust jacket can account for up to 75% of the value of a book.
I always try to buy books where the book and dust jacket look essentially new (these are described as “fine” or “fine”).
3) An author’s first book is usually the most valuable book he or she writes.
The publisher is taking a gamble on a new, untested author. So only a small number of books are printed, possibly only a few thousand books. If the author receives rave reviews and the first printing is sold out, the publisher may request a second printing with more books. Also, sign the author up for a second book.
The author’s next book will likely have a first-print run of … two to three times that of the author’s first book. You can see that due to supply and demand, the value of the first book will be higher…perhaps much higher than the second book!
4) Collect hardcover books.
The commercial hardcover is usually the first book sold. It will last much longer than the paperback, which will yellow over time and the pages will become brittle. Paperbacks can come out six months to a year later. Paperbacks are made to be read. Some may choose to collect them, but not me. The same goes for book club editions. These books are shorter, thinner, and have no price on the dust jacket.
I buy paperbacks to read, not to collect!
5) Choose books from the following categories: Literature, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mystery.
What does genre (pronounced zhahn’-ruh) mean? It is a category or style that can refer to movies (for example, horror movies), music, or books. Books in other genres, such as history or biographies, can also be very collectible. But they may not reach the heights of value that the genres of fiction can.
6) Book Costs
Books that have won book awards are often highly collectible and valuable. In particular… Be on the lookout for an author’s first book to win an award.
7) Popular Books Might Be Worth Collecting
A book collecting tip to consider is collecting books that have good book reviews, are on bestseller lists, or if the book will be made into a movie.
Books signed by the author generally increase the value of a book by 20 to 100%. Early in their career, authors sign more books… and less as they become more famous. As a result, later signed books by well-known authors can be quite valuable — even if many first editions were printed.
Keep an eye on your local newspaper for author signing events. There are fewer independent bookstores today… But many are able to stay in business and prosper thanks to famous authors who come to sign.
9) A book is more valuable in the country where it was first published.
Often, the same book is published in both the US and the UK. If it’s published first in the UK, it’s called the “true first” and has more value. Books published in the UK and Canada are printed in lower numbers due to their small populations—this makes them more valuable.
10) In major bookstores, valuable first editions can be found on the bargain shelves.
Publishers give discounts on books that no longer sell well or that have been reprinted too often. First editions of authors’ first or second books can sometimes be found…for six or seven dollars. Often without a remainder character (which decreases the book value) at the bottom or top of the text block,