Some authors might complain that books shouldn’t be sold on the secondary market since authors don’t earn royalties on used books. I understand that sense of loss, but as is the case with libraries, used book stores are a great place to discover authors and their work.
Our town has two used book stores, though I tend to favor one with convenient parking. Here, a customer can’t go in and say, “Do you have a copy of Such and Such book?” and expect them to look it up on the computer and find it. You have to go to the stacks yourself, find the category, and poke around. At least the books are sorted alphabetically by the author’s last name, so finding a particular book isn’t impossible, if it’s available.
I don’t tend to be much of a treasure hunter, but when I do have some time to devote to perusing their selection of used books, I find that this book store gives glimpses of our area’s current activities. For instance, I recently found three identical copies of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I surmise that either a book club or a class – perhaps an AP high school course or local college – assigned this modern classic.
Sometimes books offer a sense of their personal history. “To Jane, August 1975” makes me wonder about Jane, what her relationship was to the giver, and about her opinion of the book. Our store clerks seem to be picky about the books they buy, because I never see a book with lots of highlighting and comments in the margins.
The Religion section is always interesting, with books offering insight into many faith traditions. Our store can be counted on to present an assortment of Bibles. I often wonder why a Bible would be handed off to a used book store, though one clue is that most of the Bibles here are made from inexpensive materials. Presumably leather-bound editions are keepers. But was the Bible from an estate? Or a version its owner didn’t especially like? Or did the Bible end up in the hands of someone who simply wasn’t interested in Christianity, or had fallen away from the faith? Or maybe a devout Christian just had too many Bibles. I know my children will become owners of a plethora of Bibles upon my death. I wonder if they’ll keep them all…
We have a lot of commuters in our area, so I’m not surprised by the thousands of available novels. Surely these stories helped many a commuter pass the time on a long train ride. Our store labels Christian fiction as “Religious Fiction.” To me, that sounds like a snooze-inducing category my grandmothers might read. I wish the label made our books sound more exciting. Oh, and on my last excursion I found The Thrill of the Hunt, one of my old Heartsong Presents titles, in the Religious Fiction section. I won’t make a cent, but I certainly hope someone buys it!
Do you like to shop at used book stores? Does my description remind you of your local store?
What is your favorite book you have bought secondhand?
Have you discovered authors through secondhand books?
I love used book stores simply for the treasure hunting aspect! I am a treasure hunter, looking for the pearl of great value everywhere. I’ve found two great treasures over the years. the first is a first edition copy of Tennyson’s poems. it has a carved cover that is just beautiful, and I have a flattened rose from my father’s funeral marking the place of my favorite: The Lady of Shalott. The second treasure found is an old paperback copy of The Crepe Cookbook. There are dozens of recipes for crepes and their amazing fillings….gotta love crepes! I’ve even searched for additional copies of this treasure for friends and family who have dined on crepes at my table. i love in a very small town but we too have a second hand book store, and I love it!!
There are several nearby. Some independent. Some part of a chain.
Usually just browse while my wife shops. Read lots of first chapters.
Books are like stocks. Money from the first sale is all that the company/owner receives.
Hmm. ‘To Jane, August 1975’ sounds like a great title. Now to figure out Jane and why August 1975 is so important,
I love used books but I’m not much of a used book store shopper. I LOVE AbeBooks.com for this purpose though. Since I buy mainly non-fiction, and since the kind of non-fiction I’m looking for is typically out of print, used books are my go-to source.
I like Abe because I am always very time crunched and since I already know what I’m looking for, I can go there, put in a search and find what I need, including finding out what shape the book is in.
I was more of a book store shopper years ago–but with time my vision isn’t what it used to be, so combine that with being short and you have a not so fun experience in the actual stores trying to read titles high up on the shelves (and almost every shelf is high up for me. LOL!)
Ann L. Coker
Agree. Abe.com is a great source for out-of-print books.
I love them, and for years had a UBS right down the street from me. Unfortunately they closed (they were well known for their used-romance novel collection) and the next closest one is too hard to get to. (Traffic, parking, etc.) so I don’t buy many these days. I save money by purchasing e-books now.
Great post. I love used books and often purchase them–not in a used bookstore but online. My favorite resource to search for used books is: BookFinder4U.com In seconds, this book searches over 130 used bookstores and ranks the used book not only on price–but on the postage. It is my go-to resource when it comes to used books.
The Writing Life
As you described your used book store, it reminded me of one I’ve donated to and purchased from. We have at least two in our city. One is overtly Christian, and the other is not. I don’t go often, but I’m always curious about what I’ll find on the shelves. One of the stores has so many books, they’re overflowing onto the floors below the shelves.
Janet Ann Collins
Nearly all the bookstores in my area, both new and used, have gone out of business. That’s so sad! I guess most people are buying their books online today. But we do have a Friends of the Library book sale and now have a monthly free book swap where people can bring any books they don’t want and take home as many books brought by others as they want. It’s all staffed by volunteers and a great place to meet other people who love books.
I love to browse through used book stores and I don’t mind the treasure hunt. My eyes scan the covers for names of authors I recognize. But wait. I spot a book I read in school; like Dick, Jane, & Spot or The Old Man and the Sea, maybe even books by Agatha Christie. Oh, the fun! Bibles? My children will inherit quite the collection as well. Although, it’s intriguing to see on old Bible where the Family Tree is filled in inside its cover. Makes me wonder if there’s no family left or if no one cared.
Linda K. Rodante
I love used books–because I hardly even pay full price for many of the new authors I’ve found that way. Also, I’m glad in some instances of not paying full price! When you think of $10 to $20 for a paperback these days, it’s just makes sense to me to try a new author (and some of your favorite authors) at a discount. I buy used online, too. And I see nothing wrong in selling them used. If someone bought mine for full price and resold it for a $1.00, more power to them!
When in Florida in April 2016, we went to a store that had a multitude of new and used items. I found an old book: The Scribner Treasury, 22 Classic Tales. Very interesting reading. Some of the stories were copyrighted as early as 1881. The stories give a glimpse into history and the writing styles of various authors. I think used books stores and used books can be a valuable resource. Enjoy the search.
Oh, yes, I love used books. Most of mine come from online sources because area used book stores have few books on my interests. Many are no longer available and they might have information regarding my research. I have tried to build an historical library about the area my family settled in Colorado. I hope my children and grandchildren can enjoy them, or pass them on to the local library or museum someday. They are like old-time friends who impart wisdom and story.
I agree! I love the smell of used book stores and the thrill of the hunt.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I adore used book stores. People who are upset about lost royalties should remember that not everyone can afford to buy a bunch of books. Growing up I read about a book a week, consistently, every week. Actually, when you average it out, I probably still do. But I only got 1 or 2 books a year. On my birthday and maybe on Christmas. I fed my literary hunger through the library and occasionally the used book store. When it came time to put a book on my birthday list, it was usually something that I had already read at the library. My favorite of the year. Used book stores and libraries are vital for those of us with expansive minds but not expansive wallets.
New versus used – I do both. I usually buy my Christian fiction new because I want the authors to get their royalty, but I love used book sources, partly for the affordable prices and partly because that’s where the rare gems are found.
I’m writing Christian historical from AD 106 to 124 spread around the Roman Empire (first one in Judea in AD 122 comes out first week in October), and that means major research to get everything historically right. My author site is a Roman history site, and I’m writing articles and study aids on many topics at greater depth than you usually find on the web. I’m hoping it will be helpful for teachers and students while also attracting people who enjoy ancient history. That means I need lots of books by academic specialists in Roman times.
I’ve bought 65 used history books on specialized topics from Amazon ranging from the Trajan’s column illustrating the conquest of Dacia to Roman medicine to a Roman cookbook from AD 100 (I’ll be posting recipes and asking for modern versions) for about $400 ($150 without shipping); new would have been over $2000, much more than I can afford. The 60’s through 80’s were when many university authors were writing these books, so they are effectively out of print. Some “new” copies sell for as much as $300 now.
I also love secondhand and antique stores and library book sales as sources of unusual books. I just found a 1979 reprint of William Ramsey’s 1897 book,“St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen,” in an antique store in Seaside, OR, for $5. Last summer in Portal, AZ (a town with a library but no gas station), I paid 50 cents for Tom Clancy’s “Submarine: A Guided Tour Inside a Nuclear Warship,” which describes what he learned researching one of his novels. It might be useful if I start writing contemporary thrillers, but it’s fascinating just to read.
Used books are a great economically feasible way for me to share something I love with others. I’m always on the lookout for additional copies of books by my favorite authors — then I give them away, introducing a friend (or sometimes a stranger) to an author they may not know yet. My hope for both my friend with the book in hand — and the author–is the beginning of a beautiful and profitable friendship.
I’m a big fan of abebooks.com. I have purchased many difficult to find books there. While researching The Scopes Monkey Trial I began collecting books written by Clarance Darrow, John T. Scopes, and of course, William Jennings Bryan. Many are inexpensive first editions. I was also able to find A Civic Biology, the textbook at the center of the controversy. All this I did from my office and most of the books cost only $5 or so (some more). Shipping was often free. I know it’s not the same as going into a used bookstore, but it is more convenient.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Tamela, thanks for the reminder that so many “new” authors can be discovered in used book stores. I once had a customer at the bank where I worked who owned a store named The Armchair Adventurer. It’s been many years since I visited a store like that but going to one sounds like an interesting treasure hunt to me!
We have a good used book store here in Katy, TX. They label the faith-based books Inspirational, and they have a good selection. I recently bought two novels there that I used in the Complimentary Titles section of my proposal (just sent to Steve yesterday!). When I’m published, I don’t mind my novels available at used book stores. My motives are about spreading the message, not gaining royalties for each sell.
Tamela, yes, used book stores are a favorite hang-out for my husband and me. The best is Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR, a city-block square with great categories and excellent finds. It was there I found my favorite keepsake book: Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland with Church Hymnal, Oxford University Press, 1981, for $6.50. Nearby in Nashville, IN, is a fine Christian used bookstore also. I keep a current list of books I want to find, especially favorite authors: Margaret Clarkson, George MacDonald, Oswald Chambers. We’re partial to the classics also, but have discovered new (to us) authors that we learned to enjoy, such as Anne Lamott and Francine Rivers. Our local Library often has book sales, and I found a gem there years ago: The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. I have the same curiosities as you. I also re-gift used books. Friends don’t mind. Thanks for your post.
Tamela Hancock Murray
I am enjoying all the comments! I had forgotten about abebooks.com, so that suggestion is much appreciated. And when you want a certain used or rare book, that’s a good way to go since you can find it immediately.
Autumn will soon be upon us so we’ll all be ready to curl up by the fire with a good book soon!
Christine L. Henderson
One of my favorite book swaps is on a cruise ship.I do this the first afternoon I board a ship. Past cruisers leave the books they’ve read for the next group of cruisers. It’s intriguing to see the foreign language titles and many Brit authors. Not much is ever left in the line of kids books. Don’t know if kids are not aware of the practice, or they don’t like to let go of their books.
Here in New Zealand we tend to call them second-hand bookshops, although that’s a bit of a misnomer: some of the books are new, and the creases on the spines show many are more like tenth-hand. I love browsing.
My favourite used bookshop is in Auckland, because it specialises in Christian books. They’ll take requests – if you want something, they’ll let you know if a copy comes in.
As well as second-hand bookshops, we have a couple of annual second-hand book sales run by charities such as the Rotary Club or the Lions. The biggest is held in an empty kiwifruit coolstore (warehouse) over Easter weekend. It’s huge, and you see people arriving with huge wheelie suitcases … and leaving with them full.
This was such a fun post to read. It brought back memories of spending lots of time in my hometown library. The picture reminded me of the basement of one of the local libraries. The library has an on-going used book sale there, with CDs and DVDs available also.
I buy both new and used books. A lot of the titles I’m interested in are out-of-print, so I go to the libraries, Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Thriftbooks.com or Barnes and Noble.com. Barnes and Noble works with used book stores around the country, and I’ve found some out-of-print books through them I couldn’t find at the libraries, Goodwill or St. Vincent.
Probably most of the new books I buy are Bible Studies. Used fiction books are an affordable way for me to try out an author or genre before deciding to spend more money on a new book by that author or in that genre. If I don’t like the used book, I figure I haven’t lost much and I can put the book in the “To Donate” box.
One of my favorite used books (from a library) is Great Possessions by David Grayson. He writes of his enjoyment of nature. I believe the copyright is 1920.
I love used books stores, they’re filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. Some authors, may not like the idea of not getting paid for used books. But to me it’s not about money, it’s about sharing your sharing your talent with the world and leaving the footprints of your soul on the page of every book you write. That’s why I write.
I do shop at used bookstores because I enjoy finding a “treasure.” I qualify my treasure hunting by looking for books, especially art history books with book plates. Long ago, the reproductions of artworks on the bookplates were quality tested against the original artworks, thus are “true” images. I also enjoy finding Nancy Drew books from the 1950’s, again the artistic illustrations are interesting. My fav is a art book from the Hermitage in Russia with bookplates prior to WWII. (You might know that much art was lost during the war and I have some book plates of the lost art.)
I do pick up a “beach” read or “airport/airplane trip” read sometimes. I had not considered that the author’s do not directly benefit from the sales, however I do believe they benefit indirectly by having their work circulated. I have picked up used books, read it, liked it then became a follower of that author. But your point is certainly worthy of consideration.
I used to live near a city that had a lovely used bookstore in a huge old downtown building with multiple stories, odd little staircases, and rooms upon rooms of books. After several years of shopping there it was still not unheard of for someone in my family to stumble upon a room or nook that we’d never seen before. My kids have wonderful memories of the place, and through it we were all introduced to older, often out-of-print books that we would never have stumbled upon otherwise.
Nowadays I am more likely to buy used books from online vendors. The consideration of whether a book’s author will receive a royalty from my purchase is a valid one. I make the decision on a case-by-case basis. Because I write historical fiction, many of the nonfiction books I read for research are older; sometimes they are out of print and not available new, or newly issued in a better format, or back in print in an ECCO print edition. Sometimes I buy new books by authors whose existence I learned of while shopping at a used bookstore. Altogether, my reading life is far richer for the experience of browsing through secondhand books.