Monday, September 9, 2013

How to Buy Second Hand Books

Discounted books I've bought recently.

I'm a thrifter.

Goodwill? Talize? Salvation Army? St. Vincent de Paul?
You name it, I'll take it!

I don't care what kind of thrift store it is, so long as the prices are cheap, and it has what I'm looking for.

Quite often, I'm looking for books. Go figure right? A book/writing blogger buys books from the thrift store. Surprise of the century, tehe.

I've had enough hits and misses since I started buying second hand books a few years ago, that I feel quite qualified to give you some pro-book-thrifter tips.

Before You Shop:

1. Decide how much you want to spend per title. It's easy to convince yourself to buy lots of books at a thrift store because you assume it will be cheap. However, some thrift stores charge a lot more than a few dollars due to the type/condition of a book. It can come as a sucker punch when you get to the till and end up with a huge bill after purposely going thrifting to save money. I've learned that after a certain price, it's not worth buying the book second hand when you can get it brand new for just a few dollars more.

Here's my code in Canadian dollars:
Paperbacks: No more than three dollars, but willing to go to five if I really want it.
Hardcovers: No more than four dollars, but willing to go to five if I really want it.
Magazine: No more than a quarter (25 cents).

It might take a trip or two to see what the average price is for books before you can set a realistic spending limit.

2. Scope out places that sell books secondhand. There are plenty of places other than the usual thrift stores that sell books secondhand. You can ask at the public (or school) library what they do with weeded books, see if the library has a book sale, garage sales, banks, flea markets, bookstores specifically for used books, and you can even see if a friend or relative has some books they might want to sell (this is particularly useful when someone is moving!). You can always use our good friend Google or your local phone book to check out the places in your area.

3. Have an idea of what you're looking for. Be open to anything, but have an idea of what type of book you want to get. I'm usually looking for teen books, but I'm also trying to accumulate the entire Harry Potter series and Artemis Fowl series via second hand books.
My progress thus far. Oh! I also have HP 6 that didn't fit

As You Shop:

4. Do a quick scan of all the shelves. This just gives you a chance to see what the store has to offer and what you might want to zero in on. Try to figure out the organization of the books (if there is any); the ones I frequent are sorted by categories. Develop a sort of game plan for what you're going to look at, so you don't end up spending the whole day looking through books that you have no interest in. 

My typical plan looks something like this:
Skip over cookbooks, diet/health books, harlequins, children's picture books, and look for teen/children's novels, adult fiction, dictionary section, religious section, and the arts section, depending on how the store is organized. 

5. Don't be afraid to go into different sections. Books in thrift stores aren't always sorted perfectly like they are at a retail book store. Books get shelved and put back in the wrong section, especially similar books like children's and teen. You don't have to go through every single section (see tip number three), but it's helpful to take a look in sections that are a) close in proximity to the desired section and b) similar in content to the desired section.

6. Smell and inspect the prospective book. It probably won't have that new books smell, but it might smell like smoke or mildew. Also look to see if any pages are missing or loose. Avoid smells and books that are falling apart at all costs, no matter how good the book looks. 

7. Ask yourself if you really need the prospective book. I've bought way to many books that I haven't read yet, because they were cheap(ish) and looked mildly interesting. Now my bookshelves are overflowing, and I have a ton of books that I don't really want. A good question to ask yourself is "Would I get this book from the library?" if you would, then it's probably a good purchase, but if you'd pass it over for something else, then you probably don't really want it. It's okay to leave the store without buying any books.

8. Keep going back. The selection is always changing. Some days I hit the jackpot and other days I don't get anything. That's the way of second hand book shopping. 

Do you have any pro-tips on looking for second hand books? Got any awesome books from the thrift store? Thoughts about thrifting? Let me know in the comments. 

Previously on A Splash of Photography: How to take Dear Photograph
Reading: Skin by Ted Dekker 
Listening to: The Barr Brothers
Watching: Reruns of Downton Abbey! SO EXCITED FOR SEASON FOUR!!! AHGHSOABBAA!!!


  1. I love second hand books! I've gotten a bunch of Gallagher Girls, Inkheart and Inkdeath, and most of the Dido Twite series from op-shops. They're awesome. :)

    1. You got the Gallagher Girls from a thrift shop? Jealous! I've never seen any second hand Ally Carter books.

      "Op-shops" as you put it, are awesome:D


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