There’s a convention in town this weekend, RavenCon to be specific. As usual in the days before a con, I spent evenings away from the television (not to mention the damn cats) getting the books ready.
See, I don’t just write about old books, I sell them, and have been doing so for the past forty years. Bookselling is a way for me to interact with fellow convention-goers (a lot of interesting conversations go on around my tables), it gives me an excuse to pontificate about classic authors and titles and to tell embarrassing stories about editors (trust me, they love it) and it’s a way for me to cover the expenses of hotel rooms, traveling and, y’know, eating and stuff.
These are good, solid practical reasons; as I communicate with potential buyers, as I “educate” them about writers and stories they may not be familiar with, I’m building bridges that, with luck and hard work on my part, they will cross with money in hand.
Yet there’s a less practical, but equally satisfying reason: I love to turn new readers on to old books.
Look, it’s simple. When I was a kid, reading Robert Heinlein and Milton Lesser and André Norton and Murray Leinster, I babbled on and on to anyone who’d listen about how great these stories were. I wanted them to read them so I could have somebody to talk to about all the wonder and magic.
I used to spend more time in the various hucksters’ rooms than I ever did at panels or readings, going from table to table looking through paperbacks (Ballantines with those beautiful Richard Powers covers, Ace Doubles, Avon T-Series Merritts, those wonderfully thick Perma Books), hard-covers (Gnome and Fantasy Press with Edd Cartier jackets, the lovely and arcane Arkham House collections by Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith), and even pulps – Weird Tales with cover art by Margaret Brundage, those magnificent Amazings with Frank R. Paul covers, Astounding, Astonishing, Planet Stories… I didn’t just want to own them, I wanted to share them.
It was a short walk from being a comics dealer to selling books, really. I was buying books and magazines anyway by the boxfuls at yard sales and flea markets, trading duplicates and ones I didn’t want for ones I did at local two-for-one shops. Antique shops in the area began setting boxes of science fiction stuff aside for me, knowing I’d be by in a week or two.
The result was that I ended up with boxes of books that were in perfectly nice condition that I didn’t need for my own collection, and that’s where it all started.
By this time, many of the book hucksters in the rooms knew me, and they were happy to share their knowledge of edition points and other biblio-ephemera with an eager newcomer. That’s the way it was then, and still is when I’m around.
I’ve tried more than once to express the pleasure and satisfaction I get from selling books.
I even wrote a book about bookselling a few years ago for Steve Miller’s SRM Publishers, titled The Joy of Booking: Webster’s Guide to Buying and Selling Used SF and Fantasy Books, which not only delved into how fulfilling bookselling is for me (and for so many others), but told others how to follow in my not-so-dainty footsteps.
The process of readying my stock for sale is fairly straightforward, although it’s time- and space-consuming.
New (used) stock is inserted into the boxes that hold my duplicate copies, then that back-stock is worked into inventory. This takes a lot of flat surface.
There are titles I try to keep multiple copies of, like Alfred Bester’s first two novels and his story collections, Asimov’s Foundation books, the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthologies, and everything by Heinlein prior to 1970; as I sell titles off, their duplicates replace them. Sort of like Invasion of the Biblio-Snatchers, y’know?
He ran his hands over the spines of the paperbacks I had on display, and said almost offhandedly, “Last year you suggested I buy Clifford Simak’s Way Station. I’ll take anything else you recommend.”
Here’s why that was important: first of all, the young man is reading. That’s almost enough right there, but it gets better.
He’s now willing to read books that weren’t originally published online last year, but to explore the works that made the new stuff possible. He’ll buy more Simak, and then possibly move on to Pohl, or van Vogt, or Poul Anderson, and who knows where he’ll go from there?
That’s what makes this avocation so damned rewarding.
I don’t sell many of the expensive books, not at the smallish conventions I go to. I always take a few, because you never know when somebody will grab one, exclaim “I’ve been looking for this for years!”, and plunk down the buying price without bargaining, but my stock-in-trade is ordinary reading copies in decent condition, priced so that I can apply a reasonable discount for a stack and still make a profit.
And through it all, in a room filled with bladed weapons, stuffed dragons, jewelry and clothing and all the other non-literary merchandise, I am surrounded by books and the people who love them.
That alone is reason enough.