What I Have Learned So Far - Finding Signed Books

One of my early areas of focus for SecondMoonshot was Signed books. I really wasn't too concerned on the topic of the book, as it turns out that signed books are desired by anyone that reads for the most part, including religion, philosophy, academia, business, etc. Signed books can be found in Estate Sales, Thrift Stores and occasionally Flea Markets, but by far, the highest volume of signed books come from Thrift Stores. My theory is that people just don't know or don't remember that some were signed and donate them. A typical Thrift Store will have about 300-400 books. Some mega-Thrift stores have special library-like space with thousands!

While Thrift Stores are my go-to for seeking signed books, I wont pass up an opportunity at Estate Sales or Flea Markets and usually will walk away with a handful, especially if the Estate Sale if for a lawyer or some high class resident (or politician). Goodwill/GCF, ReStore, Salvation Army, Pet-centric Thrift Stores and even some Boutique Thrift Stores have been very profitable. Also, the techniques below work for any place you find books.

Now one of my biggest challenges is finding a book when it sells. I need to do some method of labeling book cases; I don't want to log what shelf it was on as I move books frequently to ensure they are properly standing, but I generally move them around within a bookcase and not across bookcases. Project for another day.

Here is a picture of less than half of the books I have found. I had to build more bookshelves and have them in a few rooms to store them. You want to make sure you keep them in proper standing position and in a air-conditioned space and out of direct sunlight. This is my new office...designed by Ikea obviously and bookcases by John.

What to Look For?

Your Holy Grail of signed books is a Like New, First Edition that is Flat Signed, with some provenance such as a letter, COA, card, invitation, book signing event flyer, etc.. The reality is that finding a book that fits all of those happens maybe once every 5 or 10 stores you hit.

When you pull a book off the shelf, you will generally look at inside front cover and all pages up to the title page with author. They will signed in any of those places and occasionally in the back of the book (but not without a front page signature as well). Get a rhythm going where you have a muscle memory to pull a book, look inside cover, and go a few pages in to title/author page and put back. Once you do it a few hundred times, its natural.

Attributes of a Good Signed Book 

A good signed book has a couple key attributes and if those are not present, they just get passed by, meaning I skip them:

  • For modern titles, say less than 20 years old, they generally should be in Very Good or better condition. This might be relaxed if it is a highly sought after book such as signed by a past president, celebrity, or well-known author;
  • Older books can be in Good condition, but generally I will stay away from Acceptable/Poor condition books as they rarely fetch any money and usually worth nothing;
  • Any book that is just warped, highly soiled or just looks bad is usually a pass;
  • A First Edition is preferred and is usually the case with Signed books; it is not a showstopper if it is not, but the best offers will be on signed first edition and if not a first edition, expect your asking price to drop by 50%;
  • If a book came originally with a Dust Jacket, make sure it has it; without a dust jacket, the price drops significantly with very few exceptions;
  • If a book has a Remainder Mark (black thick mark line or X on bottom of the book, usually a discard lot or wholesale dump…skip it;
  • It is not a romance/trash novel; I rarely find them signed and they aren't worth that much if you do find one.
  • If your in a hurry, just look at the top of the pages and only select those that are crisp white or close to that, you should still get a good hit rate. 

Method of Processing Large Amounts Fast, What to Skip

Using the attributes above, you can look at a shelf which will generally have 30-40 books on it and apply them to pick the books you will pull...starting from left to right or right to left (or alternating shelf to shelf, as I do). You don't generally want to open every book and look at the first 2 or 3 pages, so you have to have some selection criteria before you will even pluck it off the shelf. Yes, this process is manual, no scanning can tell you if a book is signed.
So the key is what to skip, what not what to open:
  • No dust jacket and not vintage....skip;
  • Soiled, warped, or just dingy book....skip;
  • Modern book not in Very Good condition or better...skip;
  • I have one already and know it’s low value…skip;
  • I also skip the Iris Johansen, David Baldacci, and all the other uber-big authors; occasionally you'll find a signed one though...better use of time would be to just look at the cover and see if it has the 'Autographed Copy' sticker on it. For some odd reason, I have good luck with Barbara Taylor Bradford, go figure.
  • “Ophra’s Book Club” books are never signed.

What Not to Skip?

  • Some oddball book with a weird title or obscure topic - I like it when I can't find a comp;
  • Books by well known politicians (they like to sign things!);
  • Vintage text books; I often find them signed and they sell pretty well;
  • Books that are signed have generally been well treated by the owner, so 95% of the time you will find that any book that looks Like New, is worth taking a look.

I Found One! Now What?

Well, you could sit down, go to your eBay app and see what they sell for. My advice, just get it for a dollar or two and move on, use your time in better ways. When you do this enough, you will know what books you can pass on and won't even waste your time picking it up. I have some books with 2 or 3 signed copies, I don't want anymore of those.

Fake or Pre-printed Signatures

By far the most important thing you can do with your time when you think you found a signed book is to make sure its an actual signature! You will be surprised at how many publishers put pre-printed almost real looking signatures in books. Damn that Valerie Bertonelli and Pat Robertson...many do it and if you don't figure it out, you will...and the best part is...you will have only made a $2 mistake and you donate it back to the Thrift Store on your next run. If your not sure...go to eBay and see if there are many other copies of that book signed and see if those signatures match your copy exactly; that is my go-to method, you will be surprised at how many eBay sellers list them as Signed books. I stopped sending them a message, because they don't reply and they just don't like the news.

Flat Signed, Inscribed and Personalized

Books can be signed as Flat Signed (signature only), Inscribed and Signed, or Personized, Inscribe and Signed. Generally the Flat Signed books are the best but you have to remember that people that look at your book need to have some faith that it is really signed (and not by you!). Having something inscribed and personalized is actually not a negative thing in this area because for one, you know that it wasn't pre-printed and the prospective buyer feels better because a forgery probably would only be a Flat Signed book. So, books that are inscribed or personalized in some way don't have any major pitfalls in my opinion, I just make sure that the signature is the author and not the owner's mom. When it is Flat Signed, I will check to see if it made an indention on the back of the page, some pen bleed, or they used a different color ink and if its on the title page you will generally see the author's name printed above it (if not, big question mark). Then I will always try to find other signed books by that author on eBay and in the internet space.

Give Prospective Buyer's Confidence

I know that the prospective buyers may lack confidence that because the book does not have a COA or certified by PSA/DNA, it may not be authentic. I deal with this by publishing on every listing, that my books are guaranteed and if they are found to not be authentic through a service such as PSA/DNA (or they convince me otherwise), I will refund their full purchase amount plus shipping (but not the cost they may have paid for authentication). I have sold hundreds of signed books to date and never have I had one returned. I have, however, re-inspected a book before I shipped it and found it not to be authentic and cancelled the order....not fun, but the right thing to do.

Are All Thrift Stores Equal?

The short answer is No. Low income towns generally don't produce many signed books. The best Thrift Stores are those in areas that are adjacent to well-to-do areas, areas where the rich folk might clean up and take their books to the Thrift Store on the other side of the tracks and not realize that some are signed. Generally, Thrift stores in larger cities do well and areas where author's tend to live is always good (for example, Chapel Hill, NC has a large number of authors).

Can I Hit the Same Thrift Store Again?

Once I hit all of the local Thrift Stores, I then moved further out of town, then...I come back. I have found that after about 4-6 months, the books at any Thrift Store will have rotated enough that you will then walk out with some good finds, but it will likely never be as good as the first time you hit it. Occasionally, I will start searching and if I don't find a book within the first bookcase, I will pack up and move on...someone else was probably there before you (or it could have been you!).

In Closing

This is one of they first areas of focus for SecondMoonshot and it got to be an addiction. It can be profitable and I have found signed books that have sold for up to $200. I have found books signed by Joan Baez, Jimmy Carter (several), George W. Bush (both of them), Nicholas Sparks (way too many of his, but he also lives in NC, so will give him a break) and lots of well-known authors. I can now walk into most any thrift store and process and average size lot within 15-20 minutes and usually walk out with 6-12 good re-sellable signed books. I do the same thing at estate sales and frequently hit ones with high volumes of books…and while everyone is fighting over the vintage books, I take my time and get a couple gems.

Happy hunting!



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