Book Collecting Tips I’ve Learned Over the Years

I’ve always enjoyed visiting book stores. I followed my brother-in-law around used bookstores for years. He started collecting books in the ’80s when he was out on the west coast.

And he had built up quite a few new and antique collectible books by the mid 90’s when he moved back to Dallas.

I liked browsing for books but didn’t know anything about what made a book collectible. Jim taught me how to evaluate the condition of a book and how to determine if it was a first edition.

The Internet arrived in the late 1990s … and my brother-in-law showed me how to look up the prices of books on the Internet using Advanced Book Exchange and Ebay. He gave me many other book collecting tips.

So … in 1998 I decided to begin book collecting.

Below are book collecting tips I’ve learned:

1. For a book to be collectible and possibly valuable, it must be a first edition (also called first printing)

How can you tell? Well, open the book up to about the third page – usually the page after the title page – the copyright page.

Look near the bottom 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 then it is a first edition or first printing.

80% of current publishers use the number line to identify a first printing.

(Sometimes the 1 will be missing and the words “First Edition” may appear above or below the number line.  This is a later printing and will rarely if ever be valuable.)

If there is no number line then look for the words “First Edition” or “First Printing” or “First Published”.

First editions published before 1980 can be more difficult to identify.  You may need to buy a first edition identification guide.

2. Book condition has a big impact on its value

Condition is critical to the value of a book. Just reading a book once can result in stains, tears, or rubbing that may reduce its value by 30-50% or more. The highest grades of a book are called Very Fine (essentially flawless) or Fine.

These are the book collecting grades that I try to purchase.

3. An author’s first book will usually be the most valuable book she or he writes

The publisher is taking a chance on a new untested author. So only a small number of books … possibly only a few thousand books may be printed.

If the author gets favorable reviews and sells out the first printing… the publisher may call for a second printing with more books. And sign the author up for a second book.

The author’s next book will probably have a print run in its first printing of … two to three times that of the author’s first book. You can see due to supply and demand the first book’s value will be higher … perhaps much higher than the second book!
Another book collecting tip is to …

4. Collect hardcover books

The Trade Edition hardcover is usually the first book sold. It will have a much greater longevity than the paperback which will turn yellow over time and the pages will become brittle.

Paperbacks may come out six months to a year later. Paperbacks are made to be read. Some may choose to collect them but I don’t. The same goes for book club editions. These books are shorter, thinner and don’t have a price on the dust jacket.

I buy paperbacks for reading … not collecting!

5. Select books from these Book Genres: 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 films), music or books. Books in other genres such as history or biographies can be very collectible, too. But they may not reach the heights of value that the fiction genres can.

6. Book Awards

Books that have won book awards are often very collectible and valuable. In particular … be on the lookout for an author’s first book which has won an award.

7. Books that are generating buzz may be worth collecting

A book collecting tip to consider is collecting books with good reviews on Amazon or that is being written about on various websites.  Or has made the bestseller lists.

8. Signed Books

Books that are signed by author generally increase the value of a book by 20 to 100% or more.

Authors sign more books early in their career … and less as they become more famous. So later signed books by well-known authors may have considerable value … even if many first editions were printed.

Watch for author signings at books stores and fairs.

9. A book will be more collectible from the country in which it was first published

Often the same book is published both in the US and in the United Kingdom. If it was published first in the UK it will be called the “true first” and have more value.

Books published in the UK and Canada are printed in lower numbers due to the smaller populations – this makes them more valuable.

10. Valuable first editions can be found on the bargain shelves in major book stores

Publishers discount books that have stopped selling well or that have been reprinted too many times. First editions of authors first or second books can sometimes be found.

Occasionally they can be found without a remainder mark on the bottom or top of the text block.


These are very important rules or tips that will aid you in determining which books to collect. You will see that we refer to these tips often in our posts on Books To Consider.

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