I grew up in a home full of books. My parents — avid collectors — took us to book fairs the way other kids are taken to the zoo.
But my real education in the book world occurred when my mother moved into assisted living and eventually passed away, leaving thousands of books behind. I was left to figure out what to do with the volume of volumes!
Over the years, I have donated, sold directly or through dealers and auctioneers, given away and, when there were no other options, thrown out (forgive me!) hundreds of books. That’s why I am often the “go to” person when friends, clients, and colleagues pose the question, “What should I do with all the books?” (Not to confuse you: as a daily money manager / financial organizer, I work exclusively with clients’ paperwork. My visit into the book world was a chance detour from my professional work.)
What are Your Books Worth?
Looking for some guidelines, I turned to Jack DeStories of Fairfield Auction in Monroe, CT.: “When someone says to me, ‘My uncle has lots of books’, what should I do with them?” he said. “My first question is, ‘Was he a collector, did he buy from auction and from book dealers, or was he an accumulator?’ That’s your first clue about whether the books have commercial re-sale value,” he explained.
Different rules apply to fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, the condition, title, edition, and if it is signed by the author all contribute to the book’s value. For non-fiction, condition is also important, but you should also consider if the topic is interesting to a broad or very narrow number of readers. Broadly speaking, the esoteric topic would be more rare, and therefore more valuable.
Options for Selling Books
“While there are no hard and fast rules, a dealer will sell a less expensive book for about five to 10 times what they paid for it,” DeStories noted. “As you go up the price ladder, the mark-up will go down gradually to about two times the dealer’s cost (at around the $2,500 price point).” Most dealers won’t be interested in a book that would sell for less than $25. Each has their own policy, of course. Professional bookselling sites are not available to non-professional book sellers like you and I. Amazon and Ebay are alternatives, if you choose to take the do-it-yourself route.
Donating Books you No Longer Want
The Salvation Army Donation Value Guide advises valuing a hardcover book at $1 to $3 and a paperback at 75 cents to $1.50 for tax purposes. IRS Publication 561, Determining the Value of Donated Property is the definitive resource for valuing donated goods. For a tax deduction, the organization must be a 501(c)(3) organization and provide a dated receipt. It’s up to the donor to supply the number and value of books donated.
Where should you donate your books? The Salvation Army and Goodwill accept books for homeless shelters or their resale shops. Better World Books accepts book in its drop-off boxes and through the mail, donating a portion of sales to non-profit literacy organizations. If you are donating to a library, be mindful of their rules. Please don’t unload text books or magazines on a library that doesn’t want them. These items and books they can’t be sold because they are damaged or musty are an expensive burden. Libraries must pay to dispose of the items, rather than benefit from an otherwise appreciated gift.
What about you? Are you a book lover who can’t bear to part with any of your books? Or, are you tired of having to dust volumes you no longer care about? Are you willing to dispose of them if you know they will find a good home with someone new? If so, take out your feather duster and clear those shelves.