You’ve definitely heard about sport scouts who are attending junior sport events in hopes of finding a rising basketball or baseball star. You may have heard about talent scouts working for record labels and helping new talents shine. Art galleries have their scouts as well. Similar to art agents, they help match artists and collectors. But book scouting is a wholly different thing.
In the traditional sense, book scouting is the process of making a new, potentially successful book written in one language interesting to a publisher in a different market—this is how Wikipedia describes the term. However, there is much more to it. In recent years, book scouting has become quite popular due to its other meaning, where it is the same as book hunting or book sourcing with reselling purposes—with relation to old and used books.
Book Scouting: Let’s Get the Terms Straight
In this article, we will take a close look at book scouting from these two perspectives. We’ll discuss what being a classical book scouter means and will focus on book scouting as flipping books for profit, as the latter trend has grown in popularity and more people get interested in second-hand book reselling.
Classical Book Scouting (Literary Scouting)
A classical book scout, or a literary scout, is a person who works with foreign publishers and helps them find the next bestseller to bring to their market. Technically, book scouts monitor new books that the U.S. editors receive, read them, and decide whether they will be a good match for their clients, foreign publishers.
Book scouts usually work for various international publishers, as many countries such as Russia, China, Germany, France, Brazil, and others have thriving book markets and are willing to localize a book published in the U.S. There are scouts that work for the American publishers as well, but their number is much smaller. The thing is that the American publishing industry buys fewer foreign titles compared to the number of American books purchased by foreign publishers. In other words, more books are translated from English to other languages than vice versa. Publishing houses all over the world (primarily in Europe and Asia) want to publish American books and rely on book scouting agencies and their scouters’ recommendations regarding the best titles.
There are even book scouts that work for film or television producers—film scouts—and their job is to find the next best book to turn into a successful screen adaptation. Such Hollywood companies as 20th Century Fox and Sony have in-house book scouts. Netflix has one, too. Others work with a number of independent literary scouts.
Book Scouting as a Career Choice
Being a literary scout is both challenging and rewarding. This is a position for a person who loves books and is an avid reader. However, there is a scope of other skills and competencies that you need to possess to be successful in the field.
- Experienced book scouts are literary experts; they know their industry and their specific niche from top to bottom.
- They also have a superpower to absorb tons of information fast. We mean really fast. According to some book scouts, you may be required to read as much as 10-20 books a week.
- Scouts are brilliant at networking. Passion for books is one thing, but if you find it hard to connect with other people in the field, you won’t be able to stay up-to-date with everything that’s going on in publishing. In fact, befriending editors and literary agents are pretty much a part of this job description.
- Scouts work for one or more publishers in each language territory or market. However, there should not be an overlap in the type of book. One scout cannot represent two or more business publishers on the same market. However, being a representative of a business publisher and a poetry publisher at the same time is absolutely normal, for instance.
How to Become a Book Scout
Literary scouting is also a great way to start a career in publishing. Scouting agencies sometimes have open entry-level positions for candidates with little or no experience in publishing. This is not a very common job, however, but if you are willing to work in the publishing field and get experience, we recommend applying for scouting agencies.
You can check whether book scouting jobs are available at the following companies:
- Maria Campbell & Associates
- Bettina Schrewe
- Franklin & Siega
- Mary Ann Thompson Associates
- Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
Book Scouting as Book Sourcing (or Book Hunting)
Now we’ll proceed to another meaning behind the book scouting term, the one about hunting for books, used book reselling, and making a profit on second-hand books. This is a totally different world and another set of rules.
Old-School Book Scouts
Before the entire world went digital, some people frequented garage and estate sales as well as thrift shops in search of the books they could buy at a very low price and then resell with a profit. They didn’t use any devices; they relied on their gut feeling and the knowledge they’d gained over the years of browsing through the piles of second-hand books. There are still such people, but they are in the minority. Let’s call them old-school book scouts.
They may not necessarily be related to publishing, but they have experience and an eye for a book that will make a profit. These people usually specialize in a certain genre or a type of book, so they know what they are looking for and how to recognize it. There are book scouts that know where to get second-hand comic books, or rare poetry books, or old manuscripts that research students will love, and so on.
They know how to spot a rare and valuable book and don’t discard titles published before 1972 because they can’t be scanned and evaluated with scanner apps. In their niche, the thing is not about a book being simply old but rather about the information it contains: a book scout should have the skill to dig out a book with unique or rare material, which will make it valuable. They also know the booksellers and bookshop owners that will accept exactly what they’ll bring.
For such old-schoolers, book scouting is a hunt and a way to keep valuable books alive; it is also a way to make a decent living. After all, it’s a pretty profitable business, but we’ll get back to it later.
“Digital” Book Scouts
Let’s call the other group “digital” book scouts. This is a broad group of people who either have been flipping books for profit for a while now or are trying to get their feet wet by reselling books occasionally online.
These people buy their used books in physical locations, be it a library sale, flea market, thrift shop, or any other place, but they sell them online either on Amazon or via other bookselling platforms. They use smartphones to scan the books’ ISBNs and check the selling prices of various booksellers right on the spot.
The booksellers’ Internet-based systems immediately determine the book value, and the book scout sees what they can get for it. If the book is a good bargain, the book scout makes a purchase and ships it to the online bookseller. Shipping costs are usually covered by the latter.
Technically speaking, these book scouts are Internet booksellers. The beauty of all this business is in its simplicity. Now we are not talking about selling rare or antique titles for hundreds of thousands of dollars but rather about the opportunity to get extra cash with little investment. Here is how it works.
How to Become a Book Scout
You do not need to be a specialist in any particular field to become a book scout. You just need to have some free time to attend book sales and thrift stores. You can start with reselling your old textbooks or old classics—those can bring good money, especially if you took STEM subjects in college.
It may seem that you will be competing against many people now that you know that the process is fairly simple. Nonetheless, it’s not entirely true. After a while, you will develop your own business model and focus on a specific range of titles, while other sellers will be hunting for theirs. The more experience you get, the faster you will be scanning books at any sale: you just won’t be wasting your time on the titles that are not in your niche.
How to Find Books to Sell
There are numerous ways to get your hands on great books you can resell with a profit. Here are some of the most popular methods to source your inventory.
1. Sell Your Own Books
First and foremost, browse your own collection. If you don’t know anything about books, start with textbooks—they’ll never fail you. Maybe you have a poetry collection left to you by the previous apartment owner, or
you have kids’ books you no longer need, or there are comic books that you have no interest in. Start with those.
2. Visit Local Book Sales
When you are done with your own books, go to a local book sale. A library next to you may be getting rid of the books they have no place on their shelves, and this is your chance to find something of value. Don’t forget about garage sales, either. These may be real treasure troves for a book scout.
3. Don’t Miss Estate Sales
Another fantastic opportunity to lay your hands on an entire collection of valuable titles is by visiting an estate sale. Depending on the sale, you can find some really old and really valuable books sold for just a few dollars and sometimes even less. If people are moving out and need to sell stuff really fast, they won’t be haggling over the price you offer, and you can get a real bargain. You can check an upcoming sale in your location at Estatesales.
4. Online Arbitrage
Online arbitrage is the option for the very lazy ones. Instead of going anywhere, you can browse various websites that sell books while sitting comfortably at home. Once you find a book that is sold cheaper than on Amazon, you buy it, wait for it to arrive, and list it on Amazon. It’s that simple.
5. Buy Books in Bulk
Many people sell their books in bulk on different platforms and even on social media. You can get those offers at very low prices. Chances are you will find some good books that you can sell; you can donate or recycle the rest.
6. Get Free Books
Don’t ignore free giveaways. Quite often, people just don’t bother selling their books when they are decluttering their homes, so they give away things, books included, to anyone who comes and picks them up. This is also a fair chance to come across something really good. Don’t miss it.
Most Popular Book Scouting Apps and Tools
The most popular book-selling tool among book scouts is, undoubtedly, Amazon. There are two options to choose from depending on how you want to handle picking and shipping.
Fulfillment by Merchant (FBM)
This option means that you’ll be storing, picking, packing, and shipping the book yourself. You can use any carrier (e.g., FedEx, UPS, etc.). This option is recommended if you have few orders to fulfill, have a place to store books, and your orders are expensive so that shipping costs don’t bother you.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
If, however, you list, sell, and ship many books on Amazon, you’d better choose FBA. With this option, for a fee, Amazon will do everything for you: storing, picking, packing, and shipping the book on your behalf. Customer service is also included. This is way more convenient if you have many regular orders.
BookScouter is yet one of the solutions you can use to sell your old books and used textbooks with a great profit. Not a reselling platform, it offers price comparison from over 30 book buyback vendors. Its major benefits are that it’s free and convenient: there are no hidden costs, and it is easy to use. You scan the book’s ISBN with a mobile app (iOS, Android), get a quote, and place your order with the selected vendor. You can also use the website and enter a book’s ISBN in the search field to compare real-time price quotes and choose the most attractive ones. Then you pack and ship the book and get payment from the vendor. This service is very convenient for book scouting, as it allows you to scan the ISBNs fast on any book sale or giveaway and provides a broad range of vendor offers. You can easily find an online bookseller that will pay you more than Amazon offers. BookScouter also features a set of Pro Tools ($29.99/mo) for book businesses and professional resellers where they can get access to the best potential deals, use bulk lookup and historic buyback price lookup.
One more tool that you may find helpful as a book scout is ScouteIQ. This one “helps you find profitable books to sell on Amazon.” Fast and easy to use, the app allows you to scan ISBNs and get the lowest FBA prices (or at least the app claims that it’s true). Nevertheless, it’s a cool analytical tool as well: it offers eScore, a rating history that shows the bookselling statistics in the past 6 months. It also has a downloadable database that makes scanning faster, and many other useful features. It’s not free—$44/mo or $432/yr, which may seem pricey. However, for a seasoned book scout with the bookselling business up and running, this cost is well justified. So you can give it a try as well.
Is Book Scouting Profitable?
The short answer is yes. You can start bookselling as a side hustle and grow it into a full-time job with a fairly good income. It all depends on your interests and goals. As a beginner, you may not get immediate high profits, but it’s ok. As you get more experienced, you can practice online book reselling as a part-time job and create a reliable income source. Alternatively, you may even become one of the book scouts that are so good at their trade that they can spot a real treasure at a thrift store and sell it for thousands of dollars later on Amazon or to a bookseller that specializes in rare and antique books.
There are numerous examples of first-edition copies that come from estate and library sales, priced now way-way higher than they were bought. Check the first-edition copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or signed by the author, a first limited edition in a clamshell slipcase of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray D. Bradbury. A book scout that sourced them must have found a real treasure.
What Type of Books Are Best to Flip?
Depending on the niche you want to enter, you may have a different experience. There are several types of books that usually sell well.
First, textbooks. Every year new students enter colleges and universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 19.7 million students attended high education institutions in the U.S. in 2020. All of them need textbooks, but not all can afford to buy new ones. This is where you can try your luck buying low from those who’ve graduated or finished their courses and selling high to those who’ve just enrolled or are starting a new course.
You can also try reselling rare and antique books, as they may bring high profit. This is true, as according to the data from Rare Book Hub, prices were skyrocketing on top 500 prices paid at auction in the books and paper field for 2021. Their #500 was sold for $119,700 in 2021 versus $75,000 in 2020. We are talking about an increase of 60%.
So if you plan to enter the rare book sourcing business and become an expert, take the following trend into consideration: printed ephemera, comic books, sports cards, manuscripts, and shorter forms were reported to bring the highest prices. Also, to be able to source rare books, you need to know where to look and how to identify first editions, signed copies, and other rare titles. Not all old books have value; not every classic piece in your attic will sell for thousands of dollars. To be able to run a business based on flipping rare books, you need to do very good research for every book. Besides, don’t expect that finding such treasures is easy. So if you are determined to enter this sphere, be prepared for a very harsh competition with people who have more experience than you.
You can also choose religious or philosophy books, as vintage Bibles can be very expensive, but you’ll be entering a very narrow field, so keep that in mind. Arts and crafts books are a good option as well, especially vintage ones. Non-fiction books may be a good sell, for instance, genealogy books, biographies, books about various wars and history books in general, and even self-help books. You can try sourcing any category and see how it goes.
Now you know that there are two sides to book scouting. If you’ve never thought about becoming a book scouter in its traditional sense, perhaps, trying book sourcing is a good idea. Now you know where to find books for reselling and how to evaluate if they will be a hit or miss.