[Flag] Issue 2: August 1999
Rising Sun
"For the next Age of Magnamund..."

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Collecting on a Shoestring II
Methods to the Madness
by Andrew G. Black.
edited by Lawrence Ritchie.
Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.

As I said in the last issue of Rising Sun, I've got an obsession with finding rare Joe Dever books at used book stores. My reasons are many, from providing the Lone Wolf community with inexpensive copies of desirable books, to upgrading the quality of my collection.

In this article, I discuss methods for effectively visiting many book stores in a short time period, and talk briefly about independent and chain used book stores. This article may not be for everyone, but it can apply to anyone in the world who wants to find desirable Joe Dever books at used stores. You can't realistically find a Magnamund Companion or first edition copies of Lone Wolf (with a color map) at a retail sellers nowadays. To get these and other treasures, you have to hit the backdoor.

Going to used book stores can be a time consuming process because travel is involved. Generally, the more second-hand shops that are visited, the greater are the odds of finding a treasure, so volume can generally correlate to quantity and quality of desirable books. To hit as many stores as possible in a limited time frame requires efficiency.

I use a three step process and several tools to efficiently hit as many used book stores as possible. The first step involves defining an area of focus, the second is determining a travel route in the area of focus, and the third is what book stores are actually visited. Notice that there are two planning steps to one action step. This helps ensure maximum efficiency.

Define an Area of Focus

More than likely, it isn't possible to visit every bookstore in your area, at least not all at once. Boundaries need to be set, and specific plans made within those boundaries. For example, on occasion I visit the city of Minneapolis for business trips. I want to hit as many used book stores as I can during my business trip, and still have time to go sightseeing. It is unrealistic for me to try to go to St. Cloud which lies many miles away from Minneapolis just to visit one or two stores. I want to go where the highest density of book stores are relative my location or travel route. Giving a quick glance through the phone book, I find a high density of second hand book stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are all very close. So, my area of focus is the Minnesota/St. Paul area.


With that determination made, I need to make more decisions. As it turns out, there are so many stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that I can't possibly visit them all, even on my five day business trip. I need to be more selective with what stores I choose to visit. Looking closely at the phone book, I cross out stores that specialize in any field that doesn't relate to General Used Stock, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, or Children's books. By doing this, there is the chance of missing some good books, but it is a necessary sacrifice.

After doing that, I often find that there are still too many book stores to choose from. What am I to do?

Determine a Travel Route in Focus Area

Not to fear, I have several days to try and visit most of these book stores. But which ones must I leave out? This leads to part two, where we determine travel routes within the focus area.

To do this portion, several items are required:

These tools are nearly essential for planning to hit a large volume of used book stores, especially if the area they are located in is unfamiliar to you.

First, take a road map and phone book of the focus area and start looking at the addresses of the used book stores. Using a pen or pencil, mark the locations on the roadmap of all the book stores of interest. In the likelihood that you don't have a phonebook of the focus area, try sites like http://superpages.com/ and search for them. If you are unfamiliar with the city or area that you intend to visit, putting dots on a large roadmap can be difficult. In cases like this, I swear by global positioning maps such as http://city.net/maps/address/ -zoom in and out to get the right bearings on the roadmap.

The roadmap should have all of the used book stores indicated once this task is completed. With the task complete, it is necessary to give the map a look over to determine the travel route that makes the most sense for your time and travel requirements. Connect the dots with a highlighter to plan out a general travel route. (The illustration below indicates used book stores as black dots, and the connecting lines indicate the order at which I'd like to visit them. Pay special notice to Mel's Books, it will be referred to later).


Some of the dots may be isolated from the others or not easy to access. Unless you have unlimited free time, consider skipping these stores unless they specialize in Sci-Fi/Fantasy or Children's books. Better yet, it may be a good idea to call them and ask them to search their shelves to confirm if they are worth the special attention of an out-of-the way visit.

Often, roadmaps do not provide enough detail of a city to give efficient travel directions. For that reason, it is useful to have a roadmap to provide a general overview and course heading, while using printed Internet maps for more specific instructions on how to get to a store.

Once the general travel route is established, use web sites like http://city.net/maps/address/ to print out detailed streetmaps of where each of the bookstores are. Use the appropriate zoom level to pinpoint exactly where the store is and note any landmarks that could help you get there. Write the street address in the margin of the printout. This will come in use when you actually go to visit the stores.


With the road map marked with a travel route, and detailed printouts of how to get to the individual stores, you are ready for the next phase.

NOTE: It would be wise to make sure that you visit stores during their established hours of operation and adjust your travel plans accordingly. Few things are more disappointing than traveling a long way to a store and finding that it is normally closed at the time of your visit! Occasionally, used stores may have e-mail addresses listed in the phone book. It pays to investigate in advance!

Visiting the Used Book Stores

This is the step where all of your hard work and planning will pay off. All of your preparation should make this step a question of Following my maps, what is the quickest way to get there? versus Where is the best place to go now? In this step, I point out a few tricks I learned along the way.

There is no doubt that on this step, you will be well prepared with a roadmap and the printed Internet maps. With a well thought out strategy, it becomes a relatively simple task to follow a pre-planned route and hit one shop after the next quickly. A few words of warning: Pay attention to where you are driving. Don't get into an accident by looking at a map when you should be looking at the road!

During your visits to the stores, take notes of which stores were actually open or if you missed some stores. These notes can be referred to later if you get the chance to visit the area again.

Talk to the store owners and find out if they know of any stores that specialize in Gamebooks, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, or Children's. It is not uncommon that stores belong to a statewide network of used book stores and know of shops that may be custom tailored for the books you are looking for.

Chain -vs- Independent Used Book Stores

There are several chains of used book stores scattered about the country. The chain bookstores often have a larger selection of books, but the independent ones often have older books and a comfortable antique atmosphere about them. The smaller stores have more unique treasures than the larger chains because they are often overlooked.

To illustrate, I visited a Half Price Books chain store in Cincinnati and found a Magnamund Companion. Later, I visited a small rinky-dink used book store out in the middle of nowhere and found the exceedingly rare Freeway Warrior #3. As far as I'm concerned, there is little difference in the number of treasures that I've found at chain stores versus smaller, independently owned bookstores so on business trips I always try to hit both.

Using this system, I went to fifty used book stores in Minneapolis/St. Paul during a week-long business trip, with plenty of time for sightseeing and other enjoyments.

Additionally there are other benefits to consider. The chance of finding a horde of Magnamund Companion's increases as more stores are visited. This good fortune could be shared with other members of the Kai Wisdom mailing list. I even found a UK book at a used book store in the US, so you just never know what you will find! If you don't have luck with the book stores that you've been visiting, don't give up hope. While in Chicago, I was disappointed by the lack of Lone Wolf material, but my spirits picked up when I found some old Star WarsTM trading cards... 

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