The Last Book Scout…

IMG_2828

The world of the book scout is a changing landscape.  The very technology that seemingly threatens to submerge it has recently switched polarity and infused it with an unexpected resurgence.  The renaissance may be short lived, as the overall trend has shown book scouting to have gone from a popular pastime to an obscure practice.  What was once a busy profession abounding with hordes of enthusiasts, has turned into an archaic vocation kept alive by a handful of skilled connoisseurs.  Recently however, they have been joined by an influx of pickers armed with digital scanners, smart phones and online book selling savvy.

An old school book scout would scour classified ads for estate sales, garage sales, library sales and yard sales, paying particular attention to how they each were worded.  He, or she was wary of ads using the word “treasures” which translated to “junk” and kept a sharp eye out for buzz phrases like “English grad student moving” or “Philosophy professor passed away” which could have spelled pay dirt.  Armed with a vast knowledge of books from a lifetime of reading and a finely tuned intuition for locating quality print, they set out for these sales.  The goal: to unearth gems among the rubble, to buy them cheap and then sell them for profit.

One such man is none other than author Larry McMurtry, who explains having embarked on a career as a novelist in order to support his book buying habit.  He is the central figure in the upcoming indie film by Studio Seven7 Films called Books: A Documentary.  The film by Sara Ossana and myself tells the story of the three hundred thousand plus, of Larry McMurtry’s antiquated acquisitions that were auctioned off in August of 2012.  The event, which lasted just two days, was aptly named The Last Book Sale.  This historic occasion marks the culmination of forty years of Larry’s work as a book scout, and two thirds of what was amassed, being released back out into the world.

The auction no doubt drew book scouts cut from the same cloth as the proprietor of the four Booked Up storefronts in Archer City, Texas.  However, there was also a new breed of book buyer lurking about among the paperbacks and first editions.  The 21st century literary curator still combs through the classifieds for listings of book sales, but they rely more on technical gadgetry than upon applicable knowledge to cull profits from the piles of pages.  They use a handheld electronic scanner to weed through many volumes in one day, looking for titles that can be sold for profit.  Their scanner runs a book’s UPC code across a snapshot of the Amazon catalog.  The software then calculates the book’s worth.  Books with a high value are bought if a low price can be arranged and then re-sold online.  Many rare books are pre-UPC, where scanning a code is not an option.  In this case, they then pull out a smart-phone, loaded with latest apps and booked marked websites, and with a few clicks, now has all the information needed.

Similar to the world of baseball, an old-school scout would simply have taken the findings, cross referenced with years of gut instinct and stuffed notebooks, to bookstores or private collectors they had built relationships with over the years.  The new school scout harnesses the power of the internet, which although impersonal, has not necessarily cheapened the trade.  Online book reselling is highly competitive because there is money to be made.  This current model is a recent improvement on what was being done just a few years ago.  Before electronic scanners, new school book scouts had to use their cell phones to call friends or partners who were waiting at computers to look up titles that may have been valuable.  This resurgence in the popularity of old books is a refreshing development.  Perhaps the digital world will not yet fully render the analog world of information obsolete.

However, this begs the question: what improvements on the current strategy might the book scout of tomorrow employ?  Perhaps tomorrow’s book scout will find a title, scan it and take a picture of it all at once.  They could then post it online, find a buyer and collect the money digitally before ever paying for it and leaving the store.  Perhaps when teleportation is an everyday practice the process will go one step further and the scout will beam the book over to the buyer right then and there.  Sounds like a plot to a futuristic novel…

#SupportBooks
by visiting us on
kickstarter-logo-light

The business of imagination

A life long Connecticut resident, Brian Trent, was born in Waterbury CT, once nicknamed ‘Brass-City’ for it’s manufacture of watches and clocks through the first half of the 20th century.  Since his earliest memory, Brian has had a life long fascination with discovering how the world and space ‘tick’.  A passion, he most likely picked up from spending time his family, also science fiction fans.

This past April, Brian Trent was honored by Writers of the Future in Hollywood for his story “War Hero”.  We asked him to write about his experience.

Trent-BlogI had been writing stories since childhood, scribbling adventure tales on stacks of yellow legal pads. For my sixth birthday my parents bought me a typewriter (a metallic blue Brother 11) and my way of thanking them was to incessantly pound out stories late into the night like an over caffeinated drummer. Then I’d mail these stories to prospective magazines; since my penmanship resembles a cross between drunken cuneiform and double-exposed Chinese calligraphy, I can’t be sure how many ultimately reached their destinations.

Flash-forward to 2012. I wrote “War Hero” on my computer, which is quieter than my typewriter and doesn’t jam if I type too fast (although most of the white lettering has long since worn off of the keys; I still type like other people drum.) I mailed the story to the Writers of the Future Contest, one of the most prestigious competitions of the genre, and waited. Half of the struggle in this business is learning to wait.

In December, I get the phone call: “Mr. Trent? I’m calling to let you know that your story has just been selected as a winner in the 29th Annual Writers of the Future Contest.”  Ah! I could finally justify to my parents the many nights I kept them up with the clack-clack-clack of my typewriter!  In April, I was flown out to Hollywood, taken through an exquisite week-long writing workshop, met the luminaries of the field, and got to give an acceptance speech.

I first sat down to write “War Hero” in order to explore an idea:  If minds can be uploaded and downloaded at will, how does that change the face of war?  What if the war criminal you’re tracking can literally be anyone, and you’re never really sure if you’ve eliminated the last copy?  To be sure, mind-uploading is a theme I’ve explored before (Apex Magazine’s latest issue features my story “A Matter of Shape-space” which also tackles this prickly issue) but “War Hero” took the concept and galloped straight into an especially grisly lair of ideas.

Whether grisly or not, ideas are the fuel behind all fiction.  Ideas are what kept my six-year-old self up late at night, hammering out tales of exotic places and possible futures.  Ideas are what books communicate across generations and civilizations, from stone tablet to electronic tablet, from yellow legal pad to whatever we’ll be using tomorrow.  What WILL we be using tomorrow?

Time to explore another idea…

Brian Trent
Read War Hero – Here
#SupportBooks
by visiting
kickstarter-logo-light
—–