Finding Encouragement at the Book Sale

Sunday, August 07, 2016
As I write this I'm at the beach or, as I like to think of it, in recovery. I'm in recovery from the Book Sale. For approximately seven months out of the year my job in the marketing department of a local newspaper includes the Book Sale.

This is no "throw up a few tables in the back room and throw out the books" affair. This is a huge event that happens twice a year and is exhausting for everyone involved. But it's worth it because it funds the Newspaper in Education program that allows the newspaper to donate newspapers to local teachers to use in their classrooms.

Of course the big heroes are our readers who donate thousands...tens of thousands of the sale each year. But there are also dozens of employees at the newspaper who do everything: answer phone calls about the sale, haul books from our offices to the mall where our sale is held, sort books into categories and shelf books, create ads, collect the banana boxes from local grocery stores that we use to move the books, show up to sell the books and countless other jobs that contribute to our sale.

The book sale affects me in two ways. I'm a sorter, opening up the bags, boxes and assorted containers that come to us filled with books and sorting them into categories: fiction, self-help, children's, history, gardening, and on and on. Thousands of books pass through my hands each year. Thousands! Initially, the reader in me is excited by all the books. Yay, books! I am literally surrounded by boxes of books. It is like a dream come true.

But then the writer in me begins to see these piles of bound paper as something else...competition. Why would someone want to read a book by me when they have all these books to choose from? Surely, all these authors are much better writers than me. If these books ended up abandoned in a grocery bag at a used book sale what chance will a book by me stand? I bet the book I'm writing has already been written by someone else and is sitting on one of these tables. (Did I mention sorting is a solitary task -- just me, the books, and lots of time to think depressing thoughts.)

Thankfully, the actual book sale knocks these thoughts right out of me. Not the sale exactly, but the customers. They show up, year after year, in droves. They don't just wander in haphazardly. These people have planned their whole day around the book sale, taken time off from work, brought lists that are pages long. First-timers look around at our shelves and immediately begin calling or texting friends telling them "you have to come up here". Our customers don't buy one or two books. They buy two dozen books, two bags of books, so many books that they need to use our cart to transport everything to their car. They are joyful. This is their favorite day of the year that doesn't involve a national holiday.

And suddenly I am reassured that my book will someday find an audience. How could it not with so many enthusiastic readers out there?

Need a writing boost? Volunteer at your local used book sale!

Jodi M. Webb is writer living in Pennsylvania who also is a WOW blog tour manager. Her next tour will be Sugarland by Martha Conway, a novel that involves murder, Chicago and 1920s jazz clubs. Contact her at if you're interested. You can find her blogging about books at Building Bookshelves. You can check out photos of the book sale that discourages and encourages her here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

We have huge book sales in St. Louis like this, too. I am always one of the ones salivating over the gymnasium or giant tent full of books.

Jodi--Thanks for putting a writerly spin on this.

Margo Dill said...

I like how you worked through this book event and came out with a positive spin. How awesome to be part of an event like this!

Renee Roberson said...

Good gracious--that's my kind of book sale! I kind of feel the same way whenever I visit a sale of this caliber--"who would ever want to buy a book from someone like me?" Thanks for the encouraging words for the hesitant writers in all of us.

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