How to Survive (and Profit From) Your Local Library Fill-A-Bag Sale

It’s my most favorite time of the year – book sale season! There’s a book sale every weekend in my neck of the woods. Books currently account for more than three quarters of my total sales for the year (Grocery and Health & Beauty comprise most of my other sales), so I’m sourcing books every week. Generally, I aim to send in at least 100 books a week to Amazon FBA, many obtained from local library book sales.

One of my favorite types of book sales are fill-a-bag sales. Library sales are typically staffed by volunteers, and packing up and moving the books AFTER the sale isn’t always practical or preferable. Smart library sale directors know this, and schedule a “fill a bag” sale for the last day or last few hours of their book sale event to get rid of what’s left. This is a wonderful way to obtain cheap inventory for your Amazon FBA business, and if you can attend, it’ll definitely be worth it.

Bag prices vary – I’ve seen anything from $1/bag to $8/bag, but in my area, $5/bag is the most common price point. I’ve found it’s best to come armed with cash to pay for your purchases. You may be required to pay for a bag at the beginning of the sale before they even let you in the door.

If you’ve never been to a library fill-a-bag sale, the crowds can be intimidating and it’s easy to lose your focus when the doors open and the stampede starts. Here are a few tips to help you prepare before the sale and maximize your time and FBA profits:

1. Get There Early. For a sale larger than 10,000 books, plan to get there at least 30 minutes ahead of time. For a smaller sale, I arrive 15 minutes or so early.

2. Bring Your Own Bags or Plastic Totes. You may be required to buy at least one bag to get into the sale, and that’s fine. But buying one bag and going back to purchase another will slow you down too much. Plan to create a pile in an out of the way area, and fill your totes or bags as you go. At the end, you can pack your bags more carefully to maximize space. If you have boxes or full totes, you may be able to get a box rate instead of filling the bags. Another tip: Make sure you have a few cloth bags. If you are required to use the brown grocery bags, you can put them in the cloth bags, making them more durable to carry to your car (and less likely to rip and spew books everywhere when you’ve stuffed them to capacity).

3. Get Down to Business Immediately. Time is of the essence at a fill-a-bag sale. While you’re dithering with your phone or scanner, your competitor is scooping up profits. I look at it this way – all you have to do to be profitable is put one $5 or $8 or even $1 book in a bag. I can fit 20-30 books in a bag, depending on the size, and the rest could be total crap and you’d still break even. I rely a lot less on my scanner at these sales and immediately pluck books that look unique, interesting, or otherwise tickle my book Spidey sense. At these prices, you can afford to make a few mistakes and still come out ahead.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Clear a Shelf. If you have a niche that you know very well, don’t feel bad about heading straight there and loading the entire lot into your bag. The organizers do not want to take this stuff home. I don’t find many CDs and audiobooks and DVDs at the fill-a-bag library sales I go to (they’re usually sold by that point), but if I did, they’d all be heading into my bag. You can fit so many in a bag it’s definitely worth your time.

5. Look for Non-Barcoded Books. On the last day, you’ll find books that professional booksellers have passed over. A lot of these books may included older books without ISBNs or barcodes. These books, despite their age, can be goldmines at a fill-a-bag sale. Even one good book can pay for the entire cost of the sale! One of my favorite book sales was a smaller library sale where you could fill a bag for $5. I found a spiral-bound book called “How to Make Your Own Snowshoes.” This was clearly a low-budget publication – it looked like something put out by a guy working at the local Staples. But what it had going for it was the esoteric subject matter. I spent $15 at that bag sale, and this one book sold for $45 less than 3 weeks later (also: it had a rank of 6 million and only took 3 weeks to sell via Amazon FBA. Go figure.)

6. Don’t Overlook Book Lot Opportunities. Although Amazon FBA is by far my favorite place to sell books, there are plenty of opportunities to sell books, especially in lots of one author or genre, on ebay. I don’t focus much on fiction during the full-price days of the sale, but if I can grab 15-20 hardback titles of the same author on a fill-a-bag day, I do it. Some authors I like to lot on Ebay: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell, & Dr. Seuss. Basically any topic or author you see a significant number of can be put up as a profitable lot.

7. Have an Abundance Mindset. No matter what the sale, no matter how many books, I always find enough to cover my costs. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’ll never find anything, it’ll be completely picked over.” But I have never attended a bag sale and lost money. Yes, be conscious of how much you’d spend on gas to get there and whether the amount of books at the start of the sale will make it worth your while. However, I truly believe that every bookseller brings their unique experience to the table, and no doubt that you will find that gem that every other FBA seller has overlooked. Don’t hesitate to attend a fill a big sale if it’s convenient for you!