The Ultimate
Discount Book Sale Is VNSA

By Joe Waynick
Jan 5, 2013

The annual discount book sale hosted by the Volunteer Non-profit Service Association (VNSA) is almost here and no doubt book sellers from all over the country will descend upon Phoenix, AZ to participate in the festivities.

This year is the 57th annual sale and it'll be held on the third weekend in February (February 16th - 17th).

From what I hear they've already assembled an amazing assortment of books and other items that will go up for sale.

The VNSA book sale will display over 500,000 books and it typically draws a crowd of several thousand people, many of whom are from out of state. It's the biggest discount book sale event in Arizona. And undoubtedly the most important book sale in America to me. It's hard to find book sales as large as this one.

So if you don't like crowds, this sale is not for you. If you love the hustle and bustle of a massive event, then you'll have a wonderfully profitable experience.

What Is The VNSA?

VNSA is a volunteer non-profit organization that was founded in 1957 in Phoenix, Arizona.

It hosts a nationally recognized annual discount book sale that benefits local human service agencies.

Since its inception, the organization has increased the amount of dollars donated to community programs each year, which has totaled more than $6,000,000 for local Arizona charities to date.

The growth of the VNSA fundraising book sale is made possible by the good will and generosity of its volunteer work force, financial donors, community supporters, and loyal shoppers.

My First VNSA Book Sale In Phoenix

The first time I attended their discount book sale I took a helper and we got through the doors in the second wave of shoppers. In less than six hours we found about 300 books. Each title had an average sale price of $15 plus shipping.

We returned on Sunday and picked up another 100 or so books in about three hours.

The biggest reason we only scored 300 books the first day is because we passed up at least 200 - 300 that were perfectly salable except that whoever prepared them for sale made the foolish mistake of sticking a permanent price tag on the front endpaper.

It's extremely difficult to remove such labels without leaving a mark, and if the page is color paper, it's impossible.

Consequently, many books we could have sold at a decent price had to be ignored due to the used book stickers and price tags.

I actually complained to the book sale coordinator. I calmly explained why she was losing hundreds of dollars from the sale of used books from me, and possibly from hundreds of other dealers too, because of the price tag issue.

She suggested I use Goo Gone to remove the labels. I asked her if she was kidding. Obviously, she's never rubbed Goo Gone on paper before. I'm not sure if my concerns fell on deft ears or not, but at least I was heard.

When To Show Up

If you want to score big at this years' VNSA discount book sale you need to be prepared to out-organize and out-scout the thousands of competitors who'll undoubtedly flood the event.

First, you need to arrive early—really early. Many sellers start arriving at 6pm the previous day and camp out all night.

That's a bit extreme for me. But it illustrates how competitive some of the sellers are you'll be facing.

I like to show up by 2am the day of the sale. That usually gets me in on the tail end of the first wave of shoppers.

Being in the first wave is important because many titles with the highest resale prices are scooped up within the first 30 minutes of the sale.

And if you're in the second wave, you may have to wait an hour or more before you get into this massive second hand book sale.

Preparing For The Sale

Expect the weather in Phoenix to be cold in February. We don't get snow, but the temperature drops drastically at night because this is the desert.

So dress warmly, bring a scarf, wear two pair of socks, and slip on a good pair of gloves. Also, a blanket comes in mighty handy as you'll see below.

Bring yourself a comfortable folding chair to sit on because the discount book sale doesn't start until 8am.

If you arrive at 2am, you have a six hour wait. Standing that long is a drag, and sitting on the cold ground isn't a viable option.

So have a seat in your comfy chair, toss your blanket over your legs, and relax.

Packing a thermos full of hot coffee or hot chocolate is a must. And tossing in a few breakfast and lunch sandwiches are nice touches. That way you don't have to stop and eat in the middle of the sale. You can just eat on the go.

Finally, don't forget to bring your PDA with a bar code scanner attachment because you want books that are more than just a great reading copy.

Unless you're very skilled at identifying valuable books on sight, you'll need your scanner to spot the diamonds.

I like to keep my mind occupied while waiting. So guess what? I bring a book to read! If I tire of that, I'll visit with my surrounding neighbors, and I even pass out business cards indicating that I buy books.

Make The Most of The Day

The sale organizers usually pass out maps of the warehouse floor plan prior to opening their doors. It's a used books directory that tells you where everything is.

You'll see that everything is organized by category. Study the map and decide which categories you want to attack first.

The instant I hit the warehouse floor, I head straight for the following categories, and I do it in this order:

  • Art
  • Textbooks
  • Business
  • Erotica
  • History
  • Self-help
  • True Crime

Most books you read about bookselling tell you to pick a category in which to specialize and become an expert in that genre.

Art and business are my best categories simply because I have always loved reading about those subjects since I was a teenager.

I've gotten to the point where I can go into a discount book sale & spot the best sellers in business & finance without even scanning them. It's scary!

Follow these guidelines and you'll be well prepared to take maximum advantage of the VNSA sale and make it your best book scouting trip of the year.

Good hunting.

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