Hints from Al’s Emporium of Ideas

IN THE COURSE of writerly events an author will come across the need for a book or two. Not just any book, but out of print and difficult to find stuff. It might be a book wanted for research, or a book written during the era which the author is describing, or, sometimes, to get another file copy of one his/her own out of print books. Thankfully, we live in an age where gathering such things is easy.
Over the last year or so I’ve needed to lay my hands on some now obscure titles. I’ve also needed to buy some of my own out of print books for republishing. For example, one of my next self-publishing projects is to touch up and reissue a book I did back in 2009. Unfortunately I only have one file copy. I could send that off to be scanned and the company I use (www.blue-leaf-scanning.com) would have returned the book unharmed. Still, I knew I would feel a little more secure knowing I had a couple of extra copies on my shelf.
I’ve also just released a short nonfiction book about the Scopes trial and the undelivered speech of William Jennings Bryan (Unspoken). All of that occurred in 1925. Bryan’s speech, although never given in the Dayton, TN courthouse, was printed as a small book. I wanted a copy. Since I had been gathering out of print books dealing with Bryan, Darrow, and the Scopes Trial, I knew where to turn.
Here are a few places to gather those helpful books:
1. Abebooks.com. This is one of my favorite places. It’s sort of a clearing house for sellers of old books. You can buy very rare books there if you want, but most of the trade (at least from people like me) is in used books—affordable used books. Most of the books I buy cost less than $4.00 and sometimes (not always) comes with free shipping. I have a shelf of 20 or so such books. Searching is easy and you’ll usually have a long list from which to choose. Those selling the books will list the books condition (used, good, very good, new, etc.) so you can get an idea of what you’re buying. The sellers are also rated by those who have purchased from them. I have found abebooks.com invaluable.
2. Similar to the above is alibris.com and I’ve used them for several purchases. Both companies are gold mines.
3. Don’t forget amazon.com. Just today I ordered a copy of one of my out of print books. Since I live in one of the cities that provides same day Amazon deliveries, I should have the book in my hot little hands by supper. Not only that. I’m not getting a used book; I’m getting a new book. That isn’t true for every title, but it’s worth taking a look.
Writing is research. That’s true even for fiction. Years ago, I wrote a novel about an old Dreadnought class battleship that sails from the early 1900s into the present. Since much of the action takes place on the massive vessel, I needed help in learning the layout. Fortunately, I found a book that had full schematics of a Dreadnought class battleship. That was a life saver (a book saver?).
We live in a remarkable time. We can sit at our computers and search the world for information. It’s a shame not to use it.

Alton Gansky writes fiction and nonfiction books, collects typewriters, and buys the occasional old but needed book. www.altongansky.com