How to find value in literature

It is possible to profit from books. There are many factors which influence how much each copy is worth to investors. And it may not be an author signature which adds the most value.

One of the most popular myths associated with book collecting is that the presence of an author's signature will add to a book's value. However, as the Irish poet Seamus Heaney recently quipped, he has signed so many books that the unsigned copies are probably more collectable.

Heaney's remark is important as it illustrates the different factors affecting a book's price. If there is little interest in it, it is not likely to be worth much but this can change. A Dublin woman is still kicking herself almost 50 years after she became a victim of the vagaries of the book market. She swapped a signed first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses for a job in the US embassy back in the 1950s. The market wasn't jumping over itself for a copy at the time, but one recently sold for £100,000.

According to experts, the most important thing to look out for when in search of books for your collection is their condition, as Irish-based collector Harry Lyons tells The Irish Times. "The real caveat emptor of book collecting is condition," he says. "Collectors want the book in the best condition possible." A book with missing pages is thus almost always worthless.

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What is by no means worthless, though, is a book's dust jacket. This is because it is the most fragile part of a book, and therefore the most likely to be missing, or seriously damaged. Its presence can multiply a book's value.

Given the many aspects governing a book's price, experts advise focusing "on niche", says Ming Liu in the FT. Popular areas are genres such as modern fiction, particular authors, or subjects. Many collectors deal specifically in books related to a particular award, such as the Pulitzer Prize, or Hugo Award for science fiction. The benefits are evident from the increase in value of signed first editions of John Banville's The Sea, which fetched more than £150 after he won the Man Booker Prize, against less than £30 on Ebay beforehand.

Besides Ebay, the best resources are and Both sites have thousands of books for sale, allowing you to hunt for the particular type of book that most interests you. There is no limit: as Francis Bacon said, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." And as collectors point out, some can be profited from.