Do you have a signed book to sell? Want to know how much your autographed copy is worth and where to sell it? Flipsy.com interviewed top booksellers to find out.
Do you have an autographed book to sell? You probably want to know how much your signed copy is worth and where you can sell it. Before you do, it's critical to conduct research to verify the authenticity of the signature, determine your book's market value, avoid scams, and compare the best places to sell signed books so you can get a fair price. This guide is your shortcut to finding the value of your signed book and where to sell it, researched by Flipsy with expert advice from top book experts.
Know what you have
The best way to get a fair price for your signed book is to know exactly what you have. Here's a start.
Signatures seem straight-forward, but there are actually four different types of autographs expert book dealers recognize:
- Signature: The signer (usually the author) has penned their name on a page in the book, and nothing else. This is also referred to as "flatsigned."
- Inscription: The signer has penned their name along with a personalized phrase or message; for example, "To Elizabeth." Normal inscriptions, such as those made a book signings, do not add value to signatures - and can even devalue them.
- Association Copy: An inscription made out to someone who is closely associated with the author. For example, if Harper Lee made an inscription dedicated to Truman Capote. Association copies are often the most valuable types of signatures, as they're rarer.
- Autopen: An autopen machine signs documents, most notably for U.S. presidents. Autopens are not regarded as real signatures and have no added value
Note that association copies made out by the author to the person the book was dedicated to are even rarer and often more valuable, and are referred to as "dedication copies."
Signatures can also be found on "bookplates," which are essentially slips of paper signed by the author and later attached to the book. Bookplates are not as valuable as on-page signatures.
Finally, some books contain facsimile signatures, which are mechanically-applied and are not true signatures.
The most difficult part of determining what you have, and therefore its worth, is authenticating signatures. As antiquarian bookseller Joachim Koch puts it, "Signatures cannot be authenticated, even with so-called 'certificates of authenticity.' While you might be able to verify that a signature is not authentic, the opposite is just not possible. Experts will be able to state that a signature 'looks authentic' as it can be compared with similar signed objects by the same author, but any reputable dealer will never verify a signature as authentic unless it was obtained when witnessing the signing."
Koch operates Charleston, South Carolina-based Books Tell You Why along with Katharina Koch and Andrea Koczela. All are members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, professional organizations whose members follow strict codes of ethics to protect against fraud - a rampant problem in the signed book industry. He warns that even signed books that come with certificates of authenticity (COAs) can be bogus: "Those who fake signatures gladly fake COAs, too."
Appraisals and online signature comparisons
So, how can you tell if your signed book is legit? Work with an established autograph specialist who is a member of ABBA, ILAB, and has PADA (Professional Autograph Dealers Association) certification, says Gerard A.J. Stodolski, who has appraised hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of rare historic autographs and signed books during his 40-year career.
"Most people can't authenticate autographs. It takes experience and familiarity with the topic area or person," Stodolski says. "In the case of valuable books, pay for an appraisal."
Book appraisers charge, on average, $100 to $200 per hour to conduct an appraisal. If you don't want to cough up the dough, you can conduct some preliminary research on your own.
"There are several sites online that show signatures for a vast number of authors, artists, actors, and others who may end up signing a book," says Sandra Morris, who operates Nan's Book Shop in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. "A simple search often helps one determine the accuracy of what they appear to have."
Two sites with hundreds of author signatures on file are TomFolio and KruegerBooks. If you can't find the signature you need on those sites, try a google search for "AUTHOR'S NAME + autograph."
Forgeries and myths
Modern technology has made it easier than ever to forge signatures that test even the most experienced experts; however, many forgeries are relatively easy to spot if you know what you're looking for. Books Tell You Why has an excellent article detailing how a Maya Angelou signature was forged - and how they caught it.
Another issue: the innocent perpetuation of family myths. There's simply no guarantee one of your ancestors wasn't duped into believing a fake signature was real.
"This is why people go to professional booksellers," says Thomas Donnelley, who operates Liberty Book Store in West Palm Beach, Florida. "When you see the letters ABAA, IOAB, OBA, and FABA behind a dealer's name, it means we have been accepted to membership in a professional group of our peers who respect our ethics, standards, and hard-earned knowledge."
Author and book rarity and desirability
Another important factor in determining how much your signed book is worth is the rarity and desirability of both the book and accompanying signature.
"A signature is only valuable if the writer is well-known, generally for their writing or some other talent. A first-time author's signature is rarely worth anything, unless it is a Margaret Mitchel or Harper Lee," says Morris.
Scarcity increases value
Morris said the body of an author's work is often what gives a signature value, such as in the case of Winston Churchill and famous children's writers like Tasha Tudor and Dr. Seuss. Rarity likewise plays a major role.
As Morris says, "If an author signed 5,000 copies of the same book and 1,000 are available, this will clearly bring down the price. So, a prolific author who rarely signs their works will be far more valuable than a fiction writer of one or two books who holds signings regularly."
That sentiment was echoed by Stodolski: "It depends on the author's collectability. Charles Dickens signing a first edition of one of his classic books adds thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. John Doe, signing his book, usually adds nothing."
According to Koch, a signed first edition of Ulysses can sell for half a million dollars; a value derived from the combination of book rarity and condition as well as rarity of the signature.
"The first edition of Ulysses was released in just 100 copies," Koch says. "James Joyce's signature, therefore, enhances an already-rare book."
Historical significance can increase value
Another aspect to consider is historical significance, which might or might not impact the value of a signed book.
"You would think that the signatures of presidents or heads of state would carry significant value," says Koch. "Sometimes, this is true, particularly if the document is of significant historical relevance, like the Declaration of Independence. Conversely, you can find signed books in inferior condition by recent U.S. presidents such as Jimmy Carter - who was a frequent book-signer - for ten dollars."
Rare association copies are among the most valuable signed books.
"Some books become valuable because of who they've been inscribed to. That is, a fairly well-known author inscribing a book to a politician or actor," says Morris. "Quite often their libraries are worth a small (or large) fortune upon their deaths."
Book condition and edition
Finally, the condition of your book as well as its condition will help determine its value. It stands to reason the better your book's condition, the more valuable it is. At the same time, there is forgiveness in the industry: if you have an exceedingly rare signed book, it could be valuable even in poor condition. Learn how to determine the condition of your book.
True first editions tend to be worth more than subsequent editions, but even later editions can have significant value.
Worth a lot, or not?
The value of your book might help you determine where to sell it. For example, a book worth around $100 might be a good candidate for sites like Amazon or Ebay; while a book worth tens of thousands of dollars might fare better if sold privately or via auction.
To lend perspective, here are some signed book values:
- A true first edition of Ulysses signed by James Joyce is worth up to $500,000
- An inscribed copy of Ian Fleming's Moonraker sold at auction for $50,400
- An inscribed copy of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit sold at auction for $94,400
- An inscribed copy of George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London sold at auction for $158,000
- A signed true first edition of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone can be worth as much as $55,000
- A signed first edition of Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms sold for $17,500
- A signed first edition of Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King sells for around $100
- A signed first edition of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer sells for $100
- A signed first edition of John Grisham's The Rainmaker is worth around $15
- A first edition of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, signed, sells for around $30
- A first edition of Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis signed by Jimmy Carter is worth around $15
As you can see, some signed books are worth a fortune while others, surprisingly, are worth very little.
Should you get an appraisal?
Getting an appraisal from a qualified book dealer is the best way to determine your book's value, but you can search listings on rare book marketplaces to see how much your signed book is currently selling for.
Example sites include:
If you do decide to get an appraisal, select a book dealer with certification from at least one of the following organizations:
- Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA)
- International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB)
- Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOAB)
- Professional Autograph Dealers Association (PADA)
Where to sell your signed book
By now you should have at least an idea of how much your book might be worth. The next step is to decide where to sell it.
"There really is no one best place to list a signed book," says Morris. "Signed books are listed on all of the popular book venues, and some that are not as well-known such as Bookzangle and Biblio. It may be best to contact one or more local dealers in used books to determine their interest. One can also list them on the common auction sites, where they may or may not sell. Craigslist may be just as good an option, but one must also be willing to refund the buyer if the autograph is determined not to be authentic."
Selling price versus selling speed
Consider the balance between selling price and selling speed. As Koch puts it, "The more effort you put into selling a book, the higher your chances of success. We advise clients of three approaches to turn books into money. An individual's choice depends on the right balance between selling the book quickly and selling it for the highest possible price. It is different if you sell books to cover dental bills - we've had a case like this - or if you wait to maximize your returns."
Koch advises his clients of three strategies:
- Sell directly to a bookseller. This results in a faster sale but usually the lowest price. Booksellers sell at market price, so they can't buy at market price and earn profits.
- Sell at auction. "Here you get, by definition, the market price (minus the seller's premium). The downside is that you might not like the market price," says Koch.
- Authorize a bookseller to sell your book on consignment. Generally-speaking, this approach takes the longest but results in the highest price.
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In addition, you can sell your books to local shops and collectors, pawn shops, and via online outlets such as book buying and selling websites, Amazon, Ebay, and Craigslist. Here's a rundown of your options and their pros and cons.
You can sell to booksellers both online and off.
- Fast, easy sales
- Typically the lowest price
You can enlist an auction house to sell your book.
- You'll receive the fair market price for your book
- You'll have to pay the auction house premium
- You might not like the market price
A book dealer can sell your book on consignment without having to hold inventory.
- You'll get the most money
- Buyers will trust the seller, facilitating your sale
- Typically takes the longest to sell
- You'll have to pay the bookseller's commission
Book buying and selling websites
Sites like Abe Books, Alibris, Biblio, and Bookzangle specialize in rare book listings.
- Set your price
- Quick sales at the right price
- No guarantee of sale
- Listing fees
- Many users are book dealers, not just collectors, so you might have to settle for a lower price
You can sell your book on Ebay in an auction format.
- Auction formats can drive prices higher than market value
- Potential for quick sales
- No guarantee of sale
- Listing/commission fees
You can sell your book on Amazon, the world's largest bookseller.
- Set your price
- Potential for quick sale
- Exposure to many potential buyers
- No guarantee of sale
- Listing fees
Craigslist and other classifieds sites can be used to list your book.
- Free listings
- No commissions
- No guarantee of sale
- Potential for scams
Some pawn shops will buy signed books.
- Quick sales
- Low prices
Directly to collectors
You can also try to sell your book directly to a collector on your own.
- More money - no fees or commissions
- It might be difficult to find the right collectors without industry connections
- If you don't know what your book is worth, you might get less than its value
No matter where you decide to sell your signed book, Morris offers the following advice: "Be as certain as possible that the signature is authentic, and describe the book, warts and all, honestly, in whatever medium is chosen to sell the book."
Finally, if you learn your book's signature has no value you can still sell your book by comparing current prices on Flipsy.com.