Where Can You Find Forgotten Authors?



The same question keeps coming up when I do Q&As; Where can I find more forgotten authors? Luckily, books seem to be going through a boom time in the UK, with many new bookshops opening.Electronic reading has found its rightful place, as a useful travelling companion, and has increased the sales of physical books.

There are more and more specialist houses revolving lost authors, too. House of Stratus, Persephone, Tartarus Press, Canongate, Overlook Press and Faber Finds are just a few of the houses digging gems from their back catalogues. There have been missteps in the past. Virago Press attempted to decontextualise EM Delafield’s delightful Provincial Lady novels by commissioning a critical preface that all but dared us to enjoy them.

It seems that a key requirement of any gentrified area is to open an independent bookshop. There’s a terrific one in Broadway Market, but I didn’t find one in Columbia Road Market (although I’m sure there must be). The key to survival in a small shop is ensuring your stock is an indication of personality.

Secondhand book fairs are largely unpublicised. One of the best is in the Royal National Hotel in Bloomsbury. It runs monthly, second Sunday of the month, usually with over 100 dealers. It is the largest monthly book fair in the country and now the only regular London Bookfair. There are specialists in antiquarian, secondhand, and out of print books as well as ephemera, print and map dealers and professional bookbinders.

In my experience charity shops have lousy book selections, and you rarely find anything other than potboilers. Should you use Amazon? I do, but I source locally so that at least something returns to UK book dealers. Ebay turns up gems (sadly it hasn’t yet found ‘The Fosdyke Saga 11’ – the only one I’m missing) and it’s often possible to catch paperbacks with the specific cover art you want.

Collecting forgotten authors used to be cheap, but hard work. Now it’s the opposite, but you can still find plenty of affordable treasures, thanks in part to the way the books look. Flashier covers command higher prices. My childhood secondhand book dealer had a strange system of pricing that valued a paperback of Leon Uris’s ‘Exodus’ at five shillings and a first edition by JG Ballard at one shilling because a/ he had heard of the former and b/ it was a lot thicker.

As a result, I spent every Saturday morning searching through his randomly arranged racks digging out lost joys and trying to rescue them. When books are not costed according to value but by their weight and whether they have a naked girl on the front, you find a lot of bargains. You also lose all sense of quality control. Much of what I bought was dropped into the bin by my horrified mother, but some stayed with me for life.

They’re staring at me now from the shelves – hurrah. Get searching.


Adverty bit: ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ is out now.


13 comments on “Where Can You Find Forgotten Authors?”

  1. Laura Humphrey says:

    I love weird supernatural fiction, Valancourt are great, and if you like beautiful re issues, people like Sundial, Sarob, Swan River Press, Sidereal, sadly semi defunct Ash Tree Press and as you mentioned Tartarus, it’s great that some of these wonderful authors have been given a new readership.

  2. Peter Lee says:

    Abebooks.co.uk is good for finding second hand books too.

  3. DC says:

    Think you’ll find a copy of Fosdyke Saga Two on abebooks.

  4. Roger says:

    Charity shops vary: some Oxfams are good (years of practise, I expect), Amnesty bookshops (all the liberal authors getting rid of their surplus books) and – for some reason – British Heart Foundation (they put every book they get on the shelves, I think).
    The most astonishing one I came across only put out new paperbacks and threw the rest away. When I suggested offering them to other charity shops the manager said “Why should I help them?”

    The problem with the Royal National Hotel bookfairs is that it’s usually the same dealers with the same stock.
    https://www.inprint.co.uk/thebookguide/index.php has very useful info.

  5. Brooke says:

    Will BOFA be available in US? Must order from UK or EU countries now–second hand copies. BTW, Invisible Ink copies sell for 100USD–weight or lurid cover?

  6. DC says:

    Doh! Fosdyke Eleven not Two. Sorry.

  7. admin says:

    Brooke – neither, they’re $100 because I paid to have the book withdrawn, so the only copies in circulation are old.

  8. Brooke says:

    and us edition of BOFA?

  9. Denise Treadwell says:

    There aren’t many choices for U.S. people. Especially where I live, how many old books can you sell, when your rent is four thousand a month. Seen two used book sellers go out business near me recently. All I have is Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books Inc. Amazon is internet, Barnes and Noble isn’t close, and the only real store front nearby is Books Inc.Only new books and very few of yours Christopher.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    Denise, Abe books has a US & UK version so is good for 2nd hand books shops, you can trace them and you are buying from small book seller even if it is on the internet.

    Manchester has seen a loss of bookshops over the years, but it seems to have stabilised and we even have a new one.


  11. Jan says:

    How come electronic publishing instead of killing the publishers off has actually enlarged the sale of books? Think I read somewhere (maybe here) that the market for paperbacks no longer really exists anymore. Is that the only market thats fallen away?

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Abebooks has a Canadian site, too. Jan, aare people buying an electronic version for travel, liking it so much they want a permanent copy so buying a hard cover?
    Forty years ago a friend and I planned (over large pots of tea) the bookstore we were going to open. The town was small so we figured we’d have a selection of cards, children’s magazines along with some general interest ones (difficult because they’re like shoes; you can have either group A or Group B from the distributors) and both used and new books. We were also going to have a coffee and bake shop through a connecting door and comfy chairs. We’d probably have gone broke but boy would we have had fun in the mean time.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    My best supplier of old and odd books was at a weekly car boot sale in town. On weekdays he was a milkman, but on Sundays, he sold books. And boy, was he good at getting them. I made the mistake of asking him about finding me some Dennis Wheatley paperbacks. I gave him a list. “How many of these would you like?” I was asked. I flippantly replied: “Oh, as many as you can find…” The next week I went to the Car boot sale, there was the bookseller. When he saw me, he manhandled a large cardboard box out of his van. Inside, were at least thirty paperbacks, all in great condition. I was astonished. I had had a lot of trouble finding just one, but here were thirty. I wasn’t complaining, though.

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