How to Win at PubFight

“This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Luckily I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind limber.”

Greetings. After winning the ultra-competitive BookNet house league last year and coming in a close second to grandmaster Carol the year before, I have been asked divulge all my secrets. A ploy by my coworkers perhaps, but who doesn’t like to pretend that they know a thing or two about a thing. Or two. Whatever.


Create a good Excel file to use in the auction. The file should be easy to use and give you everything you need to evaluate a title at a glance. The auction moves fast, so when a title comes up you need to know exactly how much (if anything) you are willing to bid on it.

Create a sheet for each category (Fiction, Nonfiction, Juvenile) and list all the titles available in each. Columns you’ll want for each book include: title, author, ISBN, publisher, publication date, binding and list price.

Sales Data

There is one key piece of information you need to calculate for every title on the list: Potential Volume Sold (I will call it PVS from now on to conform to the publishing industry mandated Acronym Requirement Act (ARA)). This value represents the number of copies of a title you think will sell during the time period of the game.

This number is a guess, but you can make it an educated one by pulling comp title sales from SalesData. Look for previous books by the same author, in the same genre, with the same binding. How many copies did they sell in a similar time frame? This is your baseline. Modify that number based on factors like:

Is it part of a series? Who is the publisher? Is there any industry buzz surrounding the title? Are there related movies or tie-ins? Is the book outside of the author’s wheelhouse? Is it a book by a famous person with a large fan base?

Do not base your PVS on how much you love the author. The new Pevear/Volokhonsky Tolstoy translation will probably be fantastic, but it’s probably not going to sell thirty thousand copies (I had to look it up to be sure).

Now that you have a PVS value for each title, you can calculate potential earnings. Make sure you have the latest list price on your sheet. List price multiplied by PVS will tell you how much each title can potentially earn you. This step is key, as a $15 title will need to sell TWICE as many copies in order to earn as much as a $30 title. Watch out for those temping big-selling (but low-priced) juvenile titles.

Final Auction Preparation

At this point, you should have potential earnings for every title on the list. Now modify your Excel sheet to make it as simple as possible. Hide any columns that won’t be useful during the auction. Sort the sheets by potential earnings and colour-code the big, medium and low earners. The big earners are the titles you want to go after, but depending on how competitive your league is, you may not be able to afford more than a handful of them. This makes those medium-earners very important. They can make or break the game for you. Don’t forget about them.

And watch those publication dates! A book that streets in late December will only have a few short weeks of sales.

The Auction

The fairly obvious strategy is to get as many of the big earners as possible and pad the rest of your list out with medium earners. That said, there are usually a couple of big titles that will define the season. You need to ensure you get at least one of them if you want to have a chance at winning.

At the same time, you don’t want to spend all your money on one title, or players with more robust lists will beat you. Keeping in mind that everyone starts with the same amount of money, one strategy is to conserve your money while the other players spend. That way, when a big title comes up you have the cash to outbid them.

Bidding wars early in the auction, when people have lots of cash to throw around, can be dangerous. Don’t let opposing players get a great book for nothing, but do know when to back off. Patience is key. Do not be tempted by your favorite authors and books that may appear on the list. All you care about is money. You are an 80s stereotype. Roll up your blazer sleeves.

Managing stock levels

Your calculated PVS for each of your titles is a good start. Stock up early and watch for changing on-hand and on-order numbers in SalesData. There are price breaks when purchasing books in quantity, so use them to your advantage by buying in bulk. Just pay attention and you should be fine.

Remember, it’s just a game, so don’t take it too seriously. Have fun!

But also, try to make your opponents both hate AND envy you. A little hate-envy is the sweetest plum.