Fans of mystery writer Sue Grafton are snapping up the latest of her alphabet mysteries, " 'J' is for Judgment."
But for another group of book lovers, the Grafton title to have is her first, " 'A' is for Alibi," and they're willing to pay up to $1,000 for a 1982 first edition in mint condition.
A thousand dollars? For a Sue Grafton mystery?
Hard to believe? How about $600 for Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire"? Or $700 for Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October"?
Instead of crumbling manuscripts or leather-bound classics, books published in the last two decades or even the last two months -- so-called hypermoderns -- are the choice of a new generation of collectors.
"It's baseball card collecting for the '90s," said David Brown, a collector and publisher of MFE Collectors' Bookline, a newsletter and tip sheet for fans of hypermodern fiction.
Hypermodern titles are easier to find and cost less than early 20th century or rare books, especially if you "speculate," buying undiscovered authors' first books while they're in bookstores at cover prices.
Collectors tend to be picky. Before you run to your den looking for gold on those dusty bookshelves, remember that a top-dollar first edition probably hasn't been read and has no noticeable flaws. An author autograph is a big plus. Book club editions don't count.
The book's edition usually is listed under the copyright date. Some are labeled First Edition. Others have a series of numbers, usually starting with 10 and going backward; the last number is the edition.
Pricing generally "comes down to supply and demand," Mr. Brown said. "John Grisham's [first mystery] 'A Time to Kill' -- it's a $750 book right now -- there were only 5,000 printed. Nobody bought it, and 3,000 of those were destroyed. So there are only a couple thousand copies around, and John Grisham became -- well -- John Grisham."