When should I arrive at the VNSA book sale?
I can't tell you for sure, but if you're not there WELL before opening (I heard someone in line mention 4 AM), you can expect a wait. Our experiences in the past 2 years:
2011: Arrived around 9 AM; got in around 10:20 AM
2012: Arrived around 10:30 AM; got in around 11:45 AM
My brother and his wife (and baby!) arrived right around 11 and I reckon they probably got in at noon. So if you're not going to get there at 4 AM, the wait time decreases the later you arrive, but the wait seems to be pretty steady from 9-10:30 or so.
(It FELT like the line was longer in 2012 versus 2011--in fact, it probably was, but the line would move more slowly earlier in the day.)
Anyway, there is still plenty of cool stuff there even if you arrive at 11...but I'd say there's more cool stuff there if you arrive at 9.
How much does it cost?
If you park at the Coliseum, it was $7 this year (the fairgrounds get that money; not VNSA). The sale is free, but the longer you spend there, the more likely you are to spend more money...
What should I bring?
Definitely bring some sort of bag or bags to carry your books in. In years past they had plenty of bags for all, but the supply seems to be diminishing; I'm not sure they had ANY in 2012. If you plan to buy a lot, or even just something heavy, you likely won't regret bringing a rolling suitcase or backpack. (A rolling suitcase makes it very easy to buy more books, though.) You can get a shopping cart at the sale (just have to wait a bit), or the other option is to find an empty box and throw your books in and carry that.... Yeah, if you're not going for a cartload of books, go ahead and bring a bag.
Wearing sunscreen is smart if you'll be out waiting for an hour (and if you get there before noon, that's not unlikely). It's not a bad idea to bring a bottle of water for the line.
And I'd definitely suggest you bring a friend or two! You'll save on parking and it makes the line more fun. If you're the type who can strike up a conversation with anyone, that's fine too. Otherwise, I think a newspaper would be a pretty good idea. I'd hesitate to bring a book because I don't know how they'd figure out it wasn't theirs, but several people had some so there must be some method.
Can I hold someone's place in line?
They had signs saying not to, and I'm not sure what would happen if you tried cutting. Actually, we saw my brother, his wife, and their baby across the rope and stopped to chat with them for about 30 seconds. The people behind us started moving past us, despite the fact that we were still probably 30 minutes away from actually entering the building so there wasn't anything to gain by moving ahead instead of waiting for a minute. Anyway, yeah, I wouldn't try it if I were you.
Why is the line so long?
Probably the fire marshal not wanting everyone to get burned up in case of an emergency. It felt less crowded inside this year, but that might be due to the areas I was browsing.
What can I find there?
Almost anything. I didn't even look at half the sections this year, but I browsed the tiny books, the old books (but not the really old/rare books, which require you to leave your bag/suitcase/boxes/etc. outside), the old magazines (some from the 60s!), craft books, sewing patterns, children's books, textbooks (not many of those), DVDs (lots of popular movies, I think around $3), CDs, kids' DVDs, business books, finance books, and even some National Geographic CD-ROMs. Yes, I got the whole collection from the 1920s for $1, and yes, you can kind of sort of view it in a newer Mac; the viewer itself doesn't work but fortunately all the pages are images and appear to be organized in such a way that I can view them chronologically. :)
How do you decide what to buy?
Everyone has their own strategy. If you're on a very tight budget, your best bet is to not pick up anything unless you really want it (and maybe to just bring a small bag or no bag at all!). If your budget is a bit more flexible, I'd suggest you pick up everything you think you might want (provided you can carry it!). When you're done browsing, or your arms are too tired, you can set your things down (usually on the floor, granted, though this year there was some vacant space at textbooks by 11 or so) and sort through what you want and what you don't want. Anything you don't want, you can put in a conveniently located discard box and it will be placed back in its proper area.
What did you buy there?
To be honest, I haven't done much with the books I got last year, so I tried to be cheaper this year and gave myself a budget of $20. (Spending less time helped, too!) So here's what I got for $19.50 this year.
Did you go to the 2012 VNSA Book Sale? Any great finds? Any tips?