There's no shortage of websites you can use to sell your old books online in the 21st century -- Amazon, Abe Books and eBay, to name a few. Thousands of other people are doing the same thing, however, so it may take some effort to make your books stand out from the pack.
Your Book's Condition
Check out used book listings on any of the various sites and you'll see them described as "like new," "fine," "fair" or "poor." Use these same phrases when you offer your own books. Abe Books breaks down the terms:
- As new means that the book is in pristine condition, as if it's never been read, regardless of age.
- Fine means the book has been read, but it's not damaged.
- Good indicates an average book with no major flaws, such as that it's missing a cover, but it does show some wear and tear.
If there are specific problems with your book, identify them -- a slight tear in the cover or underlining in the text, for example. Some sites, such as Powell's, won't accept books with certain flaws such as any writing in them, so follow those guidelines.
Be honest and accurate in your descriptions. If you have multiple books to sell, you won't want negative reviews from disgruntled customers.
Pricing Your Books
If you've got something really valuable to sell, such as a first edition of Poe or Mark Twain, it might be worth getting it appraised. Alternatively, you can search for similar copies already for sale online. Abe Books has a search service you can use to find matching books and see what they're currently selling for.
You can use the same tactic for more mundane books. If you have a collection of old Mickey Spillane mystery paperbacks, you can see what the same edition in the same condition sells for. The Bookfinder used book site gives prices from multiple online listings. BookScouter's online tool will tell you what different used book vendors pay for books. You can set a competitive price or decide which site works best based on your research.
The book world adopted the International Standard Book Number system in 1970, which assigns each edition of each book a unique ISBN. If your book has an ISBN, it's the fastest way to look for the same edition online.
Before you sign up with a website, learn about the fees involved. Amazon charges 99 cents an item as of 2015, plus closing and referral fees. If you plan on selling more than 40 books a month, the professional plan offers a blanket $39.99 charge plus fees.
After you pick a venue, decide if all your books are really worth selling. If copies of a particular book are selling for $2, your fees plus the effort to post a listing might not make it worth your while to sell a copy. Online bookseller Craig Stark says he doesn't find it worth selling anything that goes for less than $10.
After you've decided what to sell and where to sell it, write up a listing for each item -- the price, the condition, what features make it worth buying and a cover photo. Including the ISBN makes it easier for buyers who are seeking a specific edition to find yours.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.