Selling Online

Selling used books on Amazon

There are a lot of sites online where you can sell your used books.  You can sell on eBay, which I have already discussed.  There are other online sites that buy books like Cash4Books and AbeBooks, but they are “middlemen” they buy your books and then resell them, so they will pay you the bare minimum price.  However, if you want to sell for the best price you can get, Amazon is the place.  Amazon already attracts a lot of traffic specifically to buy books, and there is no middleman, you sell directly to the customer.  The drawback is that Amazon does take significant fees from your sale, but they also charge customers $3.99 for shipping which they credit to you and in most cases you will be able to ship the book for less than that, so it evens out a little.

You will have to register for a seller account in order to sell and get paid for your books.  Most people use a business name rather than their own name when they sell.  I think buyers might trust that more, but the decision is yours.   You will have to enter a bank account number to receive payment, Amazon transfers the money in your seller account to your bank every 14 days.


Amazon does take fees out of your payment, these are not insignificant fees.  Because of that I have determined that it is not worth it to sell a book on Amazon for less than $3.00.  This eliminates a lot of books you may want to sell. Typically popular novels will all be priced under $3.00.  There are a lot of non-profit organizations selling on Amazon; I think they have a cheaper shipping method than is available to the average person so often they list books for sale at 1 cent!  So they must be able to ship much cheaper than $3.99 and make their money off shipping charges.  Just to test my theory I bought a one cent book and it took 3 weeks to get to me.  The cheapest shipping method with USPS is Media Mail and that takes only 1 week.  Maybe the Pony Express is still in operation.  The point is that you can’t compete with these sellers so what you need to find are books that are rare, out of print or textbooks.  You can also sell CD’s, DVD’s and audio books.

So go through your collection, using the criteria above, and find some you might sell.  Then search them on the Amazon site like you would if you wanted to buy them.  Find the exact edition that you have, pay attention to publication date, type of cover and edition.  Once you click on that book you will see a list of formats such as used, new, hardback, paperback, or audio.  It will look something like the format box in this listing:

The prices in the format box are clickable.  Click the one that you have to sell.  You will now have a list of books for sale like yours.  Consider the condition of your book (Amazon has guidelines on their site that you can use to determine the correct condition for your book).  Look at the lowest price listed for a book in the same condition as yours.  If it is higher than $3 you have a good candidate.

Listing the book for sale

The process of listing a book on Amazon is easy. Starting from your Seller Account page click on List single items under Manage Your Inventory, then enter either the title or the ISBN (the 10 or 13 digit number that can be found on either the back cover or the reverse side of the title page).  If you used the ISBN it should bring up the exact edition that you have, verify that it is correct. Click the drop-down box to select the Condition of your book.  In the Condition Note box enter any extra information such as any tears, missing dust jacket, underlining inside the book, other marks or signs of wear.  Always be accurate and honest when describing the condition of your book. Click Continue to enter your price.  Base your price on the lowest price listed for books in the same condition as yours, you should know what this is based on the research you did when deciding what books to sell.  Enter your Price, then choose which types of Shipping you are willing to do.  If you choose more options than Standard and Expedited you may find yourself paying more to ship the book than Amazon will credit you for shipping.   Once you have made your choices click Continue.  Verify that all the information is correct then click Submit your listing to list your book.

After the Sale

Once your book has sold Amazon will send an email notifying you.  You now have 2 days to ship the book.  The best way for you to ship your book is using Media Mail; this will usually cost you less than the $3.99 shipping credit.  If the book you are shipping is very light (under 13oz including the box) you can ship it First Class Mail which is even cheaper than Media Mail.  You can pay for shipping and print your label using Amazon; they will deduct the shipping fees from the sale amount.  Once you have printed your shipping label the system will send the buyer a notice that it was shipped and the sale is complete.  The buyer’s credit card will be charged and your seller account will be credited.  Amazon will pay out the balance of your Seller Account by transfer to your bank every 14 days.


Amazon is an easy way to sell used books but is not a good venue to sell all books, it is best for rare, out of print and textbooks.  I’ve been looking and I still haven’t found a good alternative for selling popular novels.  Once I find one though, I’ll let you know. 

Selling on eBay

EBay is primarily an auction site although selling does not have to take place through an auction.  I use the auction format because if you are selling a rare item you can generate higher prices when several people bid on your item.  There are fees involved, up-front fees which eBay will charge to  your account,  for listing your item, additional photos, fancy formatting of your listing, etc.  Also, when you sell the item there is a fee based on the sale price which eBay will deduct from your payment before it hits your Paypal account. It is important to set up a Paypal account for yourself; it is the easiest and most secure way to accept payment for the items you sell. 

The most important things you must consider when selling on eBay:

1.    If you get one bid, even if it is only for your opening price, that bidder has won the auction and you must sell it to them at that price. So be sure you are willing to sell the item for the initial price you place on it.
2.   EBay culture involves feedback and ratings of buyers and sellers.  Some people will not sell to or buy from people who have bad ratings. Always be polite and accommodating so you will develop good ratings.  Also always ship the item promptly once you have received payment. 
3.   You must describe your item accurately.  Descriptions are not like your resume that you can pad to make yourself look better.  EBay buyers are knowledgeable and careful consumers if you are not correct in your description the buyer may want a refund and they will give you a bad rating for fudging the description.
4.   Photos are essential; the buyer wants to see what they are bidding on.  You must provide at least one good detailed photo with your listing.  If necessary provide another photo or two to show your item from different angles.

Picking an item to sell

How do you know what to sell?  The best way is to browse through eBay and notice what kind of items are for sale and which are getting the most bids.  Some categories of items have lots of listings but almost none have bids on them; most of those items will not sell.  I get the best results with collectible items and electronics.  Pick something you want to sell and search for a similar item on eBay.  Take note of the category it is listed under (you will need to know that when you start your listing) also look at how the seller describes the item, what the opening price is and if there are any bids.  A good way to determine what your item might sell for is to “watch” an auction for a similar item.  There is a link under the bidding button “Add to watch list”; clicking on this will save that search and you will get reminder emails as the end of the auction nears and you can find out how much that item sells for. (you must have an eBay account to use this feature)

Writing a description

The most important aspect of the description is accuracy.  Do not make your item sound better than it is, be precise and truthful.  Include such things as measurements, color, material it is made of, any maker’s marks on it, information about the item’s history, its age, if there are any flaws or signs of wear.  When you are entering your listing eBay will offer special formatting for your description; you don’t need that and it will cost extra anyway. Just give an accurate description; if someone is interested in the item they will bid on it no matter how artistic or creative your listing is.

Choosing a starting price

Remember that if one person bids on your item you must sell it to them at the price they offered, which will be your opening price.  So you should start with the lowest price for which you would be willing to sell the item.  If you start at a relatively high price the item may not sell, eBay shoppers are looking for bargains as well as for unusual items.  Start as low as you can.  If, in your research of similar items, it seems to be something that will be popular, consider going lower than what you’d like to get.  If it’s a popular item there will probably be several people bidding which will drive up the price and you may sell it at a much higher price than you expected.

Decide how you will ship it

The best way to make this decision is to pack the item without sealing the box, then weigh it.  There are mailing scales that you can buy from office supply stores for around $25 or you can take the box to the Post Office and use their scale.  Once you have the weight you can use the shipping calculator on eBay or on to determine which method of shipping is least expensive and use that method.  Also you can just charge a flat rate for shipping, just don’t make it too high.  EBay shoppers know they will have to pay for shipping but they don’t want to pay much over what the expected shipping cost will be.  If you expect to sell your item for a very high price you might consider offering free shipping in order to entice more bidders.

EBay offers a service which will provide shipping labels with free delivery confirmation; payment for the postage will come out of your Paypal account.  You can print these labels on your home computer and paste or tape them on the box, then just drop the box off at the Post Office – no need to stand in line.  NOTE:  these labels are large (approx 8” X 5”) so they will not fit on a very small box.

Tax issues

Do you need to collect sales tax?  That depends on whether you consider yourself a business or if you are just selling stuff as a hobby.  Consult a tax professional if you aren't sure. I’m not an expert, but some guidelines to decide whether you are a business are if you have a business license, business stationary, and if you are dependent on the money you make from selling on eBay.

If you are selling as a business and you make less than $4 million in sales/year then you only have to collect sales tax from the buyers in the state where you do business.

Do you need to report your eBay earnings to the IRS?  That depends - consult a tax professional.  Again it depends on whether you are a business or engaging in a hobby.  I’m sure the IRS would tell you that you must report the dime you found on the sidewalk but it’s up to you, your conscience, your tax preparer and your understanding of the tax laws (which even IRS agents have trouble understanding).

Before you can sell anything you need an eBay account and a Paypal account to receive payments.  Once you have those steps completed you can begin the process of listing your item for sale.

Listing your item

At the top of eBay's home page next to “My eBay” is “Sell”, a drop down menu will appear when you click it, choose “Sell an Item”, then click the “List your item” button.  To find a category for your item, fill in a keyword description in the box where it asks: “What do you want to sell today?”  It will provide some suggested categories; pick the one that best fits your item.  You can add additional categories if you want your item to show up in more categories. I think that when people search eBay they do it by keywords not categories and your item will pop up if you have enough of those keywords in your title.

And the title is the next thing you have to enter.  So choose a title that includes all the key words someone might type in to search for your item; you have 55 characters, use as many as you need.

Next the form will ask for specifics about your item, whether it is used or new, what material it is made out of, designer, etc.  Fill out as much of that information as you know about your item.

Now you will add your photo.  Click on the “Add picture” button and a new dialog box will open.  Click on "Browse" and find the copy of your photo on your PC, highlight it, click "Open" and the photo will appear in the dialog box.  Add other photos if you think it necessary to show off your item properly but additional photos may cost you more, the additional cost will be noted in the dialog box.  When you are done, click "Upload".

Next you must add your description.  Don’t worry about the fancy formatting eBay will offer you, just give an honest and accurate description.  If your item has signs of wear or flaws note them in the description.

Now you must decide how you are going to sell your item.  Pick your starting price; remember that if one person bids at that price you must sell it at that price.  You also have the option to put in a “Buy it Now” price. When you use that option if someone offers that price the auction ends there and the sale is final.  The 7-day auction is the default and is probably the best option.  There are little buttons with “?” in them, clicking on them will take you to eBay’s policies on those issues if you need more information to make your  decision.

Filling in your payment and shipping decisions is your next step.  Trust me, accept Paypal only, it’s much easier than waiting for a check to come in the mail, depositing it and waiting to make sure it clears.

For shipping you can choose to either charge a flat fee or have the shipping calculated.  If you are having it calculated individually you will fill in the type of package, weight and the shipping service you want to use.  Then once the item is purchased, eBay will calculate the shipping cost based on the buyer’s zip code.  Or if you choose flat rate just fill in the shipping charge and the way you will ship it.  Also fill in how many days it will take for you to ship it after you receive payment in the “Handling Time” box.  Choose whether you will ship internationally or not next.  Keep in mind that shipping internationally involves a lot of work on your part, and higher costs.  For domestic shipping you can print your mailing labels through eBay, for international you will have to stand in line in the post office and fill out customs forms.

Decide on your return policy and enter those details next.  Then add any additional checkout information for your buyers.  For example, all of my listings say: “Will ship usually within 3 days of payment.  Payment is by PayPal only.  Seller not responsible for items lost by USPS.”  I put in that last part after having an item lost by the PO and having a long hassle with the buyer about it.  EBay includes delivery confirmation when you print your shipping label from their site, my policy is if the PO says they delivered it, the buyer has no claim.

After all this is done and you click "Continue" you can review your listing.  Make sure you have everything set up the way you want and check your spelling especially in the title (again, I learned this the hard way).  Always click on "Preview your listing", that will give you a good idea of how it will look to potential buyers and you can make changes if needed.

Once you are satisfied with your listing click “List your item” and you’re done!  Now sit back and wait for the bids to come pouring in.

What to do while you are waiting for the end of the auction

Potential bidders may email you with questions about your item or they may ask you about shipping.  Remember you want to get good feedback from your customers so always respond politely and promptly to those questions.

Don’t stress out if you don’t have any bids, many bidders watch the items they are interested in and wait until the last hour of the auction before they make their bid.

You will be notified by email once the auction is over.  If someone bought your item wait until they pay, your seller account on eBay will show this.  Most buyers know what they are supposed to do and pay almost immediately after they are notified that they won the auction, but if your buyer doesn’t pay right away give them a couple of days then send them an invoice.  You can generate an email invoice from your seller page on eBay.  Technically the buyer has 7 days to pay.  Once they have paid, check your Paypal account and make sure the payment is there, then pack and ship your item.  The option to pay and print your shipping label through eBay is right there on your seller page.

Leaving Feedback

As I said before, feedback is part of eBay culture.  I always leave feedback when the transaction went quickly and smoothly or if it went really bad, because other sellers should know that. You can decide whether you want to leave feedback on average transactions.


Selling on eBay can be labor intensive with all the research you have to do and sometimes you get a lot of questions from bidders, but it can also be lucrative.  It is a good way to make extra cash if you have things laying around the attic that you don’t want any more.  There is another way of selling the books that you have laying around that you don’t want.  Selling on Amazon is less labor intensive and I’ll be discussing that next.  In the meantime, happy eBaying!

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