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Sell Used Books Online

Updated on April 1, 2016

Selling Books Online - Where Do I Start?

Every week I am asked the same questions...

  1. How did you get started?
  2. Is it hard?
  3. Do you really make money?
  4. Where do you find your books?

Hmmm...For now let's skip to Question #2 - Is it hard?

No! The process is not hard but the work is. All successful businesses require many hours of sweat and a whole lot of determination. If you are looking for easy the lottery and don't sell books!

Question #3 - Do you make money?

Yes! We make money. If we didn't then why would we do it? It is a lot of work. We would be crazy to work this hard if they didn't make money.

Question #4 - Where do you find your books?

I will probably share this with you but you are going to have to stay with me to the bitter end. Trade secrets are not given up lightly.

Back to Question #1 - How Did You Get Started?

Personal Storytime...

We were and still are a large family of bibliophiles. The books had piled up in our basement until there was no room left. I decided to clear it out by selling the ones we felt we could live without. I pulled up the selling information on and found it wasn't too complicated. I figured I had nothing to lose because Amazon doesn't charge for listing. You only pay when your item sells. I started with 22 titles and slowly but surely they sold. I kept adding books and before I knew it my basement was back under control. I made enough money to take the family out to a nice dinner (we have to feed seven - it costs a lot!) with a trip to the bookstore afterwards.

Now here is where the story gets kind of interesting...

I was out shopping garage sales with the kids one Friday and ran across a house where they were selling a very large number of books for a dime apiece. At the time I had really had no intention of selling books. I also had no concept of how many books this man really had. I asked him if he would take $35 for all of them. I am an awful negotiator. I expected him to say "no". I still don't know what prompted me to ask in the first place. I had just cleaned out my basement and here I was offering for a load of books, most of which were packed in boxes where I couldn't see them. I was absolutely floored when he said "yes". There were over 1800 books in that garage. It took two trips in my very overloaded van to even get them home (constantly worrying about a broken axle the whole way). Needless to say...our basement was no longer cleaned out and I had the makings of a fledgling business.

There were books in that load that sold for over $100. Most of them sold for between $3 and $10. I definitely made back my investment and a whole lot more. I was hooked. I started looking for books at every garage sale we attended. That first purchase was rare but I can honestly say that I have repeated the experience at least two more times in the past five years.

So now you are asking the next question - How Can I Do This?

Step #1

Go through your books (and if you don't have a good selection...selling books is not for you...go find something you enjoy). Select several that you would not mind giving away (that might be what you end up doing until you get the hang of this). Look them up on Amazon and see what they are selling for in the "used" section. If the lowest price is $.01 put it back on the shelf. You are not ready to make money with "penny books". Find titles where the minimum "used" selling price is AT LEAST $2.99. This is your break even point. Anything under that you are running the risk of going in the hole. Oh yes, we are assuming that your book is under 3 lbs. Do not try to sell a 20 pound Webster's dictionary! You are not ready!

Step #2

Sign up for a seller account on Amazon. DO NOT sign up for a Pro Merchant account. You are not ready!

Step #3

Follow their directions and list your books. They want it to be easy. After all, they make money if you sell your item. They do not make money if you don't. Other sites are not this way - you are not ready for those!

When creating the listing keep in mind the following tips:

  • Do not sell anything that has missing pages, mold/mildew, extreme wear or is collectible (You are not ready for extreme wear or collectible).
  • Anything with writing or highlighting has to classified as "good" even if it looks like it just came off the shelf.
  • Anything that used to be a library book has to be classified as "good" even if it looks brand new.
  • Your description MUST be accurate... short and to the point... accurate... spelled correctly... and did I mention ACCURATE!! A good description might read as follows:"The binding is tight and the cover intact with some minor edgewear. Small amount of highlighting. Solid with overall clean appearance."
  • Pick a price that is the same as the second lowest price in your category.
  • Sit back and wait. Be prepared to wait quite a while. You might need to wait a couple of weeks. Check your pricing every couple of days and make sure you are still competitive. Do not go under $2.99 even if it means that you have the highest priced copy out there. If you do, you might go in the hole.
  • The more books you have listed the less time you will probably have to wait but I would not go crazy until you get your feet wet.

I started with 22 listings and had my first sale within a week. My second sale took two more weeks. After that I felt I knew what to expect and I started adding to my inventory.

You CAN do this...and you can do it one book at a time. Take the first baby steps and then we will help you move on to the next level.


Managing Your Inventory - Storage

When selling books online you will find very quickly that your inventory outgrows your ability to keep track of your titles. It is now time to create an Inventory Management System. The best way to store large quantities of books is on shelves or in bins.

Every book will have been assigned a SKU when you put it up for sale online. All the listing sites require this number and you are best served by making it mean something. If you are storing your books on shelves, give each shelving unit a letter and then each shelf a number. Make this the first two digits of your SKU. Next, take the listing date and make it the next six digits, and then the final digits can be the order the book is placed on the shelf. For example, if you enter a book on 02/01/2012 and place it on shelving unit A, 2nd shelf down, 3rd book over, your SKU would read A202012012003. This is a long number but it can provide a lot of information that you will find valuable when you are trying to fill a stack of book orders.

Using bins works in the same way. Number the bins and store them in a "lettered" area. Your sku will look similar to the previous example. The advantage to bins is that they are portable and easy to inventory. They are also easy to back-fill. Shelves require you to condense your inventory to make room for new books as old ones sell. It is also difficult to find shelving that will not bow under the immense weight.

The primary concern though is getting your inventory organized. Valuable time is wasted trying to find your orders when a system hasn't been put in place. It is much easier to start this system from the beginning rather than going back later and trying to put one together.

Shipping Your First Order

You woke up this morning and there was the email in your inbox...


And so the countdown have 48 hours to get that book out the door.

After the adrenaline rush wears off it is time to start thinking about how you will accomplish that and how to do it PROFESSIONALLY. After all, you don't want them to realize that their book is coming from an inexperienced pajama-clad woman sitting in her basement amongst piles of junk (oh wait...sorry...I was having a momentary flashback).

First thing you must do is inspect your book. Make sure the listing description is accurate. It is possible that books will get dirty or damaged on your shelf during storage. Take off all price stickers! Goo-Gone works wonders as long as you don't overspray and never spray it on a paper cover unless it is "slick paper". Otherwise it will soak in and you will have a grease spot. You do not need to remove library stickers if it is an ex-library book. If you have a book that has a price written on it with marker (this happens at garage sales) take a black sharpie and as neatly as possible draw a line over the price. It will cover it up (allow for this when you are listing your book by including in your description: "has a small black mark on the front cover").

Next you need to package the book. Bubble mailers are nice but they are expensive. Because you are new to this, I have allowed for the purchase of a 9 x 12 bubble mailer in the minimum price of $2.99 you were told to keep. Wal-Mart is the cheapest place I have found to purchase a single mailer. It is also the least expensive place to buy packing tape (which you will need). If I remember correctly it will cost around $1.50 for the mailer and $1.00 for a roll of tape. Another option (and one we use) is to wrap the book in bubble wrap and then place it in a 9 x 12 or 10 x 13 catalog envelope. The bubble wrap cushions the book and protects it from moisture. If the book will not fit into a catalog envelope, wrap it in bubble wrap and then wrap it in brown paper. I purchase large rolls of brown contractor paper at Home Depot for about $13.50. A roll will last us about 6 months. It is very heavy duty. We purchase our catalog envelopes at Costco. They cost about $7.50 for 150 envelopes. I have not found them cheaper anywhere else. Bubble wrap comes from Office Max. They sell rolls of 200 sq ft for right at $20.00. It is perforated in 1 sq ft sections. If you watch their sales flyers you will see that they run specials where you can buy two rolls and get one free. When this happens, we buy at least eight rolls. I have found that that will carry us through until the next sale. Our average cost per book for packaging materials is $0.15.

But I have gotten ahead of the game...DO NOT go crazy and buy all this stuff yet...It is not time! Go buy your bubble mailer and tape and put your book inside the mailer.

You need a packing slip. You can print one off on Amazon. Their's looks nice and professional and has all the information the buyer needs.

Tape down the flap. Yes it is self-sealing but I have found that the postal sorting machines love loose edges. Taping down the flap will keep the machines from tearing apart your beautiful package.

Type the customer's address and your return address on a piece of paper. Make it large enough to read. Tape the paper to the front of the envelope making sure to cover all four edges completely. Taping is an art form in itself. It must be done neatly!

Now for the fun part (extreme sarcasm). Set aside an afternoon to wait in line at the post office. Later, when you are in full-swing, I will walk you through printing postage at home but for now you need the postal clerk. Ship the book via Media Mail with delivery confirmation. Yes, you have to pay extra for the delivery confirmation. It is worth it! The customer will never be able to claim that the book did not arrive. If the book was "expedited"...well that is a whole different procedure. For now we will assume that the book was to be shipped "standard". I will step you through "expedited" in a later post.

You've paid the postage and the book is on its way. Go home and email the customer a nice short thank you and include the tracking number. Be professional. If you have to refresh yourself on the proper way to write a business is time well invested.

You've done it. Your first book is on its way. You are now a bookseller (albeit a very small one).

The "Expedited", "International", or "APO" Order

We've covered the procedure for shipping out a "standard" order but now we will discuss how to handle other types of orders.

When a customer pays extra for "expedited" shipping that means they want it fast. If the item is under 7.1 oz (packaged) you may ship it First Class. If it is heavier than that you will need to ship it using Priority Mail. First Class is packaged just like a "standard" order. Priority Mail is packaged in a special flat rate envelope provided by the post office. They can usually be found in the lobby and they are free. The book must fit into the envelope so that you can completely close the flap. You will want to tape the flap down...remember those sorting machines. Either way you ship you will still need to bubble wrap the book in order to protect it during shipping. Delivery confirmation is automatically included with Priority Mail so you will not have to pay extra for it.

It is best to keep one of those Priority envelopes on hand while you are listing your books. If the book does not fit inside you will need to indicate that you cannot ship the item "expedited" or "international". There is a place to mark this during the listing process.

An international order can be shipped either of two ways. The first (and least expensive) is by First Class International. The book will need to be packaged like a "standard" order. At the post office you will find "small" customs forms (colored green). They are usually with the other forms and are free. Fill out as much information as possible being sure to include your return address. You will then take the package and the form to the postal clerk for payment. International packages cannot be tracked but you can prove you turned them over to the United States postal service. This will be enough to prove shipment. Be sure to save the postage receipt and the form the postal clerk gives you.

The second option, Priority Mail International is not yet pertinent. It will become so when you are shipping heavy items or have branched into selling on other sites besides For now, just know that there are options.

APO shipments go to military personnel. They are considered domestic shipments but require a customs form (the same green form you use for international orders). Other than the customs form there is nothing else you will need for this type of order.

Taking the Next Step

You have been shipping out book orders for a while now and are starting to wonder how to take your business to the next step.If you are making at least $40.00 profit per month on your books then the next step is to apply for an Amazon Pro-Merchant account.Forty dollars is your break-even point.

A Pro-Merchant account charges a monthly fee of $39.99 but eliminates the $1.00 per sale fee that Amazon has been assessing on all your orders.You will continue to pay the 12% commission rate and the “handling fee” of $1.35 that comes out of the shipping reimbursement.

The important thing about taking this next step is that once you have a Pro-Merchant account you can then look at automated inventory programs to help you with your listings.Listing in bulk or listing on multiple venues is what will bring you a greater number of sales and consequently, greater profits.

A wonderful provider of inventory management services is The Art of Books.They are an online company that will handle all your listings across multiple venues, automatically updating adds and deletes and pulling all your orders from each of the sites where you list your inventory.They also provide reports and expense tracking that helps during tax time.

Once you have your Pro-Merchant account and have looked into an inventory management system, you can then list your items concurrently on sites such as,, Barnes&,, and of these is a reputable book-selling site that has FTP accounts which will allow you to use a bulk listing or inventory management system.


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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      13 months ago from Ohio

      I think you have given me all the information I need to sell some books. Who knows, maybe I'll make it into a business.

    • profile image

      Colin Neville 

      4 years ago

      Very comprehensive article. I've sold books on ABE for 15+ years now. As storage was becoming an increasing problem for me, working from home, I have now started to specialise in fine press/limited edition books, as the profit margin is higher on these; so fewer books, but more expensive & collectable ones to sell, has been the answer to my storage problems.

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 

      6 years ago from Cardiff

      great hub, voted up and interesting! We have sold the odd text book but actually have piles of books to take to the carboot but I may try amazon first as I know the price in carboots is tiny. Thanks for the help, may well spend my evening checking the used sales prices on my piles!

    • Patti Riggs Hale profile image

      Patti Riggs Hale 

      7 years ago from Burdette, Arkansas

      Very good information, very well put. Thanks for this!

    • somethgblue profile image


      7 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

      I've often thought about this enterprise as I have often sold my books to a local used book store and made a profit. Going to garage sales isn't exactly a trade secret, perhaps streamlining your shipping might be, but people have been going to garage sales since the dawn of time and reselling items for profit.

      This is a very good hub in my opinion, keeps your attention, doesn't ramble, and is very informative . . . one might think there is a sophisticated intelligence behind it, Naw not on this planet!

    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 

      7 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      Uh Oh, I think you just sparked my interest in yet another online earnings venture. I have TONS of books, especially since I have converted them all to Nook or Kindle....Thanks for the tip!


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