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Writing a good book description on eBay

Updated on August 15, 2013

This book is a treasured gift from my grandfather's sister.


My experience with old books.

Years ago, my uncle stopped over after coming across a huge inventory of old books at an estate sale.

Working in a formal legal career where I had opportunity to inventory estates and work closely with famed auction houses in New York, I thought it would be interesting to switch gears and help him with the task of sorting through, inventorying, categorizing, and selling.

From Bibles to rare nautical books I could tell the range was quite large.

Fortunately, sometimes without asking, people help contribute in ways that we couldn't dream up on our own.

As my uncle and I were wading through the hundreds of closed boxes finding one rare treasure after another, a second uncle drove up after cleaning out an elderly neighbor's home. She had given him two large bookcases for free and he had no place to store them.

As it so happened, I had just enough storage space in my basement. I got free bookcases with free delivery in exchange for housing the massive collection of books.

The only catch was that I was also expected to figure out how to sell them.

I've learned a lot from my uncle. He owned a small antique store in town for a while. He is the type of person that can pick up $1 item at a yard sale and sell it off for $1,000. It's truly a unique quality. I've never been able to figure out how he does that, but he is by far a truly genuine bargain hunter.

After a while though, I wasn't able to sell them after all. There were too many. It was too much work for me to do by myself being a new mom at that time. My uncle eventually picked them up and brought them to a vendor who had a used book store in a mall. He did quite well with them there.

Writing book descriptions that sell.

Jumping in to this new area was very time consuming. I was thrilled to be employed with the idea of rummaging through unique and rare treasures hidden away from the world in someone's random attic.

It takes a lot of time to sort through page after page. Time was what I lacked.

Knowing what to write in an eBay listing is half the battle. In this step-by-step article, I hope to provide basics about writing an effective book description that leads to a successful sale.

What is tradecloth?

When you list an item on eBay, you might notice they use the term "tradecloth" under item specifics.
A hardcover book (also known within the book industry as Trade Cloth), which may or may not have a dust jacket.

Source: Powell's Books, Glossary

This is found under item specifics on book listings.


Step 1. The cover.

The cover of a book is very important to buyers.

  • Damage. Be sure to include any damage that can be seen on the outside of the cover.
  • Spine. Is the spine intact? Are there any worn spots? I just came across a book in my own collection today that had a crushed spine in one spot.
  • Shelf wear. Does the book show visible signs of shelf wear such as scuff marks, scrapes, scratches, worn spots, etc.?
  • Edges. Look at the closed book from the top, side, and bottom. Do any of the sides exhibit yellowed or marked-up edges? These are also important to note.
  • Type of cover. Is it hard or soft cover? Does it have a dust jacket? Is it missing the dust jacket? What's the condition of the dust jacket? (Dust jacket is another term for jacket cover.)
  • If the book is a softcover book, any creases on the cover should be noted.

Step 2. Is the book intact?

I've purchased books at used book stores that weren't necessarily intact, but I loved the illustrations or the writer spoke to me through the writing. Some people wouldn't be interested in the least if a book was coming apart at the seams.

  • Check the binding of the book. Make sure there are no loose pages. If so, note that in your description.
  • Check what method the book was put together: glue, staples, string, etc. Make sure everything is still working or note any flaws. (Children's books often have loose staples or excess glue!)

Step 3. Are the pages ripped?

  • Are there any torn or missing pages?
  • Are any pages taped in areas where there was a previous tear or rip?
  • Are the pages creased? Sometimes people fold pages over instead of using a bookmark. Any folded or creased pages should surely be noted.

Step 4. Are the pages yellowed or yellowing?

Yellowed or yellowing pages are caused by lignin. (This is the reason why paper newspapers "age" as well.)

I'm a paper artist. I work specifically with products that advertise lignin, acid free, photo safe, archival quality, etc.

What does all this mean? Why are books more prone to yellowing than paper used in crafts such as scrapbooks?

  • Paper is made from wood.
  • Wood contains a chemical called lignin.
  • The word lignin was introduced in 1819.
  • Lignin starts to break down when exposed to air and light. (It also happens when books are stored in damp basements.)
  • Lignin can be removed with chemicals to create archival quality paper. Scrapbook paper is available in lignin-free to help crafters create archival-quality memory books for photos.

Sometimes books can become blotchy yellow while other times the pages appear yellowed all over.

Sample of a yellowing book


Step 5. How many pages are there?

It's important to note how many pages are in the book.

This will also add shipping value to the book when accounting for heaviness.

Step 6. Book measurements.

Some people organize their books on a bookcase by theme. Others, like me, organize by size.

It's important to provide measurements of a book for buyers who may wish to know how small or large the book is before purchasing it.

It can be very difficult to tell the size of something from a photo without a reference.

Library Discards
Be sure to mention if the book was a library discard which are characterized by the word "discard" stamped inside, or a library book code will be taped on to the spine.

Step 7. Is the book new or used?

Books that are pre-owned are always in demand.

Despite electronics recently taking over a virtual market of online readers, shoppers can still enjoy browsing through old-fashioned book shelves at any number of high-quality used book stores.

Likewise, as found on the internet, there are endless online venues for purchasing used books.

It's important to list a book as new or used and list the condition of the book as discussed below.

Step 8. Condition of the book.

The condition of the book is extremely important to buyers.

Sometimes pictures cannot capture true-to-life details.

It's important to note the condition without exaggerating.

My personal experience buying used books on eBay has been mostly fantastic.

Be mindful that the person reading the description on the other end of the computer doesn't have the opportunity to see the book in person. A buyer's idea of a fantastic book may not be the same as the description reads.

Summary of eBay's book conditions (found under item specifics).

Brand new
A new, unread, unused book in perfect condition. No missing or damaged pages.
Like new
A book that looks new but has been read. Cover shows no wear. A dust jacket is included if applicable. No missing or damaged pages. No creases or tears. No underlining/highlighting of text or writing in the margins. Some minimal identifying marks on the inside cover are acceptable. Very minimal wear and tear.
Very good
A book that does not look new and has been read. Excellend condition. No obvious damage to the cover. No damage to dust jacket for hard covers, if applicable. No missing or damaged pages. No creases or tears. No underlining/highlighting of text or writing in the margins. May have very minimal identifying marks on the inside cover. Very minimal wear and tear.
A book that has been read but is in good condition. Very minimal damage to the cover including scuff marks, but no holes or tears. The dust jacket for hard covers may not be included. Binding has minimal wear. The majority of pages are undamaged with minimal creasing or tearing. Minimal pencil underlining of text. No highlighting of text. No writing in margins. No missing pages.
A book with obvious wear. May have some damage to the cover but integrity still intact. The binding may be slightly damaged. Possible writing in margins, possible underlining and highlighting of text. No missing pages.

Source: eBay's help page

Step 9. Is there any writing in the book?

  • Is there a name or inscription written in pen or pencil inside the book?
  • Are there any finger smudges, printing smudges, or otherwise anywhere on the book cover or in the pages?
  • Are there notes written on the pages or highlighted text?
  • Are there scribble marks done by crayon anywhere in the book?

These are all important to note in flaws so that a buyer can decide whether or not they would like to purchase a book in this condition.

Step 10. Taking good photos.

When you are listing a used book for sale on eBay, one that is rare or not common especially, it's vital to take good pictures.

You want to present the book in a way that maximizes your selling potential.

  • Make sure the room isn't too dark.
  • If the camera has a flash setting, make sure there isn't a lot of glare on the book.
  • Pick a background that doesn't take away from the book itself.
  • Take plenty of pictures of the outside cover, spine, binding (especially if there are flaws), and a picture of an illustration. Buyer's like to see the inside of the book before buying sometimes.

Packaging a book for shipping.

Here are a few ways I've received books that I ordered online.

  1. When I have ordered books on Amazon, they come neatly wrapped in plastic and plastic corded to a cardboard insert. They are shipped in a box with air pillows.
  2. When I have ordered new books through a book store online, they come in a box, sometimes damaged in shipping because there was no adequate protection.
  3. When I have ordered books on eBay, they have been shipped to me in the following ways:
  • in a cereal box that has been flattened, opened and re-sealed inside out, then wrapped in brown kraft paper;
  • loose books wrapped in a used paper bag turned inside out;
  • a bubble envelope with no waterproof protection;
  • a box without cushioned protection such as air pillows;
  • a box with packing peanuts;
  • and a used toaster box that wasn't taped properly and the books fell out en route.

(While all of these methods were economical for the shipper, thankfully none of the books arrived ruined.)

There is one common courtesy when it comes to shipping books which I will explain here.

I was standing at the post office the other day and a customer presented a loosely wrapped object, in a grocery bag that had been opened and turned inside out, addressed in broad blue permanent marker. The package was poorly taped and came undone twice at the counter.

It was when the customer said she wanted book rate that I wanted to stop the sale and offer to re-wrap the book for her.

It was raining that day. She carried the book inside the post office in a plastic bag which she removed at the counter.

When shipping books, remember that the post office has no control over weather. I have received shipments from UPS that were covered in plastic at the driver's professional courtesy. Never have I received a delivery from the post office that was carefully wrapped in plastic before leaving by the front door in the rain. Not that I'm saying it can't happen. Surely there may be a mail carrier who would do that. I had a check mailed to me and the postal carrier set it on my side steps under the gutter where it was too soaked to cash. (She said she did that because I wasn't home and thought I would see my mail there instead of on the front porch, where it was dry.)

It's important to consider your customer when shipping books because it's not the postal carrier's job to make sure your package arrives DRY! To adequately protect books during shipments, it's prudent to cover the basics.

  1. Are the corners of the book(s) protected? (Via bubble mailer or some other foam wrap?)
  2. Is the package waterproof?
  3. Is there enough cushion in the package to prevent the book from being crushed.

Also, an important note, the post office has the right to open all media mail packages.

In order for a book to ship by book rate (media mail), it cannot contain advertisements such as in a magazine!

Copyright year.

Publication Year
The publication year is the copyright year. The print date is when the latest version of the book was printed. A book with a copyright date of 2006 can have a 2009 print year.

Sample Book Description

There are many ways to write a book description.

Here is an example of how to write an effective book description on eBay. Include the following information:

  1. Title.
  2. Copyright year.
  3. Author.
  4. Publisher.
  5. New/Used.
  6. Measurements.
  7. Hard/soft cover (book jacket).
  8. Description.
  9. Note any flaws (torn pages, yellowing, book binding, writing, tears, discolorations, missing pages, etc.)

Using the Early Frost book pictured above, I could say:

Used hardcover book in good used condition.

No book jacket.

200 pages.

Black and white illustrations.

Measures approximately 9" tall by 6" wide.

Flaws: a few of the corners on pages 15-30 are creased from storage. Minor shelf wear including scuffs on the cover. Clean pages. Inscription in front cover. Spine is worn and creased slightly.

Sample Checklist worksheet.

How to list more books efficiently.
Gather together similar books that are of same size, not necessarily topic. It makes listing go by faster when you have more than one of the same features so you don't have to start over again every time you list, and can use those features on your next listing template.

Sample Checklist.

When listing a book on eBay, tryout my sample checklist above. It helps you remember to include important details about the book in your listing while allowing ample room for note taking when you are reviewing the book.

Note whether or not the book has colorful illustrations!



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    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi point2make! Thank you for your comments. I do hope the suggestions herein will help others looking to sell on eBay!

    • point2make profile image


      7 years ago

      Some very useful and important information for those of us who would like to sell books on eBay. It has to be done right to get the best results and your hub gives us the help that we need to do just that. Thanks and well done.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi wetnose! I collect Barbies. I've been to a couple of flea markets where I can recognize something collectible from afar. It amazes me how many people don't know the value of certain things. But then again, I've come across things that I had no idea were worth anything and passed them up, only to see them listed online for a huge amount of money. :)

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you jainismus. Writing descriptions takes thought because unlike in stores, we can't touch or hold the book that we want to purchase.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Mckbirdbks, Thank you so much for your lovely comment!

    • wetnosedogs profile image


      7 years ago from Alabama

      Congratulations on the Hub Of the Day. Awesome.

      I am surrounded by books and occasionally put them on ebay. With the details in this hub, I may have a better chance selling. They are hard for me to let go though.

      My son-in-law is like your uncle. He can find things cheap and sell at a crazy price. He has always been blessed that way. Some people have that knack. Wish it rubbed off on me.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      7 years ago from Pune, India

      Great information. This detailed Hub is very useful for everybody who wants to sell books on ebay. Thank you for writing such a great Hub.


    • mckbirdbks profile image


      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I have been a used bookseller for years and an Ebay seller as well and I still found useful information here in this article.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Jaye! Oh, the horror stories I could share of receiving classics in the mail without any wrapping other than some brown kraft paper and tape. LOL

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      This is an excellent hub and very deserving of Hub of the Day. I'm glad you mentioned the importance of how to pack books for shipping. I sell books online and am very careful that to cushion them for optimum protection. No one wants to buy a book and have it arrive squashed from its travel!

      Voted Up++


    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Buildreps! Your comments are most appreciated.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you StephanieB! Yes, I know what you mean about book reviews. It's nice to see you!

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you so much Suzie! I never dreamed it would win Hub of the Day approval. But I'm glad it did in a way because a lot of people ask how to sell on eBay. I hope someone comes across it that they can apply to their selling goals.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi PStraubie! Watch out for those yard sales. One time I went to grab a book off of a blanket at a yard sale. A person came up from behind me and almost started war. Apparently it was worth something. I had no idea. I just thought it looked interesting! LOL

    • Buildreps profile image


      7 years ago from Europe

      Congratulations with your very nice, well written Hub. I read it with great pleasure. Thank you very much!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      I love your articulation of how best to sell a book, both inside and out. What I like most is many of your tips are also applicable to writing a review of a book.

      Congratulations on your Hub of the Day.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      7 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi CTTC,

      Congratulations on HOTD!! Wow, what an awesome article. Fascinating and so interesting. Loved your story of your two uncles and your own experiences. I have bought some books online including ebay as has my partner and what you say is spot on! I am delighted you have been highlighted with this award, so well deserved!! Loved your work for some time as you know and delighted hubpages picked this! Well done on all the work you put in here, it is excellent!

      Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, shared!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      7 years ago from North Central Florida

      This is very helpful information. I do not have any of my books that are old books that I intend to sell at this time but may come across some at a yard sale or estate sale.

      thanks for sharing.

      Angels are on the way ps

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Barry! I'm humbled by your comment. I love a good book store. I can get lost for hours. We have a lot of books. I had to build my own home library because of it.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 

      7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      One of the best Hubs I have read being an avid book collector. My late father a book dealer I cannot agree more than the excellent advice you give here!

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting ignugenti!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you very much for the wonderful tips you have shared. It is very much appreciated.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you! My aunt sold books on eBay for a while and stopped when people were leaving bad feedback for things like minor scratches and dented corners which she didn't notice when listing the items. She said people are really particular and want lots of photos and lengthy descriptions. When I'm at a used book store, I don't really notice stuff like that at all. I just buy a book if it's interesting and the price is right. But I guess that makes sense, when I shop online I tend to have certain expectations of something I can't touch first.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Great information. I don't sell on eBay often, but I have sold books in the past and never realized all the details that are required. I'm going to bookmark this for the next round of books I sell there. Thanks for posting! Voted up.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Mel! I thought about how I feel walking in to a used book store. At least I can touch the books there, flip through them, and my senses are engaged. It's hard to "see" a book online with our senses and the only way to do that is through description.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      7 years ago from San Diego California

      E-bay is as remote as the dark side of the moon to me, but this sheds a little light on an intimidating subject. Nice hub.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you Lady! I used to buy quite a few books on eBay. My collection has overextended our space so I haven't done so lately.

    • ladydeonne profile image

      Deonne Anderson 

      7 years ago from Florence, SC

      I loved the stories about your uncles. It's like a family thing. I found your article very interesting and thorough. As a consumer on eBay, I found your material useful.

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi Billy! Thank you! I'm encouraged and looking forward to learning from Joe and you as I grow more involved in the world of HP!

    • CraftytotheCore profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Hi Joe,

      To answer your comment from your Hub yesterday, yes I listened to the same Griff show. I had it backwards until I listened to what she said. I thought most people that did well on eBay were the ones that listed the same of a lot of stuff. For instance, like 20 of the same item on BIN. But what I heard her saying was that she has a plan that helps her accomplish list 200 items or more a week (besides the help of an assistant), which is to find "like" items ~not necessarily same items~ and list a large quantity of them. Because they are same size and weight it's faster to ship. The features are pretty much down pat on the listing template. Such as the coffee mugs she spoke about. That made total sense to me when she put it like that!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments friend!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      If I were active in ebay I would find this an excellent resources. It does not surprise me that Joe is the first to comment here since he is the king of ebay in Walla Walla, Washington. LOL

      Great information here my friend.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      7 years ago from Southeast Washington state


      Now I see why you chose your unique pen name.

      This was a superb hub that accomplished two things for me. On a linear level, it was a comprehensive primer on how to list and ship books via eBay.

      The level that really connects with me is the human interest story...that uncle of yours with the bookish Midas touch; your own personal experiences with books; and your respect for every aspect of the "selling books on eBay" process.

      This year, I became interested in selling old Bibles and hymn books on eBay, and one of the first things I had to learn was how to assess a book's true condition and relay that honestly to the customer. The second and even more challenging thing was learning how best to store books. Finally, and perhaps the most significant step, was learning how best to ship them, balancing frugality with effectiveness.

      Thank you so very much, CTTC, for the excellent and reader-friendly presentation of your hub. Best wishes for continued success here on HP and beyond.



      PS I wish I'd known your uncle! : )


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