Writing a good book description on eBay
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.
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.
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).
A new, unread, unused book in perfect condition. No missing or damaged pages.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Are the corners of the book(s) protected? (Via bubble mailer or some other foam wrap?)
- Is the package waterproof?
- 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!
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:
- Copyright year.
- Hard/soft cover (book jacket).
- 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.
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.
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.