A Simple Guide to Start Selling Books Online

A post from Christine…

Do you want to sell books online? This post is for you. Selling books online is a great way to earn extra income. If you work hard, you can even make a living. But first you’ll need to learn the tricks of the trade.

Keeping it Simple

This is a long post with a ton of information in it. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible for you. This post is a mixture of my own advice combined with links to other helpful content. We will focus on selling used books.

About Me

I have been selling books for nearly 20 years. I started selling books online while working in my father’s bookstores. I set up an eBay account in 1998 under the name c-olson which my father still uses today. Starting with a few titles from a single store, my online listings were a great success. In 2002, I quit working to become a Stay At Home Mom. In 2003, I started selling books online from home. In 2004 we bought a bigger house to accommodate my growing business and another child. In 2009 I signed a 3 year lease on a 3200 square foot warehouse to run my business. Right now I deal in overstock, remainder, and used books, DVDs, plush toys, and gift items. My goal is to open a discount bookstore, selling new and used books and media related items integrated with online selling. I sell under the name blitz-kitty on ebay and Half.com, Books-MN on Amazon and BooksMN on ABE and Alibris. I also run the websites http://www.BooksMN.com and http://www. ChristinesBooks.net. (I didn’t follow one of my tips below which is to “choose a business name and stick with it!”)

New Warehouse Aug. 2009

Where to Buy Used Books

Friends of the Library Sales – Find FOL Sales near you using BookSaleFinder.com. Also, check your local paper for library sales or call the libraries near you. Most libraries have sales at least twice per year. Contact the libraries to learn the dates and times of the sales. Some FOL’s allow members to attend special early preview sales. It may be worth joining.

Garage Sales – Great place for cheap books. Be sure to ask if they have more books they haven’t put out yet.

Estate Sales – Arrive early, offer to buy all the books for one price.

Church Rummage Sales

Craigslist – Post an ad that you want to buy books. Advertise that you will pick-up books for free.

Thrift Stores – Visit thrift stores regularly, get to know their routines and when they put out new books.

Family, Friends and Neighbors – Let everyone know you want to be a bookseller. People will give you books for free. It’s a great way to try it out. Don’t let anyone talk you into selling books for them and splitting the profit. You won’t make any money and you will do all the work.

Goodwill – Some Goodwill stores “cherry pick” the good ones, some don’t.

Salvation Army

Half Price Books or other Used Bookstores who don’t sell online.

Barnes & Noble – Many times they have half price sales on their remainder books. A great time to pick up some large picture books.

Where to Sell

Here are 5 major sites to consider along with the fees they charge:

Amazon.com – If you plan to sell more than 40 books per month on Amazon, pay to become a ProMerchant Seller. Amazon charges a monthly fee, plus commission, plus per transaction fee.

Half.com – No monthly fee, commission fee at the time of the sale.

Alibris – Monthly fee plus commission. Join when you have a minimum of 500 titles otherwise you might not sell enough to cover fees.

ABE – Monthly fee plus commission. Join when you have a minimum of 800 titles otherwise you won’t see many sales.

eBay – Monthly fee for an eBay store, insertion fee per item plus commission fee and paypal fees. Watch your fees and price items accordingly. Booksellers only need a Basic Store. Selling on eBay has become much more difficult. Be sure to read and understand all the rules before you start selling. Breaking the rules on eBay may get you banned. There’s money to be made on eBay but it doesn’t come as easy as it used to. If you don’t know much about selling on ebay I highly recommend reading Skip McGrath’s 77 Tips & Tools for Selling on The New eBay. You can also subscribe to his free newsletter that contains lots of great information.

Websites for Multi-Channel Selling

If you choose to sell on all of these sites you need to keep track of your inventory. I use www.theartofbooks.com to manage my inventory and sales across multiple venues. TheArtofBooks.com charges only a small commission fee. There is also www.fillz.com. They charge a base fee plus a commission fee. I do not use The Art of Books for my eBay listings. I use www.inkfrog.com for eBay listings and picture hosting.


FBA stands for Fulfillment by Amazon. You send your books to Amazon, they pack and ship them for you. Many people love this set-up. I’ve tried it, with some success but I don’t think it will continue in my business plan. I want to open a bookstore so would prefer to have my inventory with me. Also, at this time, space is not an issue for me. I highly recommend reading about FBA if you are interested: Selling on Amazon’s FBA Program.

Scanning Tools

Many book resellers use scanning tools. If you go to a FOL (Friends of the Library) sale you will see people scanning barcodes on the backs of books with handheld scanners. The tools pull information from Amazon, instantly telling you the current pricing and the Sales Rank (lower seller rank good, higher seller rank not so good.) Some popular scanning tools: ScoutPal and ASellerTool.

Finding the Right Price

Pricing your books is an art form. You want to get the most money you can in the least amount of time. I check Amazon to price all my books.

First I check other seller’s pricing, both New & Used, then I check the sales rank. The sales rank indicates how popular the book is on Amazon.


  • 1 – 10,000 most popular
  • 10,001 – 100,000 very popular
  • 100,001 – 200,000 moderately popular
  • 200,001 – 300,000 well, get the idea

These numbers go up into the millions

The lower the number the faster your book is going to sell if priced accordingly. You never need to be the lowest price to sell a book. Even if you are the lowest price when you list, in a few hours you will be undercut you by a penny by someone using repricing software. Both The Art of Books & Fillz offer repricing software. I don’t use the software. I haven’t taken the time to figure it out. For now, I ignore sellers who continually drop prices and I price my books somewhere 3 – 4 spots above the lowest price at a point where I still make money.

Condition Guidelines

You have be careful when grading your books. Since customers can’t see the book they are buying they rely on you to tell them its condition. Each selling site has their own rules. Be sure to read them. Here’s some guidelines from Amazon:

Amazon’s Guidelines:

New: Just like it sounds. A brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition.

Like New: An apparently unread copy in perfect condition. Dust cover is intact, with no nicks or tears. Spine has no signs of creasing. Pages are clean and are not marred by notes or folds of any kind. Book may contain a Remainder Mark on an outside edge but this should be noted in listing comments.

Very Good: A copy that has been read, but remains in excellent condition. Pages are intact and are not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine remains undamaged.

Good: A copy that has been read, but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact (including dust cover, if applicable). The spine may show signs of wear. Pages can include limited notes and highlighting, and the copy can include “From the library of” labels.

Acceptable: A readable copy. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact (the dust cover may be missing). Pages can include considerable notes–pen or highlighter–but the notes cannot obscure the text.


Why is feedback important to you as a bookseller? Buyers make decisions based on two things, price and feedback. Most selling sites allow customers to leave feedback about their experience buying from you. If your feedback levels fall too low you may get kicked off a site. eBay is particularly difficult with feedback. If you have slightly less than perfect feedback you will lose monetary discounts and possibly be banned. Be proactive with customer questions and concerns. Make your e-mail address readily available on your packing slips which should be included in all your orders.

Dealing with Customers

Although you are not selling face-to-face you still need customer service. They have questions, they have problems and they want to be reassured. Always deal with customers in a friendly matter. Even if they are wrong and you are right, sympathize and find a solution. Some customers are impossible to please, but honestly, I rarely get them. Book buyers tend to be an honest bunch.

Your Own Website

The most popular bookseller ecommerce hosting site is www.chrislands.com. My chrislands site is www.christinesbooks.net. It’s…. okay. Not perfect, we have very little control of design with chrislands, but the price is right and they have good Google Feeds. I also have another site using www.PrestoStore.com under www.BooksMN.com. Both of these sites can be supported by The Art of Books or Fillz so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of your inventory and orders. Watch out when choosing an ecommerce host, make sure there isn’t a limit on the number of items you can list. As a bookseller, you will end up with 1,000’s of SKUs, you can’t afford a hosting company that charges based on the number of SKUs you have.

You need to take credit cards and paypal on your website. For credit cards, I use www.propay.com. They integrated easily with my websites and have low fees for small sellers. Google Checkout is another good option to have on your website.

Where to Buy Shipping Supplies

When I first started buying shipping supplies I looked for sales or coupons from Office Max. Then I started ordering them from sellers on eBay. Now I order all my shipping supplies from www.Uline.com. I find they have the best prices if you order in bulk. Uline also has excellent customer service. If you order more than $300 worth of supplies at any one time you can ask for Free Shipping with next day delivery! Uline also offers fun freebies if you order $150.00 or more in supplies.


How you choose to ship your books is a very important part of your business. Your shipping choices will affect your customer’s experience and your feedback. Most booksellers ship their books in bubble mailers to save on shipping costs and supplies. I ship most of my books in boxes or cardboard fold-overs (s-165 on uline.com). I only ship small paperbacks and DVDs in bubble mailers. This is a personal choice. When I sell books in “New” condition and I want the books to arrive in “New” condition. Books get damaged in bubble mailers unless you wrap them in several layers of bubble wrap.

Most selling venues will reimburse you $3.99 for shipping and handling costs. For books that weigh under 4 lbs. this is enough to cover your costs. If your book weighs over 4 lbs. you will need to raise the price of your book to reflect the extra postage costs.

Shipping International: I have had very few problems with international shipments. If you decide to ship international, be aware of the costs and have a shipping scale handy, you can buying a shipping scale on ebay from this guy: GreatScales. Amazon only gives you one low price for covering postage on international orders. This price may not cover your costs. Amazon allows you to opt out of international shipping on a book to book basis, if your book does not fit into a Flat Rate Envelope, do not select the International Shipping option on Amazon. I keep a chart handy telling me how much it is going to cost me to ship to Canada and the rest of the world so I can input prices on ebay when listing. You can calculate prices on the usps.com website.

Media Mail is the most popular choice for books that weigh over 8 oz. Under 8 oz, it is cheaper to ship First Class Mail. Media Mail takes 4 – 14 days to arrive. Since Media Mail is so slow, I always ship within 2 days of receiving an order to minimize the customer wait.

Use professional packing materials. Do not use old cereal boxes or empty tissue boxes to ship items. Important: Do not wrap books in newspaper, the ink will rub off and damage the book.

The US Post Office

Important – Make friends with your local post office crew. You’ll see them everyday and you’ll need their help. They can make your life miserable, so don’t argue or pick fights with the folks at the Post Office. You can’t afford to be enemies with them.

Things your friendly post office crew can help you with:

  • Tubs to help you carry your books
  • Hampers for when you have extra large loads
  • Extra Supplies of Priority boxes, Flat Rate envelopes, Customs Forms and more
  • You can order Free Priority Mail Supplies on the usps.com website

Printing Postage Online

Printing postage online saves you time. Once you start selling several books per day, you’ll to want to start printing postage online. When you print your postage online, you won’t have to wait in line at the post office. You’ll drop your stuff, say hi, and then leave. You will also get a discount on Priority Mail and a discount on delivery confirmation.

I recommend www.endicia.com. It has a small monthly fee. Most other services (usps.com, paypal, amazon) charge extra for printing Media Mail postage.

You also need a Zebra Thermal Printer that uses 4” x 6” labels. Buy a used one on eBay from HippoVariety. I bought a refurbished one from them over 5 years ago and it’s still running strong. I buy my labels from Trek.CompuLabel.com. Buying topcoated labels is important because the post office sometimes will put a zip code sticker right over the address. If the label isn’t topcoated that sticker won’t come off and your package will be returned to you.

Shipping Station

A good shipping station consists of the following:

  • Multiple Box Sizes
  • Multiple bubble mailer sizes
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Packing Tape with dispenser
  • Scale
  • Box Cutter
  • Scrap Cardboard
  • Void Fill (blank newsprint, peanuts, foam, etc.)
  • Scotch Tape with dispenser

Your shipping station should be comfortable, easy to access, and not cramped. Try to make your shipping process as smooth as possible to avoid repetitive stress injuries and shipping mix-ups.

Important Tips for Serious Businesses

If you plan to turn bookselling into a business, here are some must follow tips:

  • If you sell on eBay, you need a paypal account or you will get no sales
  • Choose a business name to use across all sites, including your own website. Check GoDaddy to see if the website name is available.
  • Buy your domain on GoDaddy.com
  • Open a business account at your local bank.
  • Have a business credit card that pays cash back
  • Register your business with your state.
  • Register your business with the Feds and get an EIN (Employer Identification Number)

Blogs to Read

Book Think
Weber Books – Selling Books
Sell Your Books Online

Books to Read

Selling Used Books Online (A little dated but some good info)
The Home Based Bookstore
Book Finds, 3rd Edition: How to Find, Buy and Sell Used and Rare Books
Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide with Detailed Explanations
How to Sell Books on Amazon The Stay at Home Mom’s Secret Guide
Selling Online: How to Start a Home-Based Business Selling Used Books, DVDs, and More
Tax Loopholes for eBay Sellers (great advise for all small businesses!)
The eBay Sellers Tax & Legal Guide

e-Books to Consider

Selling on Amazon’s FBA Program
Skip McGrath Sell Used Books on eBay, Amazon and the Internet

Free Newsletters to Subscribe to

Skip McGrath

In Closing

Slinging books is not a glamorous job. You get dirty, your nails get broken, you throw out your back once in awhile, your eyes dry out from using the computer too much, and your hands crack because the books have sucked all the moisture out of them. Booksellers and book buyers are an odd bunch. You will realize this by going to your first few library sales. When books sell for .50 cents a pop it brings out some strange creatures. If this all sounds fun to you (I think it is!) your best approach is to dive right in. Start researching some of your own books and see what you can sell them for. The great thing about bookselling is you don’t need to spend much to get started, but there is a learning curve bringing it to the next level . You can figure it out by trial and error and by reading about selling books online.

Good Luck and Have Fun!

9 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Start Selling Books Online”

  1. I took my stab at selling books online one time. I thought, I love books, I love surfing the web, why not make money involving two things I love.

    It was tuff. I’m glad you’re honest in this article, about it not being a glamorous job. But, for many, it’s a great job. It just wasn’t for me.

    You’ve created a great resource, however, for anyone who wants to get started. If I would have had this when I attempted, I could’ve still be selling today…

  2. Thanks Christine for sharing your insights on book selling. For now, I only have access to goodwill stores and I was surprised to find some really new books as well as classic ones there.

    My question is, where should I start? With eBay or Amazon? How much is the initial investment? I only have limited resources and as you mentioned there will be learning curve before I can generate bigger profits. I love reading books and spend hours searching for great books at goodwill stores and other book sales. Hopefully I can make money from doing something I really love.


  3. Hi Leo,
    Where to start is a good question. It depends on what kind of books you are selling. Look up the used book prices on Amazon and see if what you have can be competitively priced. If so, I would start with Amazon. If the books you have are priced too low on Amazon, you can create “Lots” and sell them on ebay. Putting similar books together and selling them for one price.

    As for an initial investment, I would say a few hundred dollars. You can set a monthly budget for yourself and reinvest your profits and slowly build up your inventory. It will be a lot of trial and error to see what books sell. It will get discouraging at times but keep trying something different.

    Best Wishes for Success!

  4. Thanks Christine for taking time to answer my question. The references you’ve shared are also great source of understanding how the market works as well as what strategies to pursue.

    I’ve been a book lover (particularly business and self improvement books) for a very long time so I’ll take a dive on this opportunity. Will keep you informed perhaps here or on your blog. Appreciate your help 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for this entry! I love books, and grew up with my parents selling them (along with other antiques and collectibles) at Flea Markets, Antique Shows and Garage Sales. I’ve often tossed around the idea of selling online, and picked up oddball books here and there and sold them on Amazon, but seeing how many people are in business online selling books, I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Seeing things like this encourage me to find a way to do this!

    What I’d really love is to win the lottery (though I don’t play) and open up a brick and mortar book store where I don’t have to worry about making a huge profit, and just do it for the fun of it!

  6. What are your thoughts about selling books that are search engine optimization (SEO) related? Do you think there is a market for that? To me, it seems, there are so many free resources, that most people wouldn’t spend the money on SEO books.

  7. Hi Christine,

    I live in Rake, Iowa and would love to be notified when you have a book sale at your store in Burnsville. Thanks so much for all the information. I have sold books for years on Ebay and Amazon, but have been out of the loop for awhile and was looking to see if it was still possible to make a living at it when I found your information. Thanks so much. You have got me excited again about book selling.


  8. Hello Christine, thank you for all your advises, very interesting.
    I want to open an online books store, but i am lost. how do I come up with the titles I will put on the website? I mean, should I choose the most popular books or do I have to list them all? please advise I will appreciate it so much.

  9. I have been researching online for three weeks on selling books online and this is the best information for anyone who wants to try and sell books online. I learned more from you than I did in the past three weeks. I am going to give selling books a try and faithfully take everything you said to heart. I will keep you posted.

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