How a Stay at Home Mom Lives Her Dream Selling Books Online

When I mention I am a stay at home mom who sells books online, people’s ears perk up.Christine Olson I bet they would perk up even more if I told them I am going to do over $70,000 this year working 3-4 hours a day. Some things are better left unsaid – that kind of information is better spread by gossip. I could causally mention it when asking a neighbor if they know a good accountant. It’s fun to brag, but one needs to be careful.

Exactly one year after I had my first son I was aching to fill a gap in my life. That gap was selling books. I had managed a bookstore for the previous 12 years. I was ready to give it all up to be a full-time stay at home mom. I started to get the itch after a few months, but at the one-year mark, I was going crazy.

So I …

  • Got myself a credit card
  • Registered with the IRS
  • Registered with the state
  • Opened a bank account
  • Made room in my basement
  • e-mailed a wholesaler
  • Asked for a current booklist
  • Ordered $500.00 worth of books

Book in Home OfficeIt took a week and about 500 bucks and I was in business! I was able to pay the $500.00 back in 2 months. Since the initial $500.00 investment I have never gone into debt. After that, I just kept on ordering and kept on selling. The books crept out of the space I had set aside into more common areas of the house. It was obvious that if I wanted to keep expanding the business we were going to need more room. 2 years into the business we bought a bigger house and had another baby boy. Now I have 500 square feet set aside set up with industrial steel shelving. That space is quickly filling up.

  • There is no secret to making money online – it’s like any other business – I provide value to my customers
  • People assume I buy most of my books at garage sales or library sales and sell them for a small, tidy profit – they are wrong – I buy them wholesale
  • I’ve been in the book business for over 12 years – but it doesn’t take 12 years to build wholesale relationships. I’ve never met most of my wholesalers or even talked to them on the phone
  • I order all my products online, from my cozy basement home office
  • Once in awhile I will go to a trade show to find a new wholesaler, but honestly, I haven’t done that in over 4 years

If you think I’m going to tell you who my wholesalers are, forget it. No one making a good income selling online is going to hand over a list of their wholesalers, so don’t ask. The bookselling business is insanely competitive. My wholesalers sell online to the public; competition can’t get much tougher than that. I’m convinced that I can reach $150,000 or more per year without sacrificing my customer service and small business feel. I am constantly trying to figure out how to get technology to become my surrogate employees.

Read this to learn more about selling books online.

To find out more about how you can start your own internet based business check out Skip McGrath’s site.

58 thoughts on “How a Stay at Home Mom Lives Her Dream Selling Books Online”

  1. Thanks for the post, it was interesting. I’m looking forward to reading your upcoming posts. One question: is that $70k sales volume or profit?

  2. I like this website because it seems quite real – mprmal. I also think it is inspirational to lots of different people for lots of different reasons.

    So thanks and well done.

  3. Christine, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    A couple of us bloggers at Wise Bread are trying to use ebay to be free too, so that makes you a model and an inspiration for us! 🙂

  4. I’m curious. If the wholesalers are selling online too why do they sell to you cheap enough for you to be able to make a profit? Are you more efficient than they are at selling online so you can sell cheaper than them? Do they not want to be in the direct sales, online business so they are willing to sell cheaper to you to avoid that?

    How can you negotiate a cheap enough rate to compete with big booksellers like Amazon?

    (FYI, one of my dream jobs would be to own a used bookstore.)

  5. Stormy,

    It’s complicated, but it is profitable. Not all wholesalers sell direct, and the ones that do, do not sell in all marketplaces. Christine has years of experience in the book business and she mostly sells overstocks and remainders. She has good nose for buying low and selling high and she tends to know how much of a particular title is in the marketplace.

    She doesn’t do used. But we just visited a guy in New Hope MN that supports a family of five selling used books online. He is closing his used book store and focusing entirely on the internet. The used book market is very different than the remainder book market…
    In used books you generally only have one copy of each title which makes it difficult to have it on a store shelf and on the internet. That’s why he closed his store – I think. He had to pull all his good stuff from his store shelves and put it in his home too insure he didn’t oversell.

    Now in the remainder market you usually have multiple copies of each title which allows you to have it listed on the internet and in the store. Then you need to tie yourt POS system to your internet inventory and overselling is minimized.

    About Amazon…
    She doesn’t really compete with them, she actually sells books on Amazon. 40% of her business comes from Amazon.

  6. This is something I really did not think could work. But the way you have explained this here makes me change my mind. Thanks for the post and I will return of course. Your subjects are very informative.

  7. Hi Christine

    A very interesting article. I started an online business with eBay in 2004 selling signed 1st edition books and turned over about $70,000 in the first year but the market for signed books dropped and I had to close up shop.

  8. Wow great post Christine. It’s pretty important people like you are sharing their story and blogging about work at home moms, I know theres so a lot of would be work at home moms, if they could only learn the skills. Btw who are your wholesalers (hehe just kidding).Thanks, keep blogging!

  9. Yes it is a very good example I would like to do it myself.
    Thank you and have a good day to all.

  10. Thats very inspirational. I know it can be difficult to stick it out when trying to make money on the internet, but if you stay true to yourself, and follow your heart you will reap the benefits of success.

  11. Thanks for your post. It’s excellently story. I think you have achieved financial freedom 🙂

    So congrat and hope you can reach $150,000 or more per year.

  12. Nice story. I would love to know which wholesaler Christine uses. We are about to add a list of wholesalers with contact info to our Book selling blog.

  13. Thank you both! Not only was the article informative, and frankly inspirational, the detailed comments are to be commended.

    In fact, after reading it, I got so excited I immediately copied and pasted and emailed this very page to one of our clients. Books online seemed like an uphill fight, but here’s living proof that where there’s a will, there’s a way 🙂

    Do you have an input or insight for audio books (online) website owners? (Never hurts to ask 🙂

    Again, thank you!

  14. Christine has a great story in many ways. She was able to fulfill her desire to work from home, she makes good money doing it, and she gets to apply the previous experience she had to something she seems to enjoy.

    In the beginning no body thought Amazon would make it either. Sell books online? That’s crazy. With the internet, no one will read books any more, um
    not true.

    It appears we can learn a lot from books, as well as the business of books.

  15. Refreshing story Christine and a inspiration story for anyone working at home.

    Many people are amazed at the markets they can be successful in.

    I have a friend who is very succesfull in business and his mantra is find where the competition is and don’t afraid to compete.

    If there was no competition there is no money in this. I myself have been trying to work at home finding niches and coming to realize he is right.

    A struggling entrepreneur, keep up the great work Christine

  16. I ran an online used book business for five years. I linked to your article in my blog, which is a support site for work at home moms. Thanks for the great info.

  17. I stumbled across this blog. I work at home as a medical transcriptionist. This book selling online sounds very interesting. I always wondered how people make money on Amazon….I figured selling books there might add up to chump change but never thought it could be “big” business. Very interesting. I’m going to read up about this even more. Thanks for a really interesting blog.

  18. As per the other commenters…. Inspirational.

    I have over the last 12 months sold ebooks through ebay and not done to badly, but this story blew me away, I thought only the bigger companies could stand to turn a profit online selling books. As you commented, it’s a very competitive market.

  19. It is really amazing what can be acheived from a small home office. The path to our success has led us to a skill of getting people to come to our websites and then ask us for the products we sell.

    We like Christine have long given up chasing after suppliers and customers. Come take a look a the Renegade Marketing System we use. might just be what it takes to put a smile on your face again and see the same kind of success Christine is obviously having online.

    PS: It is not about the books, it is about how Christine treats her customers and suppliers that really maters at the end of the day.

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  21. hi christine,

    i was wondering that if i wish to sell copies of my newly released fiction title- LILACS BLOOM IN MY BACKYARD on your online store, what is the procedure?
    do give me details of the whole process.


  22. Christine-I have about 6 boxes of books that most are fiction, but some are very old and used. Is there a site that I can go to look up what they might be worth? I have 6 kids and have lost my job and I am trying to sell some things to make some money.

    Thanks for your help,

  23. I’m thinking of going into the online book selling business. I have 1 question though. You have mentioned that you bought $500 worth of books. How did you know what books to buy & how long it will take you to sell them online.


  24. Christine,
    Thank you for you kind generosity in sharing what you have learned/know. I’m sure that wonderful attitude is what keeps your customers happy and dedicated. ” I realize that what is perceived as Natural ability to succeed” may be partly true, but also it is being goal oriented and determined. Even more, it has to do with “realness” and a sense of community wherein you benefit yourself and others at the same time.

  25. Great post illustrating how cheaply a business can be started in today’s world. Most see starting a business as such a HUGE undertaking while it’s really not. Keep it up!!

  26. Very inspirational! I’ve been researching on how to sttart a small online business to do in my spare time. I look forward to reading your future posts

  27. Thank you for NOT sharing your list of wholesale suppliers. I often wonder why in the world someone would disclose their information knowing that it will take business away from them. The only conclusion i can come to is that it’s a scam or their trying to push the suppliers they list. Either way, I’m turned off by it. I’m at the age now where i want to have children, but im unwilling to put my child in the day cares around here. I don’t have family to leave them with either. I’m desperately trying to find a way to make money at home. I’m willing to work hard and I’m internet savy and very creative. So far no luck though. Thanks for your post! It gives me new hope.

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