5 Tips for Selling Your Used Books

Is it time to take a good look at your book collection?
Is it time to take a good look at your book collection?
Dave Nagel/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

There's nothing like a recession for getting rid of the clutter in our lives and making some money in the process. While we're buckling down and simplifying our lifestyles, it's a great time to reassess all of the extra stuff that we have accumulated. And if you find yourself needing to move to a smaller, more affordable place to live, it'll be necessary to get rid of things that might take up a lot of space, such as books.

Even if you aren't a voracious reader with a vast home library, you've probably collected a fair share of books throughout the years, whether they were occasional purchases, gifts, textbooks for school or even inherited books from earlier generations. And books that you don't use regularly or care much for are just taking up room that could be better used for something else.

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What's great about books is that they're generally valued and reusable. One book you consider junk could be someone else's treasure. So, instead of simply throwing your collection out, why not make some extra money by selling it? This might not be as much of a hassle as it seems, and the money you get could make it worth the extra time you invest in it. You may even discover that you have a knack for it, and you could even turn bookselling into a personal business on the side. All you need is the right strategy.

Read on to find out the subtle art of selling your (gently) used books.

5

Keep Books in Good Condition

One of most important factors in determining the value of a book is its condition. So, throughout the years, as you collect books and add to your personal library, it's a good idea to treat them well -- even books you couldn't care less about. In fact, you should treat them well especially if they're books you don't care about. These are exactly the ones you're more likely to sell down the road.

Books keep best in cool, dry rooms. Humidity is conducive to mold and mildew, which can ruin books permanently. Long exposure to light can also fade books, so low or indirect lighting is best when they aren't in use. Definitely avoid storing them in direct sunlight. Although many people tend to keep old books out of the way in basements, attics or even garages, these are often the worst places for book storage, because they tend to be damp, hot or generally unstable.

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Ideally, store books upright on shelves. If you own large books like atlases, place them flat so they're fully supported. If you have to pack them in boxes, pack them tightly so they don't rub against each other, and lay them on top of each other so they're supported firmly [source: Wuorio].

4

Research Prices Ahead of Time

Paperbacks don't sell for much, while hardcover books typically get high prices, especially if they're rare.
Paperbacks don't sell for much, while hardcover books typically get high prices, especially if they're rare.
Michael Turek/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Unless you happen to be an expert in book appraisal, it's a good idea to do some research on the value of your books before you set a price. You'll be kicking yourself later if you realize the book you sold for a measly dollar was actually worth much more. Some savvy booksellers will prowl around yard sales looking for just that -- hidden gems that are priced far below their real value. They'll quickly snatch these up and then sell them at a much higher price, profiting off of a mistake.

Luckily, in the Internet age, it's relatively easy to find the market price of your individual books. A quick search on Amazon.com, for instance, will give you an idea of what a particular used book is selling for. Chambal.com is another good resource. It lets you plug in the author and title or ISBN and will present you the lowest going prices across many different Web sites.

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However, take note of the difference in various asking prices on each Web site. If there's a big gap between the prices, the lower-priced copies are probably in poor condition (or being sold by someone who doesn't know their worth) [source: Mould]. Also, be sure to check whether your copy is a first edition, special edition or latest edition, as these are often worth more.

Of course, if you have a vast library that you believe is very valuable, it might be worth it to pay for an appraisal.

3

Sell Your Books at a Yard Sale

Arguably the simplest and most straightforward way to sell your books is to hold a good, old-fashioned yard sale. This is often the preferred choice for people who have a lot of other things to get off their hands, such as furniture and toys, and who also happen to live in a bustling and heavily trafficked neighborhood. And books especially make attractive fodder for even the most casual yard sale browsers.

Instead of jumping the gun and dumping stuff out on your lawn hoping passers-by will notice, it helps to do a few days of planning. Let your neighbors know that you'll be holding a yard sale, and that you'd love for them to come check it out. If you can get your neighbors to hold their own yard sales on the same day, this attracts even more people.

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Display books either in bookshelves or spine-up in shallow boxes. Showcase popular or eye-catching books by displaying their front covers. Some like to lay books out on a blanket face-up, especially on an incline or hill. Separate hardcovers and paperbacks, and arrange them in groups according to pricing. If you're having a garage sale, at least try not to display your books in the garage, which might be damp and smell like mildew. Many buyers might judge the smell and suspect that you don't take good care of your books.

Don't want to invite the neighbors over? Expand your selling reach with the Internet.

2

Sell Your Books Online

Get an idea of how much your books are worth by searching online.
Get an idea of how much your books are worth by searching online.
Heidi Coppock-Beard/Photodisc/Getty Images

Instead of a yard sale, some prefer the convenience of selling their used books online. (You could also try both, of course.) Although you don't have to do so much planning or physical set-up, keep in mind that selling online means you'll have to ship the books -- so you'll probably want to ask the buyer to cover shipping, which will add to his or her costs.

Amazon.com and eBay are two of the most popular Web sites for selling used books, but there are others, as well. One of the most important details to include is the condition of the book you're selling. Conditions range from "new" to "poor," with other descriptions such as "like new" and "acceptable" somewhere in between. Of course, you don't want to hurt your chances of selling a book by describing it in worse condition than it is. But you also don't want to hurt your credibility as a seller by describing it in better condition than it is. In that case, a buyer can file a complaint and, if you don't cooperate to resolve the dispute in good faith, the site's administrator can terminate your account.

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If you want an idea of how long it will take to sell a given book online, author Michael E. Mould recommends checking where the book falls on Amazon's sales ranks. The higher it ranks, the more quickly it will sell. He says it's likely that a book in the top 100,000 will sell within a week, whereas a book lower than one million might take more than 18 months [source: Mould].

1

Consider Donating Your Books

Of course, if you have trouble selling your books, or if you just don't want to go through the hassle, you can still avoid the tragedy of throwing them in the garbage by donating them instead. For instance, ask friends and family with young children if they would appreciate taking your old kids' books -- they might be able to get more use out of the books, even if they're a bit worn.

Kids' books are also appreciated in local schools or homeless shelters, especially women's shelters where mothers often bring their children. Goodwill, the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity are all charitable organizations that accept used books of all kinds and sell them for their cause. Hospitals and even local prisons might accept some donations, as well. And, of course, you can always consider donating books to your local library [source: Sherar].

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In addition to the inherent rewards of performing a good deed, you may be able to count your book donation as a charitable tax deduction on your income taxes.

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Sources

  • Sherar, Brendan J. “Where Can I Donate Books?” For.theLoveofBooks.com. Biblio.com. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://for.theloveofbooks.com/2009/03/donate-books/
  • Hollis, Susan Mooring. "Called on the Carpet." Old House Interiors. Spring 1997. Vol. 3, No. 1. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=GjEEAAAAMBAJ
  • Mould, Michael E. "Online Bookselling: A Practical Guide With Detailed Explanations and Insightful Tips." Aardvark Publishing Company. 2006. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=lwrJ8aVetZ0C
  • Perdigo, Cathy. Sonia Weiss. "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Garage and Yard Sales." Penguin. 2003. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=SksX7w0cD0AC
  • Rare Books and Manuscripts Section. "Your Old Books." Association of College and Research Libraries. Last updated 2005. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://www.rbms.info/yob.shtml
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  • Schroeder, John D. "Garage Sale Fever!" DeForest Press, 2005. (Nov. 3, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=6ujvHCv6WQwC
  • Walsh, Peter. "How to Organize Just About Everything." Simon and Schuster, 2004. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=koyuAXXE0cgC
  • Wuorio, Jeff. "How to Buy and Sell (Just About) Everything." Simon and Schuster, 2003. (Nov. 1, 2011) http://books.google.com/books?id=49hv_wmuQxcC