I recently ran across some questions on how to sell used and rare books, so I thought I’d put together a brief guide. At Reliza Books, I’ve been selling various types and conditions of books for nearly twenty years. I’ve sold used general purpose books from computer topics to novels to rare and antique books. I’ve used Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris, and eBay, and I’ve had to learn a good deal about books along the way. So here are some thoughts.
Selling Used and Rare Books
You have two basic choices: sell the books yourself or sell them to a dealer. Dealers run anywhere from your local used book store to high-end dealers who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for really special or unique books. If you have what you think is an important book, say, the first edition/first printing of “Catch-22” signed by Joseph Heller to a close friend acknowledging the friend’s contribution to the book (just as an example: I actually owned such a book by the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick; that one I took to a real dealer, who gave me a much better price than I could ever have gotten on my own, because he knew who would be interested and what they would be willing to pay), you should probably contact a serious book dealer, such as a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (search their members at. http://www.abaa.org/booksellers/.
If you want to sell the books yourself, do your research. Learn the official terms for describing a book and learn what each book condition looks like. “Fine” and “mint,” for example, are a far cry from “good” or even “very good.” Then, when you’re ready to describe your book, be RUTHLESSLY honest. Don’t try to hide any details because your buyer will know. Take closeup pictures of every side of the book, including the page edges (also called the “page block”).
Now, more research. Search the Internet for the title of the book, including the publisher and the publication date. You may find you have a more important book than you realize. Here’s a recent example. When a certain publisher was about to bring out an author’s first book, the powers that be had a last minute crisis of faith and published only 6,000 copies of the book in the first printing. The book was called “Booked to Die,” by John Dunning and was a mystery concerning a Denver rare book dealer and book scout. The book was a runaway hit and went onto several subsequent printings. But those first 6,000 are currently selling for between $100 and $600, especially if they’re signed. So make sure you know what you’re selling.
Next, still more research. To get the best price for your book, go to eBay and search for the book title and author. Add any special characteristics, such as “first edition” or “signed.” Click Search. Now, here’s the really useful part. When eBay returns the search results, scroll down until you find the check box for Sold Listings on the left side. Check this box and eBay will now show you recent sales prices for your book.Now comes the the hard part: setting a price. A book, or any other item, is worth only what the market will pay. You may think what you’re selling is a priceless antique, but if the market doesn’t agree, you’re in for frustration and disappointment. So study the market. If there are similar books currently on offer, take a few days or weeks to see what they sell for. Now you’ll have an idea of a reasonable price to ask.
Finally, pick where you want to sell your book. If it’s an ordinary book, of course, there’s always Amazon. If it’s antique or collectible, look at AbeBooks, or Alibris, or eBay. Finally, decide how to sell your book. All three of these sites allow you to set a fixed price, but only eBay allows to run a real auction. Auctions are often nice if there’s a fairly large market for a book. That means you’ll likely have a lot of bidders driving the price up. If, however, there are thirty or one hundred copies of the same book on offer, buyers will compare the condition of the book and then select the lowest price.
If you have a lot of books to sell, particularly if those books could use a little spiffing up, pick up some books on book restoration, cleaning, and repair. If you end up doing or having someone else do major repairs to a book, be sure to state exactly what was done, like “end pieces replaced” or “spine rebacked.” Every change to a book affects its value, but some repairs, like reattaching boards that have separated from the spine are unavoidable. For major repairs such as these, make sure you find a reputable craftsman to make the repairs. You can find them by searching for “book repair” or “book binding.”
If all this seems too daunting, find a good book dealer or two and get estimates. In either case, good luck. Dealing in books is a fascinating business.