My Book Selling Process

by john on January 31, 2009

I have mentioned before how I got started selling books on Amazon. It sure was hard selling those first books as I always tended to be a hoarder when it came to books and I had a hard time even loaning them let alone selling them. But I got over that and now every year I go through a cleansing process that looks like this:

  1. Sell books direct on Amazon
  2. Sell remaining books in Garage sale
  3. Donate remaining books

Sometimes my wife will push up #3 when there is a specific book she wants to donate to the school library. In fact an argument could be made that if you were really trying to maximize the profit per book that donating them and taking a tax deduction would be the best method, but I actually like selling books through Amazon and garage sales so there is entertainment value in it for me too.

I started my spring cleaning a little early this year and a couple of days ago I listed 63 books for sale on and as of today I have sold 38 of them, for a net profit after packing and shipping expenses of about $185.

Because I have pretty much optimized the method I use I thought it would be useful to document my process for finding, listing and selling books on Amazon:

Finding Books to Sell

Because we are constantly buying books or receiving books for gifts, our house offers a seemingly endless supply of books from which to choose. Years ago I actually wrote a little webpage that could be accessed from a mobile phone where you could punch in the ISBN number and it would return results from Amazon showing what the used prices were. What I use now is even cooler. I’ve got a G1 phone with a barcode scanner – I simply scan the book, and the G1 gives me a link to book search, which I then click through to Amazon to see what the book is selling for. If the lowest used book price is over a couple of bucks than I plan to sell it. Any less than that and it really isn’t worth my time to sell to Amazon. You will find a lot of people are selling books for .01 but because I am an individual seller it isn’t cost effective for me to sell at that price!

Maybe if I get around to it I’ll learn how to program for Android so I can build an app for the G1 that utilizes the barcode scanner but immedially pulls back used book price info from Amazon rather than making me click a couple of links. Add that idea to the pile!

If I didn’t have such a good supply of books at home (and even if I do I may still try this in the Spring) I would go to garage sales with my phone and scan promising looking books to see quickly where I could make some profits by flipping books someone is trying to sell for cheap.

Listing Books on Amazon

So now I have a bin of books and it is time to get them listed. This process goes pretty fast. Amazon provides a form where you enter the ISBN number, and it then prompts you for selecting a drop-down box for condition (almost all books I sell are Used – Like New or Used – Very Good) and a condition note. I usually write something like “No spine crack, no writing – only minor cover dog-ear. Satisfaction assured!“. After that you enter the price you want to set. On this page they include a listing of the current new and used prices and if you want you can drill in to see the details. At this point I know the lowest price is a price I am willing to sell at so because I want to flip this book quickly I always set for one cent less than the current lowest price.

That’s all you need to do to submit your listing. You will get an email telling you the book is listed and there is an inventory page you can go to to monitor your books. You will find that others will list the same book for a penny less than yours so if you really want to sell the books you need to be occasionally going to this page and lowering your price to be the lowest as the lowest price is usually the one selected should someone want to buy.

Selling Books on Amazon

Once your book is sold you will get an email notifying you. Here is the exact process I use once I get such a notification:

  1. Track sale in Excel spreadsheet where I track expenses and revenue (email will incldue book title and total credit for the sale).
  2. Delete notification email from Amazon
  3. Go to orders page on Amazon and print packing slip.
  4. Cut off the shipping address from packing slip.
  5. Grab correct envelope (I use padded envelopes I buy on the cheap at Sam’s Club) and apply return address sticker and shipping address label.
  6. Highlight the part of packing slip that refers to leaving feedback on the sale.
  7. Write a handwritten “Thanks! John”
  8. Fold up packing slip and put it into book
  9. Put book into envelope and seal it up
  10. Throw envelope into bin for next trip to post office.

Once I return from the post office I do the following:

  1. Update Excel spreadsheet with shipping expenses
  2. Contact buyer through Amazon link thanking them for their order and letting them know that it has been shipped.

It sounds like a lot of work but it really isn’t – and if you are like me and actually find this sort of thing fun then it’s a great way to clear a little clutter and get paid for it.

Good luck selling books on!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyson February 4, 2009 at 9:27 am

Do you find selling on Amazon to be better then selling on E-Bay? My financee and I sold quite a few books on E-Bay last year and had great success.

I have also sold things on eBay. I like selling on Amazon better because there are no listing fees. On eBay you pay whether you sell the item or not. On Amazon you can list for free and only pay if you sell an item.

Tyson February 5, 2009 at 7:48 am

Good to know about Amazon and listing fees. Thanks!

1sillygreengoose February 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Do you think it is still possible for an individual book seller to make a reasonable profit from buying books at local used bookstores and flipping them on Amazon? Or do all/most used bookstores already list their items on Amazon which means that if they are worth selling online they would have already sold them?
I am a new Amazon bookseller who has had a great experience selling off my old books so far. I am wondering if I should continue after I’ve sold off my own stash of books to suppliment my income a little.

It is very possible, for example I recently sold a book for $12 that is fairly new and there wasn’t too much competition. I saw that book on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble for $6 just a couple of days later so I bought the only two copies they had and flipped them for about a $5 per book profit after paying all expenses. It would be a lot of work though – that one was an easy one because I knew the value of the book, normally you would have to scan and research. Of course once you do this for awhile you develop a feel for what sells. So, yes I think it is still possible to flip books on Amazon but because it is easy others are doing it too, which increases competition and lowers the price you earn. I wouldn’t want to depend on that for my only income but if you like to have a little fun “finding money” it can be interesting and a little profitable.

Jon H April 7, 2009 at 7:30 pm


Just found this posting.

How does shipping work? Is that something Amazon does with the shipping label? Do you have to weigh the book, etc?

I’ve been meaning to start selling via Amazon. I have a Mac program called Delicious Library, which can scan barcodes using a webcam, pulls down data about the book from Amazon including used price, and can apparently help with listing books for sale.

When you sell your item at Amazon Marketplace, gives you a shipping credit to help cover your shipping costs. The amount of the credit depends on the product you are selling. For books, the credit you get is always more than what the book would cost to ship via USPS Media Mail, so you actually make a little profit from the shipping credit as well.

Va Rogers July 11, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Thank you so much for your information about selling books on Amazon. I was nervous about starting but found your blog and used it for listing some of my books and my first sale. Your advice was concise and precise (please note rhyming skills). Just sold my second book and will be carrying my “John’s Jottings” with me so that I take all the right steps!

Mike C. August 23, 2009 at 11:53 am

Great blog and info. I have lots of books to sell. I see prices of .10 plus shipping and not sure how the seller is making any money. Can you explain how this works? Thanks.

sean k. January 2, 2010 at 2:38 pm

the above-described process is the most basic way of selling on Amazon and can yield a decent profit. However, doing it this is a very tedious and tiresome process that can often overshadow any potential profit.For instance, I would only pay $5 for a book i knew I could sell for $12 if it was going to be almost instant. If the book in question has a poor/low Amazon ranking, even with the lowest price, the book could sit on amazon for weeks. Remember, there are tens of thousands of books on amazon for $.01. There are reasons beyond cost that can cause a book not to sell. Personally, I like to list books at a competitive price and always leave good, HONEST notes. leaving poor notes or listing a book as “like new” when it is really only “good” will sometimes(especially if the buyer paid a pretty penny for the book) result in a request for a refund or an A-Z claim, which is never good. Leaving prices at a competitive range makes it worth your while, too. After listing the book, wrapping the book, printing labels, taking it the post office, you are gonna want at least a $3-4 profit, if not more. people listing books for a $.01 are oftentimes actual book companies that do in-house shipping with HUGE inventories which actually give them pretty large profits after a while, OR people who take advantage of the $3.99 amazon Shipping credit and make, listen for it, a buck a book. A buck a book? all that work for a lousy dollar? I buy books in bulk form very cheap(about $.13-.$.18 on average), just off Craigslist normally,and will not list a book for under $3.00. i dont care if it sits for a while. The agony of having do all the work involved post-sale for a dollar is meaningless. Anyway, i started listing about 4 weeks ago with this process, have sold over 200 books with a current inventory now of 1500+ books, and have made, post-shipping/packing materials charges, about $800, so about $200/week and I hope to improve on that shortly. Hope this helps anybody looking to make a bit of money on Amazon. any questions, let me know, I will be on here frequently to answer any questions.

MARIE January 24, 2010 at 11:48 am


SFaith January 26, 2010 at 4:07 am

All income must be reported according to the IRS, Marie.

Thanks for the details, John. I’ve got a bunch of books piling up around here that I need to unload. Your post will be very helpful.

Susan February 22, 2010 at 11:38 am

Is there a slow season in the book business? I was selling several books a week in Jan, but it has all but dropped of to zero since the first of Feb. I started out like you did by selling my own books and then started going to estate sales and the library bookstore to buy more. This is my first year of book business and I’m loving it!

Paige July 11, 2010 at 1:24 pm

This is the only useful source I have found for first time sellers for books on Amazon- Thank you so much for this post!

Janelli's Books October 21, 2010 at 10:39 am

We are just starting back up on Amazon after some time off.
Just two tips…1) check out Windwalker’s book Selling Used Books Online. 2) A Sellers for a PDA attached scanner or there’s a cell phone ap. This tool pays for itself or I would not use it. PDA holds a database that gives you’s current five lowest prices for used/new of that title, ranking, and number of copies up for sale. If nothing to scan, ISBN or title data entry is easy. Service is $30/month. Great company & customer service. They are looking to add data bases for Alibris, ABE, possibly others in the future.

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