Your Guide To Selling Used Books

Why Would I Want To Sell My Books?

Maybe you need a little cash?  Perhaps you'd like to reclaim some closet or shelf space?  Then again, maybe you just want to simplify your life a bit.  Selling some of your books is a great way to accomplish all those things while putting a little cash in your pocket or decreasing the cost of buying more books.  In a fit of Spring Cleaning, I did just this and picked up several hundred dollars in addition to feeling great about all the extra space I now have.  Yep, I know, it's hard to part with books, but I'd be lying if I claimed the feeling wasn't incredibly liberating.  Besides, I just recently started reading ebooks and, well, I'm simply not going back to paper books.  They're heavy, they're bulky, they're hard to search.  No thanks!

Is Selling Books Really Worth The Effort?

That's a tough question to answer and it really depends on you.  Do you have a lot of books?  Are you really going to read them again?  Would you rather have space and/or a little extra cash?  For me, it was definitely worth it.  I had a ton of books in my collection.  They'd been acquired over the last 30+ years and well, there were just so many of them.  Things were a little out of control, truth be told.  I had boxes of books that I had moved 2-3 times yet hadn't opened or looked at in 10 years!  Why am I carting these around again?  Once I got serious about selling my books, I was amazed at how many titles I really had no interest in holding on to.  (And this is after a move 4-5 years ago in which I supposedly culled my collection down to something more manageable!)  Sure, there were a lot of books I recalled fondly as I added them to the "sell" stack, but I also knew that I'd moved on and would not be reading those particular books again.

Can I Make Serious Money Doing This?

Again, that question is going to depend on you.  If you're broke, $50 might be serious money, right?  As well, if you're selling rare or valuable books, things are going to be worth more.  In general I'd advise you to assume that you won't be getting rich off of selling your books.  After all, if you have the kind of book collection that is going to make you wealthy, you probably wouldn't be reading this FAQ, right?  My goal was first and foremost to regain some space and secondly to pad my wallet.  If you go into things with those two goals in mind, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised.  If you're expecting to make millions, you probably won't be particularly satisfied.

Alright, I'm Sold.  How Do I Sell My Books?

I knew I wanted to sell my books for a long time prior to, you know, actually doing it.  Honestly, the primary hurdle I faced was laziness.  What's the best way to get this done?  Do I really have to enter all those titles by hand?  What are my options for selling?  It all seemed like so much work, but what I discovered recently is that it doesn't need to be.  Really, with a couple simple tools it is almost mindless.  Here's what you need to do:
  1. Your first step is to divide your books up into two stacks, one for keepers and another for sellers.  Keepers are, obviously, the books you want to hold on to.  The other stack?  Fair game!
  2. Once you have your stack of books that you'd like to sell, look through it and pull out any titles you suspect might be worth a little more.  This would be rare books, first editions, anything that might be signed by the author.  You'll want to set these aside for special handling.
  3. Next decide if you want to sell locally or sell online.  For some people, selling locally is a great option.  It supports the local economy and, well, if you're a reader you're probably well aware of the plight of the smaller book shops in America.  Supporting those folks can be a good thing.  Then again, not everyone has a shop nearby that will buy books or pay well, and even if they do, sometimes the smaller shops can't afford to take on the inventory that you're looking to unload.  For a number of reasons, I've found myself using Powells.com when selling my books.  They're the online side of an absolutely AMAZING store our of Portland, OR.  They won't be everything and I'm not sure their prices are the best, but it is an effective mix.  I've yet to come across one better, though I'm all ears if you have a suggestion!
  4. If you're opting to sell to your local store, this is where you bundle your books up and take them to the book buyers at your store of choice.  Make sure to bring special attention to any books you pulled out in Step #2 above...  Who knows what sort of treasure you might be sitting on?  That signed edition of Twilight might just buy your groceries for the next month!
  5. If you've decided to sell your books online, what you're going to want to do next is put together a list of the ISBN's for all the books you'd like to sell.  (ISBN's are those 10 or 13 digit book identifiers you'll see near a barcode on the back of the book or dust jacket.  Powell's has a good explanation of what you're looking for here.)  Use Notepad or Word or even an email to list out the ISBN's for your books, one per line.  You'll want this later for a couple reasons.
  6. Pro-Tip: If you have an Android-based phone, the ISBN collection process can be made absolutely mindless by installing the barcode2file app.  This will allow you to quickly scan the ISBN's on your books and collect them in a list which can then be emailed to you.  This is one of those things that finally got me to sell my books...  Not having to enter 300+ 13 digit numbers was a huge time saver for me.  (Sorry, I don't know if there is an equivalent app out there for iPhone.)
  7. Once you have your list of ISBN's together, go to Powells.com Online Book Buying and Copy/Paste your list into the "Enter ISBN's:" field.  Click the Sell These Books button and away you go.  Their systems will churn for a bit and then they'll come back and make you an offer.  Hopefully it's a good one!
  8. Assuming you want to accept their offer, follow the prompts to create an account or login.  You can opt for store credit, an option I usually take, or they'll even pay you via PayPal, though I think the amount they give you might be a bit less.
  9. Once everything is confirmed, print out the postage paid shipping label, box up your books and drop them off at the shippers.  You're done!  Within a couple weeks you should get an email indicating that your books have been received and payment is on its way or your account has been granted some credit.  Perfect for, oh, I dunno, maybe buying more books?
A couple more Pro-Tips...
  • First, keep the list of ISBN's for the books you didn't selling this first time through.  You'll want to try selling those same books to Powell's in the future as inventory changes and what was a Pass today might be a Buy tomorrow.  Having that list on hand will save you time next time you decide to sell some books.  (And there will be a next time, trust me.)
  • Second, all those books that you pulled out in #2 above?  Well, it's not easy to sell those online, but do some research to see what your books are worth.  (Google is great for this...  Example.)  If you really do have something extraordinary on your hands, their FAQ claims that you can email or call Powells.com about special items.  Just don't forget to do your research!

That's All She Wrote...

That's all there is to it!  As I said above, it's super easy to sell your books these days, be it online or at a local favorite bookstore.  With just a few small and easy steps you can be reclaiming some shelf space, supporting your book habit, supporting the local economy, supporting your local bookstore and supporting the used book market.  What's not to like about that?  Good luck to you and happy selling!