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Book’em Danno!

If you don’t get that reference, you are young my friend. Yesterday I went to the opening day of a book sale and saw some other scanners who puzzled me. At one point, we were all working the textbook section (which was enormous at this sale – I didn’t make my way through it in three hours) and I kept finding things they either missed or weren’t interested in that were worth $25 or more. Granted, they were merchant sellers so their model is different from mine, but still – $25! We were only paying $1 or $2. Without further ado, here’s how to work a book sale:

Check Out The Room – Go Where Others Aren’t

I got a price sheet at the front and a map (it’s a big sale). I looked first to see where the other scanners were – there were only two and they were in textbooks. This annual book sale is not advertised on the book sale sites so I didn’t expect many scanners.

I considered DVDs, CDs and videos, but left them for Sunday since they are $3-$6 a piece (for books on CD) – a bit rich for my blood. I can get brand new DVDs at Big Lots, Wal-mart and Target for $3 and $5. I went first to the reference section since no one was there and picked up some travel books, atlases, Cliff Notes/Spark Notes and dictionaries. Then I went to textbooks because, they tend to hold the most value.

When I go back this afternoon, I will probably check out children’s books – particularly picture books. As long as they aren’t colored on, chewed up or torn apart, they hold their value well. Most book sales tend to sell them very cheaply – often less than $1.

Most book sales have a half-off day at the end or a bag sale where each bag is $5 that kind of thing, so it is usually worth coming the final day even if you think the books are picked over.

Scan Everything

In textbooks, many books don’t have barcodes, which is more work. I scanned the barcodes and put the others in a pile. Once I had a big stack, I went through and keyed them in. Most scanners don’t bother because they care about speed and volume – and I do that myself sometimes in other categories – but textbooks are generally worth my time because they sell for $25-$75 and more.

FBA Scout Tip – Manual ISBN# Entry

In FBA Scout, you click on the white box at the top (usually it has the ISBN# from the previous book in it) and a keyboard comes up. Click on the “SYM” key at the bottom twice and you’ll see a number entry keypad come up. Don’t stop at one time or you’ll only get numbers but not arranged efficiently. Use the number entry keypad to enter your numbers quickly. If you need a letter (like an “x”), hit the “SYM” key again. It will say “ABC” instead of “SYM,” but is the same keypad. It will take you back to the letters keyboard.

Once your number is entered, you need to make sure there is no space after the number (my phone often adds a space, I don’t know why) by clicking the back button. It is an arrow with an “X” in it. Then, click on the magnifying glass symbol near the numbers and FBA Scout will search for the information. You can also enter numbers by speaking them in. This is faster for me, but I don’t do it at book sales usually because I don’t want to draw attention to myself. I get enough questions as it is – I gave out two copies of my book business card to curious people yesterday.

Scan Everything Part II

Even though my fellow scanners had been through the textbook section, I filled three more boxes worth of good items. I made sure to scan under the tables (remember that pocket chair I recommend? It is a real knee saver), and I checked the books that didn’t have barcodes. In addition, I went through the trouble to pick off some bookstore labels. This was part of what baffled me. Borders and Barnes & Nobel stickers just slip right off and the other scanners had not bothered to check the barcode underneath? Don’t make this mistake! I got several “very good” and “like new” textbooks this way!

If your fingernails are paper thin or chewed up, bring a Scotty Peeler – it’s worth the few seconds of work!

Don’t Forget Amazon!

It is easy to get excited by a high price under the “FBA column” and to forget to check the Amazon price at the top. There were several 8.5”x11” teacher activity books, etc., that were stapled booklets (for easier copying) that I nearly bought for 25 cents each until I saw the Amazon price of $2.50. Whoops!

Don’t Compete On Price

For several of the textbooks, the lowest price was ridiculous. Some FBA sellers were taking a loss on their books. I guess they hadn’t updated with the new fees yet. The crazy-making part of this was that there was no reason to price their books so low in the first place. They could easily have priced that book for $25+ and not $4. Based on the rank of the book (it was selling) and the number of units the low-ballers had (1 usually), I often bought those books with the intention of selling them for the higher price. By the time my book gets to the warehouse, there’s a good chance their cheap units will be gone and my $25 copy will be the lowest price FBA. Even if it takes a couple of months to sell my book, I’ll make good margin on it. I only paid $2 for hardbacks and $1 for paperbacks.


Some people are nervous about books because there are rules and because they are uncertain about condition. In your contract with Amazon and in the FBA Seller handbook (you can find it in SellerCentral), Amazon lays out the rules and guidelines. Be sure to read this!

As a rule of thumb, look at the book and ask yourself, “If I got this in the mail from Amazon, would I think it was new? Like new? Very good, good, or acceptable?” After all, you are a consumer, too! Most books at a book sale are going to fall in the acceptable to very good range.

If the book is a used library book with all those stickers, etc., you cannot list it for any condition better than “good.” Library books are “good” for the most part, then, unless they are in bad shape with covers all banged up and torn, dog-eared pages, etc. PS. Don’t remove the stickers, etc. from library books.

There are several key factors to look at when considering condition:

  • Book cover – yep, judge the book by its cover. It’s a big factor and the number one factor for declaring a book “new” or “like new.”
  • Spine – is the spine still tight? Maybe the book has only been read once or not at all. Statistically, about 40% of the books bought are never read. They are given as gifts or the person thinks they will read it but they don’t, and then the book ends up at an estate sale or book sale in great shape – although the cover may be showing some shelf wear. A tight spine indicates a better condition and that the book wasn’t read.
  • Interior – highlighting, pencil notes, dog ears – these all need to be noted in your condition and they bring the book down in value. If there are just a few pencil marks, you may want to erase them. If the whole book is annotated – then indicated it in your book notes and move on to the next book.
  • Signed by the author – if the book is signed by the author and you are absolutely sure the author signed it because you watched them do it, then you can indicate it in the notes as a way to increase value. However, if you find it in a book sale, you have to tell the buyer that you cannot confirm authenticity. Buyers are very touchy about this.
  • Personal inscription – a few words and a signature is fine, just note it as a personal inscription. If the writer wrote a love letter taking up the whole page, you need to note this in more detail. I’ve been known to recommend to buyers that they cut that page out of the book if it bothers them.
  • CDs/DVDs – if the original book had a DVD, CD or software with it, then your version must have it as well – no exceptions! Be sure to check.

Think about condition before you buy. Generally, you will get in the most trouble selling something for “good” that the buyer thinks was “acceptable,” so try to think like a buyer when you are looking at the book. There are some sellers who won’t sell “acceptable” copies just because they don’t want a return. Ironically, I have the least amount of trouble with “acceptable.”  Most people understand that “acceptable=crappy” and are buying it for the cheap price rather than the pretty cover. Many students use fabric book covers over their textbooks anyway so they only care about the interior.

I will put a book back down if the interior has too many written notes or filled-in answers. Highlights are OK, but notes and other mark-ups are distracting to buyers. I’ll flip through at the book sale and check, but sometimes I still get home and find out that a page was ripped out, etc.

Forbidden Fruit

Avoid these headaches:

  • Rare and collectible books – unless you are an approved rare book dealer by Amazon, you cannot list or sell in this category. If you find a book that you suspect is rare or collectible and the price is right, pick it up and then go find yourself a rare book dealer or an auction house to sell it. Do as my friend Lesley did and have your spouse or friend at home look it up on the Internet.
  • Advanced reader’s copies – it is forbidden to sell these on Amazon unless the book is no longer in print and then you have to note it in your description that this is an ARC. I accidentally sent about 20-30 in to Amazon and got a stern “fix this now or lose your selling privileges email” from them. Ironically, Amazon caught me so quickly because I DID note it in my book notes! I ended up having Amazon destroy them before any of them sold. Whew!
  • Teacher’s editions – It is easy to confuse a teacher’s edition of a textbook with the student’s version. Amazon will NOT let you help cheating students this way. You will sometimes see merchant sellers with a teacher’s edition of a book. I’m not sure if the rules are different for them, or if they just haven’t been caught yet. Regardless, don’t make this mistake. It’s not worth losing your right to sell on Amazon forever. Sometimes teacher’s editions are larger than the student edition, or they say “TE” on the spine. They will definitely note it inside and frequently somewhere on the cover.

FBA Power Tip

When you get home to process your books, there are several tips that can help reduce your time:

  1. Label your items as you process them and put them in the correct shipping box right away. Be sure to indicate on your box the warehouse to which the items are going. Oversized books like textbooks and coffee table books, for example, might go to a different warehouse than novels and business books. CDs and DVDs sometimes can be included with books, sometimes not.
  2. Sort like items together by type and condition. FBA Power has a setting where you can use the same description for the next item as the previous item. If you have a bunch of library books, for example, you can list the condition as “good” and indicate that it is a library book – and anything else you want to say. Then, you can process all your library books quickly. Ditto for DVDs/CDs/Videos…you get the idea.
  3. Create a “library” of condition notes in a word file, and then cut and paste them into FBA Power’s settings as needed. For example, I have a general description that I use most often for processing items, and then I have special notes. Rather than type them in over and over again, I place them in my FBA Power options under “notes.” In this way I can simply click on what I want and move along quickly.
  • When I’m processing books, my descriptions might say things like “Library book, expect reinforced spines and special dust cover as well as typical stickers and markings.” I also have one that says, “Amazon does not allow for a library book to be listed for any condition greater than “good,” otherwise this book is in excellent condition with a clean dust jacket and pristine interior. Expect typical library stickers and markings.” See? I’m competing through my description here. Some library books are in great shape because no one read them. Just to be clear, I still choose “good” as my condition.
  • PS.  just because you bought a book at a library sale doesn’t mean it is a library book. Many libraries get donations from their patrons that they sell. You only need to indicate that something is a library book if it was in circulation. Most libraries will have a stamp somewhere inside the book cover that says “removed from circulation,” plus all the usual stickers, etc.

OK, that’s it for today! Happy book sale scouting!

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{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Sandy Savos February 18, 2012, 12:20 PM

    G’day Cynthia, I found your website through Skip McGrath’s regular column.

    I live in Sydney, Australia, and I have about 100 books on the assassination of President John Kennedy. Most of the books are hard covers, first editions, in excellent condition, and date back to the 1960s.

    I am interested in the FBA program mainly because the JFK books would have a greater audience in the United States, rather than Australia … and the 50th anniversary is coming up.

    My main concern would be the enormous cost of shipping these books to Amazon and I am not sure what these books would be worth to prospective buyers.

    Your thoughts, please. Thank you for your time.

    Sandman :)

    • admin February 19, 2012, 11:44 AM


      With something this specific and with the fact that these books may be collectibles, I suggest you first locate a rare book dealer locally and have him/her appraise your books. They may be able to do a better job of finding your buyer and get you a better price. Most rare book sellers sell worldwide thanks to the Internet and have specialized databases of potential customers. You can certainly check their estimates against what the books are selling for on Amazon.com and then calculate the costs of shipping, the monthly costs of Amazon’s FBA program and so on.

      Amazon’s FBA program makes sense when you have a steady volume of books to sell on Amazon.com. I don’t sell rare books because I’m not authorized to do so by Amazon so that may be another obstacle to overcome if your books are considered collectible by Amazon. There are other rare book sites you may wish to check out where you could sell your books yourself. Obviously, the buyer would have to pay shipping from Australia which would be expensive but if it is what they want…they’ll pay it.

      I hope this helps!


      • Sandy Savos March 12, 2012, 12:03 PM

        G’day Cynthia,

        Thank you so much for a positive and thought-provoking reply. There is ”food for thought” in your answer. I appreciate your time.

        Sandman :)

  • Rozina February 20, 2012, 5:41 PM

    I’m having a problem downloading your free podcast. I was wondering is it just me or has anyone else had a problem as well?

    • admin February 21, 2012, 8:16 AM


      Most people have not had trouble listening to the podcast, but as everyone’s settings are different, it is not perfect. Generally, the podcast will cache for a few seconds (depending on your internet speed) and then start playing on your default MP3 player. On my computer, it is iTunes. Some of my listeners have right clicked on the podcast (it pops up in a separate screen) and downloaded it to their computer and then opened it later in the media player of their choice. Again, this is a setting issue. Some people can only listen to it on their computer and can’t download it as a separate file – this may be your situation. You may want to try opening your media player and then clicking on the podcast link. I hope this helps.


  • Gene February 21, 2012, 12:18 AM

    Thanks very much for this excellent post, full of important and interesting suggestions and facts. I’ve been selling on Amazon several years and still found useful info I wasn’t aware of or had forgottem. Nice to note I thoroughly agree with your advice on FOL sales and your general attitude. Thanks again!

    • admin February 21, 2012, 8:22 AM

      Thanks Gene! As an experienced seller, your feedback means a lot to me!


  • Connie March 31, 2012, 11:42 AM


    This was such a helpful article. I’m just getting started. Already made some mistakes. I went to my first book sale on Thursday. I’m confused about rank on FBAScout. What rank is it best to stay below for books? I had bought some books and some new kitchen items(retail arbitrage) and Chris said they would be slow sellers because of their rank. I am the only seller of one item. It had sold out. This is so exciting and I need to make a success of it. Trying to retire soon.

    Thanks for any advice.

    • Cynthia Stine April 2, 2012, 7:30 AM

      Hi! In my book I go over ranks that I’ve sold within (if that makes sense). Generally the lower the rank (closer to #1) the faster something will generally sell. Ranks are different in different categories because of the number of items in that category. In books where there are well over 11 million books listed, a rank of 1,000,000 or below will sell fairly quickly (generally within 3 months). In Kitchen goods, a rank that high could take months to years to sell.

      Hope this helps!

  • patricia April 10, 2012, 10:12 AM

    I just found this blog today. I cannot tell you how much I have learned in such a short time (today!).
    I have only been on FBA since January and have mainly sold books. I do not have a scout or any type of hand held device. Any suggestions as to when to go ahead and purchase one? The best one to buy and price range? I guess my biggest fear is that I will not be able to figure out how to use the scout!

    • Cynthia Stine April 10, 2012, 11:20 AM


      Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad that the blog is helpful to you! I suggest you buy a scouting tool when you are ready to shop for inventory – any time in other words. It will save you a lot of money by avoiding bad decisions and by helping you identify really good deals. In my book I talk about the tools I use – FBA Scout and the ScanFob Bluetooth scanner – and I go into detail as to how to set FBA Scout up and use it for scouting. You can check out my free podcast and look at the information page on my book on the front page of this blog for more information.

      Good luck in your business!


  • kim April 29, 2012, 9:58 AM

    I live in Perth, can you deal with fba over here?

    • Cynthia Stine April 29, 2012, 11:59 AM

      Thank you for posting to my blog. As far as I know, there is no Amazon Australia at this time. To sell in the U.S. or UK (which both have FBA programs), you need to have a bank account in that country and then figure how you will get merchandise to their warehouses.

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