How to Sell Books Online: Everything You Need to Know

Whether you love books or you just love selling online, there’s no doubt that selling books online can be a profitable sideline or full-on business.

You just need to do your research and work hard at it.

The book industry remains quietly successful in the face of enormous competition. Not least because there are tons of different formats we read the written word in. For anyone eschewing paper, there are ebooks and audiobooks.

If you’re interested in cashing in on the book market, here’s our handy guide on how to do precisely that.

How to Sell Books Online: The Facts

Did you know, 675 million print-books were sold in the US alone last year?

That’s right! It’s an astonishing number. 

Not only that, but according to Statistica, 74% of adults also read at least one book a year. Now, that might not sound like much to the bookworms reading this article, but it contributes towards an average spend of $110 per year per person on books!

98% of consumers say that when they buy books, they read for pleasure, rather than for academic or work purposes. So, if you're considering setting up an online book store, you have a lot of people to work with!

Having said that, don’t forget the academic market. Publishing figures for the higher education industry came to $4 billion in 2017 alone.

Although traditional book stores in the US are still bringing in around $10 billion a year, their revenues are showing a steady decline, mainly due to large online retailers such as Amazon. But, generally speaking, the drop is confined to the more prominent book retailers. It seems that our preference for individual and independent bookstores hasn't waned; instead, it's actually increased. Perhaps this demand for the unique and quirky is something that can be translated to your online store?

👉 So, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at creating a store, and why you might do it, for example:

  • You're an entrepreneur, and you want to create an online bookstore and sell your products using an ecommerce platform like Shopify.
  • You’re a writer, and you don’t have a publisher. But, you want to sell your book via platforms like Blurb or Amazon.
  • You have a ton of used books, and you want to sell them online. Either they’re yours, or you buy them from traditional stores or garage sales, and you want to turn them for a profit on Amazon or Bookscouter.
Don't worry, we're going to cover all three scenarios in this guide.

How to Sell Books Online: Creating an Online Bookstore

Whether you’re a writer who wants to sell their own books or you want to sell other peoples works, it’s essential to decide how you’re going to do it. If you don’t fancy selling books using the traditional online giants, then creating an ecommerce store that's attractive and easy to navigate is essential.

You want people to buy your books, don’t you? This means keeping potential customers on your site for as long as possible. This massively increases the chances of them actually buying something. As such, it’s worth investing time into creating a well-designed and professional-looking website. We recommend NOT setting up your store from an existing blog. Or, if you're already selling other products on an online store don’t just add the books to your site.

Set up something separate.

This means getting a fresh domain name and creating a new site that looks professional, is easy to read, and where payment and shipping options are made simple.

We recommend using Shopify for such an enterprise. Shopify provides you with tons of attractive templates suitable for online bookstores. It’s that simple.

Many Shopify themes come with fabulous features that even novice booksellers can use. For example, there’s SEO optimization, slideshows, free stock photos, options to use multiple currencies and languages, integration with Instagram, and drag and drop page builders. Just to name a few!

These themes are also compatible with mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

The designs are well laid out, modern and clean looking, so they’re easy on the eye for consumers hungry to spend their dollars on their next best read. With some themes, you can even add video as well as those all-important social media icons. With just a click, you can encourage visitors to explore your Facebook and Instagram pages.

Most of all, it's vital your online store can safely process payments, which is why Shopify is an excellent way to go. Customers are protected, and so are you. All Shopify stores are PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant. So rest assured, keeping your customer's payment info and your business data safe is a breeze!

how to sell books online using shopify

How to Sell Books Online: Incentives

Whether or not you go for Shopify or another ecommerce platform, it’s vital to incentivize your customers. So, do a bit of snooping around and see what your competitors are up to. Don't copy them. Just glean some inspiration.

Whichever platform you opt for, double-check you can set discounts for your stock. For example, a three for two deal, or a percentage off if you buy several books by the same author or genre — it doesn't matter (at this stage) what promotion you run, the important thing is, you get to choose.

Big sites like Amazon do this all the time. But, it’s harder for the smaller store, so you need to be smart about it.

If you can, in addition to discounts and promotions, you should also run competitions and giveaways. Plus, if you’re able to tie-in events with authors to attract a demographic within a specific geographical area, then do. These are all great techniques for incentivizing customers to buy!

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How to Sell Books Online: Marketing

Marketing your online bookstore is vital. How else are customers going to know you exist?

Here are some thoughts:

Capture your customer’s names and email addresses so you can customize the emails you send. This is an excellent way of keeping them updated on all your special offers and any new books you're stocking.

You could also send a weekly/monthly newsletter with links to your store, social media handles, and any exclusive coupons you want to give your loyal following. Be sure to include relevant articles as well, for example, if a new book is out and you have it in stock, and you've written a review about it, stick it in the newsletter. Think laterally.

Again, keep an eye on your competitors’ sites. See what they do. 

You'd be amazed at how effective this is for fuelling your own ideas!

On a separate note, be smart with your photography. Upload gorgeous book covers onto your Instagram and product pages. Maybe you have the same book with three different covers? If so, ask customers to rate their favorite and be sure they know they can buy them. This is a surefire way to engage with your audience.

Whatever you do to market your bookstore, keep up the momentum. If you spot an interesting book-related fact, post it. Ask for comments. Schedule and automate your posts using an app like Buffer. The possibilities are seemingly endless!

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How to Sell Books Online: Do You Want to Sell Your Own Books?

Are you one of those people who don’t just believe they have a story to tell but have actually gotten around to writing it?

If so, congratulations!

Now it’s time to sell it and don't be shy about doing so. If you’re not only a writer but you're also an online marketer and already have an online bookstore, read above!

However, if you have a day job and you just want to sell your book(s) on the side, then using a platform that already has a more significant reach like Amazon or Blurb, is usually the easier route.

If you want to go down this road, here’s what to look out for.

How to Sell Books Online: Blurb

how to sell books online blurb homepage

Blurb‘s site clearly explains what you have to do to start selling your book with them. Spoiler alert: it doesn't include costly print runs.

They're a marketing and self-publishing platform that’s been around since 2005. Blurb empowers creators to design, publish, promote, and sell their books online.

It allows you to sell your work in any format; a book, an e-book, audio, magazine, or even a PDF file.

If you're selling a printed book, never fear. Blurb handles all the shipping, so you don’t have to post anything yourself. Plus, there’s a helpful online community where you can ask any questions you may have or just join in the general writer-ly banter. If you have your own website, you can use Blurb as another sales channel. If you like, you can even embed the book you're selling on Blurb on your website to try and encourage sales.

But what about the money? At the end of each month, Blurb pays you any money you’ve made, either by PayPal or check. However, you need to reach their minimum payment threshold of $25 (USD) in profits; it’s the same in Canadian dollars and £12.50 if you’re in the UK.

So, that’s the practical stuff out the way. How do you print your book with Blurb?

It’s simple.

Blurb provides a selection of templates to choose from. Once you've picked the one that best suits the genre of your book, uploads your text. They offer templates to complement an array f industries, including travel, cookery, photography, and memoir-style books, amongst others. Obviously, there’s room for the novelist too!

There’s plenty of software attached to Blurb, such as their Adobe InDesign plugin, which allows you to create blank templates for your book.

But what about selling your book?

So, you’ve made your book. Great!

Next up, you need to create your book listing inside your Blurb dashboard. Click ‘sell my book’ and complete your author profile.

Write something catchy; you want to make yourself sound interesting. But, don’t write reams and reams– save that for the book! Look at other author profiles and what’s working and what isn’t.

The same applies when you’re writing an enticing description of your book. As with all things, remember the end reader. What do you think they’ll want to know about your book? What would compel them to buy, a cliffhanger ending? Twists and turns? An emotional connection with the characters? Honesty? Whatever your book covers, tell your audience. It’s your one chance to do a short and snappy sales pitch. Remember, people have short attention spans, so keep it concise.

Next, set the price of your book. You do this under the Sell & Distribute tab. Remember to set the profit you want to make. Otherwise, you’ll be selling at cost!

Last but not least, get promoting! Embed the listing onto your blog and your Facebook/Instagram pages. We also encourage you to share a short extract of your work and/or write a review of your book. This works wonders for pushing sales. Don’t sit back and expect people to find it. Create some chatter.

how to sell books online with blurb

How to Sell Books Online: Amazon

If you'd prefer to sell your book on Amazon, you can still prepare your book on Blurb, just include its ISBN and it’ll be ready for Amazon self-publishing.

On Amazon, you'll get an author profile. This lists anything else you’ve written (and any other products you're selling). It also includes a section that links to your blog posts. Plus, each of your books gets its own product page. Not bad!

Once you have your author profile up and running and you've created a listing for your book, set your list price. This is the total amount it costs to make your book, what profit you’ve set, and how much Amazon takes in fees. Remember to take all these figures into account; otherwise, you’ll make a big fat zero.

Amazon charges a distribution fee. You’ll pay, at the time of writing, $1.35 for each sale you make and a mark up of $1.15 on the list price. On Amazon, there’s a 30-day return window when customers can ask for a refund/return. Once this period is over, Amazon will report the sale, process payment, and send the funds within 15-45 days. The payment threshold is $25.

how to sell books online - amazon

Marketing Your Self Published Book

To sell books online, you have to make them attractive.

Especially if you don’t have a publisher pushing you on from the sidelines.

So, design a beautiful cover. Something that catches the eye and reflects the content. Your book cover has to get a second glance, otherwise, it’s all over. There are plenty of templates you can use to help get you going, check out Canva to see what they have on offer. Alternatively, invest in the services of a good designer.

You need an eye-catching and intriguing book title and subtitle. Look at successful books in the genre you’re competing in. What makes them catchy? You’re an unknown author, so you can’t rely on readers going by your name. So, take some time crafting a short and enticing title for your book. That, along with the cover, will massively help make those all-important sales. Maybe brainstorm some ideas with trusted friends/readers? After all, two heads are better than one!

Next up, you need to generate positive reviews. We all read reviews, so needless to say if your book hasn't got any, who’s going to buy it? So, encourage readers to publish their thoughts once they've finished. Ask friends or family who have read the book and loved it to leave you a favorable review. Every little helps!

If you’re selling on Amazon, know this: their algorithm is strongly linked to reviews and sales. So, the more you sell, and the better reviewed you are, the higher up Amazon ranks you. Simple, right?

That’s why it’s so important that within the first few weeks of selling your book on Amazon or Blurb, you work hard to generate some noise about it. Ask Amazon’s top reviewers to review your book. Tell them why they should. If you're selling an ebook, invite readers at the end to review it via a link.

Last but certainly not least, you need a fantastic description of your book. Yes, the title and subtitle are essential, but a short paragraph about the book that gives nothing away but draws the reader in is critical. Amazon actually offers a free book description generator tool. Don’t assume you can do better. They’re trying to help you. You’re making them and yourself money don’t forget.

Also, make total use of the author page. Make your author description stand out. Treat it like a dating profile, only for readers. Don’t be sleazy or creepy, but imagine who’s reading it. If it helps, get a friend who works in sales or marketing to help you.

As part of your author description and book description, do some research about how to use keywords. Use Google’s keyword planner or Publisher Rocket t help you with that.

how to sell books online

Selling Second Hand Books

You’ve amassed a ton of used books that you want to sell online. Either they're yours, and you want to shift them to free up some space, or you’re a professional buyer who acquires books from secondhand stores, garage sales, Freecycle, BookCrossing, etc., and sells them on for a profit.

Amazon and Bookscouter are two popular and successful online stores, packed with sellers.

We’re going to assume you've already gathered your stock and as such, made a significant financial outlay. This means, you just have to have a business plan, and a catchy and cool name for your bookstore to get selling online.

You also need to ensure you're fully aware of all the legal requirements of starting an online business — for example, getting a Federal Tax ID number and registering your businesses name. There's also the more techy side you'll need to swot up on, i.e., buying a website domain name if you don’t already have one and purchasing web hosting. Sometimes web hosting services come with a free domain name, but not always.

Register as a seller with your chosen sales platform. It’s pretty simple to do this. For example, with Amazon, you’ll need to create a seller account, register the books you’re selling and decide whether or not you want Amazon to fulfill the sales on your behalf, and so on. If you're registering with Amazon as a professional seller, it will cost a monthly fee.

At the time of writing, this is $39.99 a month, so you need to build this into your costs. If you set up as an individual seller, it's way cheaper, as this option costs around $0.99 a month. But, this is only suitable for someone shifting lower stock levels, e.g., less than 40 books a month. You’ll also need to register your bank details. Amazon will talk you through how to list the books you’re selling.

Listing the price is trickier, only because you need to compete with other sellers and you don’t want to price yourself out. Decide how much you want for the book. If it’s a popular, mainstream title that’s already sold by lots of other sellers, you’ll get less for it. Check out how much it’s going for with other sellers. If you’re a newbie, set your prices lower at first. But, if the book is in mint condition, say so, and ask for more. You can always alter the costs later if you're not getting the conversions you want.

Choose your shipping method. If you plan on using Amazon’s fulfillment service, then this won’t apply, but if you do, typically the charge is $3.99. Now all that's left is to ship the book. Remember to specify how long shipping will take!

Amazon will reimburse sellers the shipping fee of $3.99, but if you’re selling a more significant kind of book, say, a hardback, it’ll cost you more, and you may lose money if you don't factor this in.

how to sell books online

Are You Interested in Getting Amazon to do the Work?

If you're nodding your head, you’ll have to ship your stock to one of their fulfillment centers. Amazon will produce shipping labels and provide you with discounted shipping.

Alternatively, you can send the stock yourself, use a cheaper local carrier, or rent a man with a van — whatever, works best for you!

Getting Amazon to fulfill your orders, is really only for people shifting large amounts of books and aren’t interested in focusing on their own website and business brand. It will inevitably cost you more, but it has its advantages if, for example, you own more than one kind of online store.

Bookscouter is a slightly different proposition. It’s popular with students who want to sell their textbooks. If you have books to sell, input the book’s specific ISBN into the site, and Bookscouter will search around 40 buyback sites and tell you which one will give you the most for it!

The easiest way to use Bookscouter is to download the app, scan the barcode ISBN, and you’re away!

how to sell books online

Ready to Start Selling Books Online?

So now we’ve covered all the possible options, you’re good to go. Good luck making money!

Have you got any experience selling books online? If so, we would love to hear whether you were successful with this venture in the comments box below!

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Rosie Greaves

Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things digital marketing, B2B, and lifestyle. In addition to e-commerce platforms, you can find her published on Reader's Digest, G2, and Judicious Inc. Check out her website Blog with Rosie for more information.