How to Sell Books Online (Nov 2020): 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?

statista sell books online stats

👉 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 people's 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 Through Shopify

Shopify is one of the more popular platforms for online selling these days. If you’re not interested in selling preowned books on eBay or Amazon, then Shopify will give you the freedom to build your own literary brand from scratch.

The great thing about Shopify is that it’s the leading eCommerce platform for not just physical sales, but digital selling too. You could sell physical books, eBooks, downloads, and so much more.

How to Sell Books on Shopify: Step by Step

Selling books on Shopify is just like starting any eCommerce business with this online store builder. Shopify is a popular tool for book selling because it comes with an easy-to-use interface, plenty of community support, and a low setup fee. You can start with a Shopify plan of only $9 per month and go all the way up to $299 per month packages.

The first step to filling your digital bookshelves with Shopify, is setting up an account. The good news is that whether you’re selling old books, looking to sell used books, or retailing digital downloads, Shopify comes with excellent ease of use. It’s one of the easiest platforms to use for adding products, processing orders, and more.

Click on the Sign up page on Shopify and choose the account type you want. You can start with the 14 day free trial if you’re not sure what you need straight away. Shopify will ask you if you’re already selling, and if so, you’ll be asked for your current revenue.

After creating your account, Shopify will take you to your homepage, where you can add product information, create a theme, add a domain, and more.

Step 1: Add Your Domain

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A domain is the title that customers search for when they’re trying to find your store online, such as bookscouter.com or Abebooks. As a default, your domain will come with a myshopify add-on, but you can purchase a custom domain, or add one that you already have if you prefer.

Remember, you can buy custom domain options online with cheap, but it’s important to think carefully about the domain that’s most likely to work for you. Remember, the best domain names are short and simple, so that your customers can remember them. Find a title that’s representative of the types of books you’re selling or tells your customer about your used bookstore.

Choosing a name that includes keywords like “collectible” might help you to rank higher in the search engines later.

Step 2: Choose and Customize Your Theme

shopify themes

Once you’ve got your domain name set up, the next step is selecting a Shopify theme. Your theme is what customers are going to see when they visit your website. You don’t need any design or coding skills to get started with Shopify, the site comes with tons of responsive themes to choose from, and you can also ensure that these themes are responsive for mobile shopping too.

With Shopify, you’ll have the freedom to choose from a lot of high demand themes from professional creators, or you can customize your own theme if you prefer. Free and paid theme choices are available within the Shopify store to help get you started.

💡 Remember, a premium or custom theme will give you a lot more control than a free one. It also means that your store is a lot more likely to stand out from the crowd.

Step 3: Add Products to your Store

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With your domain name and theme ready, it’s time to start adding your books to your store. This is the time to start thinking about what types of books you’re going to sell. Are you going to be selling college textbooks to students in excellent condition? Will you be selling eBooks to people for their digital devices or offering trade-in as part of your used bookstore experience.

You might decide to be a specialist bookseller who only sells the rarest of volumes for extra cash online. You can find a lot of collectible items these days by browsing through eBay, yard sales, and thrift stores.

Don’t forget, you’re not restricted to offering just books either. Even if you decide you’re going to be a bookstore first and foremost, you may eventually choose to add extra options to the mix, such as DVDs, stickers and stationary.

Creating eye-catching product pages is the task that’s probably going to demand the most time and attention when you’re setting up your website. Remember, you need:

  • Eye catching images of the books you want to sell
  • Plenty of useful information about those books, including their condition
  • Pricing information that’s competitive
  • Other useful information about bundles, deals, and sales
  • Shipping information

Click on the Products section in your Shopify admin panel to either manually add products, or bulk upload information.

Step 4: Expand Your Store Functionality

Finally, you can begin to add extra functionality to your Shopify store to boost your chances of better revenue. Shopify is one of the most flexible website building products on the marketplace. With a large number of apps, you can extend the functionality of your online store, and grow a lot faster. An app will help you to enhance your website and embrace new technology trends going forward.

There are thousands of apps to choose from. Some will help you with things like adding new payment methods and checkout options to your website. Other tools are excellent for things like search engine optimization, and content marketing.

If you want to sell a lot of books through different channels, you could look into connecting your Shopify site to your social media pages like Facebook and Instagram too. Shopify supports integrations for social selling.

Step 5: Sell, Learn and Grow

Finally, take advantage of Shopify’s compelling dashboard and analytics to figure out how to increase your profits over time. With Google Analytics and other reporting tools, you can track everything from website visits, to sales, and referrals (here's how to add Google Analytics to Shopify).

The more time you spend tracking your business operations, the easier it will be to see which products your customers like most. This will help you to invest more confidently into the sales tactics that will drive better results for you in the future.

When everything is fully set up with your online store, you can even invest in marketing techniques to help you drive a more consistent stream of customers your way. You could integrate email marketing into your Shopify strategy to keep your subscribers informed about the latest books in your roster. Another option is to build an active social media presence or share your thought leadership through regular blogs and articles.

Your reporting and analytics strategies will give you more information on which of your advertising campaigns are giving you the best results.

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.

sell books online via amazon

If you want to sell books on Amazon without going through Blurb, that’s fine too. Selling books on an online marketplace like Amazon is a little different to selling books through your own eCommerce website.

Before you can begin, you’ll need to set up a seller account. This means entering your driver’s license or passport information. information into Amazon to prove that you are who you say you are. You’ll also need card information fee payments, and bank account information so you can accept payments.

To create your seller account, go to Amazon.com and click on the sign-in page. If you already have a consumer account with Amazon, sign-in. If not, create an Amazon account, and verify your email address. Once you’re signed in, go to your account page, and scroll down to “Other accounts” to choose “Seller”.

Setting Up Your Amazon Seller Account

If you want to sell textbooks, regular novels, and eBooks on Amazon with a seller account, then you’ll need to read all about the selling process first. Check out the Sell on Amazon page to learn more. Remember, you’ll also have a price to pay for selling, which is usually $39.99 per month, and you can list as many items as you like.

If you want to sell items individually, you can pay 99cents per item. Both options also come with closing fees, so it’s worth making sure you keep this in mind with your price quote. If you want to sell more than 40 items, without relying on independent selling like companies such as Powell’s books do, it might be worth setting up a professional seller account.

To complete your profile:

  • Enter your legal name and accept the legal agreement to sell on Amazon
  • Add your business address, and the display name you want to appear for your Business. You can also include information on your website, if you have one, and a cell phone, which you can use for verifying your account.
  • Set up a billing method, and a deposit method for the payments you receive from your customers. The billing method will deal with your monthly fee, or per-item fee, as well as closing costs. The deposit method is where Amazon will send your earnings.
  • Complete the tax information interview. This isn’t an actual interview, but it does require you to provide Amazon with your tax information. Confirm that you’re a US citizen, or a citizen of whatever version of Amazon you’re using, then enter your social security number and address.

Posting an Item for Sale on Amazon

After you finish the identity verification process with Amazon, using your driver’s license or passport, it may take a few days before your business account is fully set-up. When this is done, you can post items for sale. You can search for the books you want to sell by using the ISBN or the title. The book’s ISBN number is a 13 digit number.

Select the category you’re going to be selling in, and search for the item. Once you find the book that you want to sell, open the product page, and scroll down to Sell on Amazon Click this button, and set the price for the item you’re going to be selling. You need to pick a competitive price here.

You will have a few extra details to fill out here, including whether you’re selling a hardcover or paperback version of the book, as well as what the condition of the books will be. If you’re selling old textbooks, make sure that you’re honest about the condition of the book. If you say your item is in good condition and it isn’t, you’ll have the hassle of a bad seller reputation to deal with.

Dealing with Shipping to Customers

Save your book for sale on Amazon, complete with ISBN number information, and monitor your listing. You need to be ready to sell it to the customer once it sells. You will be responsible for handling shipping costs and finding the best price yourself if you’re going to send your items through the post office. If you’re only selling used books occasionally, this might be the best option.

On the other hand, if you want to sell a store’s worth of books, then you might prefer to use Fulfilment by Amazon. This product ensures that you have an easy way to send items to customers when they sell. Fulfillment by Amazon provides customer service for your items, reduces shipping costs, and ensures that you get the best price on fulfilment.

Fulfilment by Amazon is definitely something worth checking out when you’re done dealing with things like the ISBN number on your products, store credit strategies, and textbook buyback or buyback price. Items sold and set up with Fulfilment by Amazon are eligible for 2-day shipping, which attracts more customers to your items.

When it comes to things like Shipping costs, Amazon will charge you based on the weight of the items you’re selling. Your fee covers essential tasks like collecting your order, making sure it’s properly packaged and shipping to customers. Storage fees are also a consideration for Amazon customers. You’ll pay for your storage depending on the amount of cubic feet in space you use.

This fee can get a lot bigger during the holiday period when Amazon is busier.

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 t0 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!

With the options above, you can make a fortune through your literary sales, set up a mobile app for your audience, and even attract new leads by offering half price books at certain times of the year. There’s nothing stopping you from developing an amazing brand.

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!

Featured image credits: Den.the.Grate / DepositPhotos

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.