top of page


The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Bookselling on the Internet: On Writing Descriptions

Pat and Allen Ahearn

The Importance of Dust Jackets

Dust jackets (or dustwrappers) were used occasionally from the middle of the 19th century. They became more common in the last few decades of that century and books from that period in jackets are collected regardless of the printing/edition or subject matter. Of course, a rare or scarce collectible book in a jacket increases the book’s value by multiples.

The point is that as we move into the 21st century the older jackets have become much more valuable than the books themselves. This is because the jackets were ephemeral and easily torn or discarded, and, in fact, many collectors in the early part of this century did not even consider the jackets worth keeping and threw them away.

As a dealer you have to determine the condition of the jacket and price the book accordingly. If the jacket is in bad shape with large pieces missing, the value of the book and jacket may be close to the value of the book without a jacket at all. If the jacket is mint, the book and jacket may be worth twice what a very good to fine copy would be worth. If the jacket has small chips and tears, you may want to have it repaired by an expert. It will not have the value of an unrepaired jacket but will look much better and will be more easily sold, at somewhat more than it would have without the repair. Although it will not have the same value as an unrepaired jacket in similar condition, once the jacket is restored it will have higher value than it would without the repair. A professionally restored jacket will preserve the jacket, look better and therefore sell more easily.

We would like to emphasize that unprofessional, poorly repaired jackets will be worth less than if they hadn’t been repaired  at all.

Never put cellophane tape on a jacket, it will age and stain the jacket. There are acid-free tapes available but use sparingly and only where absolutely necessary. Always note in your descriptions that this type of tape was used.

Never use Elmer’s glue on a jacket or for that matter, on a book. Even a professional cannot remove the glue once it has hardened.

Never use Magic Marker on a jacket to fill in rubbed areas, the color will bleed through the jacket and eventually stain the book.

Basically, never do anything to a jacket or book that will cause damage. Leave repairs to the professionals.

We’re dealing with works of art here, whether we like it or not. If a GREAT GATSBY jacket is worth $15,000 to $50,000+ depending on condition, than that piece of paper has become a piece of art which is being preserved, like art works themselves or posters, etc.

Descriptions of the condition, unless you are going to put pictures of the front back and spine of the jacket up with every book you sell, should include detailed descriptions of any flaw. VG/G-, F/VG, VG/G don’t really mean anything to anyone but you. In other words they mean something to each of us, but no one really knows what someone else means by them. If it’s F/F, it has to be like a new book, where the jacket is on straight and has no flaws. In our experience there are few books that meet that description after they are ten to twenty years old.

Title and Copyright Page

We would like to suggest a standard convention for these entries. When we started cataloging in the 1960’s most of the catalogs we received seemed to use the same method for entering this data. We adopted these and still use them to this day. It would be nice if the IOBA members would consider adopting these same conventions, but, or course, that is up to each member.

If the author, publisher, place or date do not appear on the title page, the information should appear in parenthesis, if the information doesn’t appear in the book at all, but is known, it should appear in brackets, i.e.:

[Koontz, Dean] Axton, David. PRISON OF ICE. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott (1976).

In this case the author and the date do not appear on the title page, rather, the author’s pseudonym, title, publisher and place only appear. Dean Koontz’s name doesn’t appear in the book at all. The date of 1976 was the date the book was copyrighted which is usually the only or last date shown on the copyright page. Occasionally the work is copyrighted at different dates, as in the case of a book of short stories, and more than one date appears on the copyright page, in these cases the last date is usually the date of the book itself.

On most 19th century books, the date on the title page will determine whether the book is a first edition or not. As a book dealer it is very important to make this distinction using parenthesis. For instance, a knowledgeable customer reading your entry and sees the date in parenthesis will know it is not a first edition even if you say it is. Many 20th century publishers do not put the date on the title page on any printing. But one publisher, Houghton Mifflin, only put the date on the title page on the first printing and removed the date on all later printings. So, if you catalog a book published by Houghton Mifflin and put the date on the copyright page in your entry without the parenthesis, the reader will assume it is a first edition, order it and then return it because it is not a first. Houghton Mifflin was very consistent in this convention.

With so many individuals selling their books on the Internet it is important to identify yourself as someone with more knowledge and this is a good place to start.

Describing the Book

The description of books is a very important part of the entry. It includes not only the physical description, but also anything you might have to say about the book or the author that might prompt the reader to buy the book. You might want to note that the book is hard to find, scarce, or rare. But what do these terms mean?

Hard to find: Implies that a very nice copy turns up infrequently. In other words, although you may find five or six copies listed on the Net, only one (or none) in nice condition

Scarce: Implies that the book turns up only every year or so and rarely in nice condition

Rare: Implies the book is extremely scarce, perhaps only turning up once every ten years or so


The description should highlight any defect in the book or the dust jacket. If you actually have pictures of the book that show the front, back and spine of the book and dust jacket, we guess you don’t need it (unless the pages are dirty or torn), but otherwise you need to give a detailed description. If it’s a $10 book, obviously you are not going to put in much description, but as you go up in price it becomes more and more important. You should look at the book with the eye of the buyer. If there is actually no problem with the book or jacket and you say it is fine, that’s probably enough, but in our experience there are very few perfect books, including new ones. Remember that everyone has a bad day now and then and will inadvertently leave out a flaw, a gracious dealer will take back the book with an apology. The goal is to make the buyer understand that you stand behind your books so that they will become a repeat customer.


Is the cover of the book clean? Like new or just slightly aged or darkened? Are all the edges as clean and bright as the rest of the cover, or do they show just a hint of wear or rubbing? Is the lettering still bright or has it flaked or faded somewhat?  Are the corners bumped: Any holes in the cover or insect damage: Is there a remainder mark on the bottom or top edge (typically a magic marker line, little man (Simon & Schuster), a little house (Random House), or a paint spray? Any foxing on the pages or page edges: Any internal page tears, spots on pages, underlining, etc.? Are all the pages there? If it has any illustrations, are they all there: Is it rolled or cocked at all? Does the spine have any vertical creasing? Basically look at the book and note any changes from a mint copy (a previous owner’s name, date, etc. are considered defects to many customers.

Dust Jacket

If it is perfect, is it on straight and the spine lined up right? Are there any chips (where there is part of the paper missing or closed tears (where there is no paper missing)? Is it soiled at all? Is the spine unfaded (same color as front panel)? Any tape repair on verso? Any repairs or touch up of colors?

When describing either the book or dust jacket, use words like “bright,” “clean,” “minor,” and “lightly.” Describe the positive as well as the negative.


This is where you sell the book! In the old days we always felt the collectors knew more about the author and title than we did and concentrated on describing the book. Now, however, there are many new people getting into collecting and it becomes more important to explain why the particular title or author is important or interesting enough for a collector to be interested in. Is the book signed by the author? Is it inscribed to someone notable or, some one special to the author? Is it the author’s first book? Part of a series (i.e. mysteries, science fiction with ongoing characters)? Is it a prize winner, an award winner, etc.? This is where you might want to describe the plot or interesting information on the author. Above all, be honest and accurate and your customers will come back.



bottom of page