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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.


Descriptions that Sell

Stop Writing Descriptions and Write Ads

Julie Fauble

Here’s a suggestion for all booksellers. Search for some of your own books on your listing site of choice. Look at your book in a field of 15 or 20 others and ask yourself some questions.

• Does your listing stand out? • Would you want to buy your copy? • Would you even notice your copy?

This page of book listings is a page of advertisements, and those other 15 or 20 books are your competition. You will sell more books if your ad stands out and sells.

The major book databases offer a huge advantage over traditional print media. When the listing comes up, we already have the buyer’s interest and desire to buy. This has allowed us all to sell many books, even with pretty poor ads. With the only copy offered or a significantly lower price, the sale is easy.

However, we can’t afford to be complacent. Thousands of booksellers and millions of books have entered the market in recent years. It’s rare to have the only copy of a book, and competition on price is fierce. We’d go broke in a heartbeat trying to always offer the lowest price.

So what to do? Turn your listings into ads that will make your copy stand out and attract the attention of the buyers.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, tend to the basics. Watch for proper spelling and no typos. Don’t turn off your customer right from the start.

2) Use appropriate capitalization. A sea of either all caps or all lower case is visually unappealing. Selected use of all caps can draw attention to something special in your listing. Consider all caps for SIGNED or POSTPAID or some other feature you want to emphasize.

3) Accurately describe the book’s condition and do so without abbreviations.

4) Sell the book. Why is this book worth the money?

Tell the buyer something about the book, even if it’s as simple as “collection of short fiction from Hugo Award-winning author.” A phrase like this does two things for the buyer. One, it suggests the author isn’t just some hack, and two, it suggests the seller might be a professional who knows his Edgars from his Hugos.

5) Consider the audience as you write your ad copy.

Is this a serious religious treatise? Keep your tone serious. Is it a vintage pulp crime novel? Have a little fun. I sold an Erle Stanley Gardner mystery and commented that the dust jacket was in almost as good a shape as the dame on the cover. Did that sell the book for me? I don’t know. Did it make my copy more memorable? Definitely.

6) Appeal to emotion. The love of books is rarely rational and scientific, so don’t be afraid to comment on the emotional aspects, be it the beauty of the binding or the passion of the prose.

7) Watch your verbiage. Keep your ads snappy and write tight. Use the active voice. Use active, descriptive words. Avoid clichs.

There are a thousand books that can help you improve your writing, probably some in your own inventory.

8) Read other’s ads. No, not to steal their copy, but to see what works. When you’re scanning a list of books, consider what stands out, which ads catch your eye. Those dealers are doing something right.

Book descriptions in an Internet database are the most visible aspect a bookseller’s businesses to most buyers. More people will see your book descriptions than will ever see your business cards, store fronts or traditional ads. Make sure your descriptions represent you well, leave a good impression and sell your books.




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