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It is possible to build your own website with tools freely available online; however, for the average person who wants an above-average website, you will be ahead of the game if you hire someone experienced in website building to do the job for you. There are countless website builders and/or web hosting services to choose from. We decided on Chrislands for two reasons - the cost was reasonable, and they specialize in building sites for booksellers.

The latter reason was especially important because we didn't want to start from scratch and attempt to explain the basic needs of the bookseller to someone unfamiliar with the book trade. My only fear was that our book site might end up looking just like a hundred others. However, we found Chrislands to be very receptive to our ideas and both willing and able to create the look we wanted - all in less than seven days! They were responsive to our questions and suggestions, and we were very happy with the results. By the way, Chrislands also offers domain registration. Essentially, they are a one-stop outfitter for the bookseller's website needs.

If you have been selling books for some time, this is the time to clean up your inventory! Yes, it takes some time, but the better your inventory looks, the better your website will work for you. Make sure descriptions are clear and prices are on target. Remove offerings of questionable value - the badly worn, the ex-library, the too cheap to justify handling. As you have gained more experience selling books, you have probably gotten smarter at selecting books for quality and value, and this is the best time for early mistakes to be corrected. You can dispose of them or donate them to a good cause and be better off for it.

Make a list of the browsing categories you will want on your website (aviation, anthropology, archaeology, biography, etc.). Then make sure the books on your database are catalogued into these categories because this is how they will be organized when they are uploaded to your website. (On HomeBase, for example, this is accomplished by clicking "attach" near the bottom of the book description window and listing the categories you want this book to fall under).

We currently upload manually to 5 sites. If you do not have the time or patience to do this, you may want to look into BookRouter or BookTrakker - services that upload to all your listing sites simultaneously. Fees do apply.

Take digital photos of the more important books so that you have the option of uploading these to your site (sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words!). Give them a file name with the corresponding inventory description number. This will match them up with the appropriate book when you do an upload. Note that you may have to resize your images - 50 to 75 kilobytes is a good rule of thumb - so they won't consume valuable server space. The software provided with your digital camera should be capable of doing this.

Once your website is constructed, you can upload your inventory. At this point you will also need to insert additional details: information about yourself and your shop, perhaps a photo on your "about us" page; payment options; sales & returns policies; shipping fees and other options; and perhaps a favorite links page. You may want to include directions and/or a map if you have an open shop. A website should be ever-changing, growing, to some degree, in order to hold people's interest, so it is never really done. You will be updating inventory on a constant basis and hopefully, as they sell, changing featured books and photographs from time to time. When you are satisfied with the look and content of your website, submit your domain name to the major search engines (more on this in next article), and start selling!

Our newly designed and fully-functional website opened in early April, with an inventory of just over 6,000 books.

We were surprised to receive an order for three books the first day and very pleased with a $250 order a few days later - in all eight orders processed in the first two weeks. Will we see continued sales? A growth in sales? Time will tell, but as we learn, we will share some suggestions for growing your website and avoiding the mistakes we will inevitably make.

Here is a summary of costs to set up and maintain our website:

Note that the website hosting fee will vary depending on how many books you have uploaded to the site the previous month. $9.99/mo. up to 2,500; $14.99/mo. up to 5,000; and so on. Also, there are three plans available at ProPay (Premium, Premium Plus and Platinum, depending on how much business you expect to transact each month and how much money can be charged per transaction. Also, a monthly maintenance fee applies for inactive or expired accounts, ranging between $5 and $30/month, depending on type of account. A $0.35 fee is charged to refund a credit card purchase, and the cost varies between $0.10 and $0.35 for transferring funds to a checking account.

As with any business, it takes time to establish a reputation and gain a good customer base. If you can sell enough from your website to pay for maintaining it, you are off and running. Offer the best books and service you can muster, and your business should grow. Join us here for Part II of this series on marketing your website!

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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