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    1. Descriptions

    Chances are good that your buyer's first encounter with you will be by way of coming across one of your listings; and you have, as they say, only one chance to make a good first impression. If building more of yourself into your descriptions isn't overly appealing to you - don't we have enough to do already? - I'd ask you to at least consider what a huge difference even an extra moment or two could make in elevating you above your competitors. If you haven't ventured out as a buyer lately, you might be surprised at how bad it's gotten - how ineffectually your competitors introduce themselves.

    Example: Let's say that you've decided to go hunting for inventory on Amazon - for an early, perhaps 1936 printing of Gone with the Wind,. Either from experience or reading the Gold Edition you know that, if you can get your hands on any 1936 printing in reasonably good condition for a few bucks, you can probably score $50 and up (usually up, up, etc.) on eBay, and more if it has a dust jacket. How difficult a process do you think this will be? If you've attempted to purchase collectible fiction on Amazon before, you already know that you're in for an adventure. The process will be nearly impossible, even though there may well be multiple copies available that meet your criteria. Hidden copies, that is.

    To begin with, if you conduct a search for the title (and specify the author, hardcover format, and a publication date before January, 1937), dozens of separate catalog entries are returned, many with more than one offering from buyers. Here's a promising entry on the first page:

    Gone with the Wind (June, 1936) (Hardcover)

    With prices starting (at the time of this writing) at $2.68, surely we can find some possibilities here. Clicking in, I'm presented with the following fifteen descriptions on the first page:

    1. Modest sunfade/discoloration on spine/cover.

      No publication data. Pass.

    2. Hardcover cloth 1936 edition, has wear to spine & edges, text clean very nice condition, fast shipping.

      What does "1936 edition" mean? Nothing to me. Many editions of GWTW were published years later and state "1936" on the title page verso. Pass.

    3. Good overall with moderate wear; No dust jacket;

      No publication data. Pass.

    4. 1936 Macmillan 6th printing (November) hardcover / no dust jacket. Book is in fair condition. Gray cloth over board covers have moderate edge and corner wear. Corners are bumped with some fraying. Spine is heavily rubbed and ends are chipped and frayed. FFE has a name on it. Pages are clean with moderate age tone. Binding is sound and shaken. This is a reading copy only! It isn't pretty but it is readable.

      Ah, finally, some publication data. But wait - 6th printing? Macmillan archives show the 6th printing as July, 1936, not November, when the 24th printing first hit the streets! So how can this be? Well, one possibility is that the seller mis-read the copyright page, which states,

      Set up and electrotyped. Published June, 1936.
      Reprinted June (twice), July (three times),
      August (six times), September, 1936 (four times),
      October, 1936. (six times), November, 1936.

      Perhaps "six times" was interpreted as a 6th printing? But who wants to guess? Besides, this looks like a sorry copy anyway. Pass

    5. Blue hardback, no dust jacket. Spine a little loose but overall clean inside

      No publication data. Pass.

    6. Former library copy. Some binding tape on outside. Nice picture on front.

      No publication data, though the "picture on front" description certainly rules out a ca. 1936 copy. Pass.

    7. Spine needs repair, book is in ok condition but far from great

      No publication data. Pass.

    8. The spine is ripped approximately 2 inches from the top of the book. The pages are clean and in good condition.

      No publication data. Pass.

    9. cover , binding and pages show little to no wear. no dust jacket.ships daily

      No publication data. Pass.

    10. No dust jacket. 1936 edition the MacMillan Company. Deckled edge. No loose pages. Gray cover. Binding side of cover worn. No writing or other markings.

      Another meaningless "1936 edition" description, and in any case, "deckled edge" suggests a book club edition, published years later. Trade copies were trimmed. Pass.

    11. hb; 1938; 1037 pages; bottom edges of spine binding a little rough with one tiny tear at the top; names inside on first blank page (this page is attached but a little loose);

      1938 is outside my 1936 window, and also note that the first 1938 printing was the 42nd overall and numerous ca. 1938 printings followed. Even if I wanted a 1938 printing, I'd be guessing again. Pass.

    12. No DJ. MCMXXXVI Printing. Clean, no writing or marks.

      A Roman numeral 1939? This can only mean one thing - a much later book club edition. Pass.

    13. New York; MacMillan Company; 1936; Reprint; 8vo 8" - 9" tall; Good with no dust jacket; Boards have minor soiling. POS (two different ones - both with dates in pen). No DJ. Edge wear. Spine is slanted.; Clean, tight bright pages. December 1936. Good reading copy.; 1037 Pages; Mitchell, Margaret; Gone with the Wind; AVAILABLE; Hardcover;

      Pausing here. "December 1936" suggests that I might score an actual ca. 1936 trade edition. And the price - $10 - is okay, but I'd be taking a considerable chance on the condition. "Reading copy" isn't comforting. Pass.

    14. Hard cover:1936, probably book club edition. Gray cloth boards. no dust jacket.Creased spine with edgewear. Last owners name on ffep. Text is clean, tight, with no underlining. This book has been gently used.

      Uh ... pass.

    15. The book states "Copyright MCMXXXVI (1936), BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY". The binding is tight, the page edges are rough cut, and the pages are clean except for a previous owners on the first fly page. The cover has edge wear particularly on the corners where it is through the cloth. There is no dust jacket.

      What's that echo I hear? Book club edition! Pass.

So - of the 15 potential copies, only two appear to be ca. 1936 trade editions, despite the fact that all appear under the umbrella of a catalog listing which suggests a 1936 printing - and both of these appear to be in very poor condition. I've wasted my time looking.

But here's the most important thing to take away from this example: This frustrating result is typical of the state of online bookselling today. Go to any major venue and try the same thing. I guarantee that you'll be hard put to find what you're looking for, and, even if you do, condition may not be fairly represented.

And yet, think about this for a moment. Is this as seemingly dire for your own business as you think it is? No doubt there will be some buyers who will be so put off by their experience that they'll simply stop looking on Amazon and never return. But some will keep looking, and somebody will inevitably come across one of your listings - and buy it. They'll buy it because it shines, because you've taken a few more moments of your time and done what any reasonably competent bookseller should do: You've described your book with a clear, positive statement that communicates what it actually is.

I realize that almost none of us have much time to burn on descriptions, but I'm going to list what I think - ideally, if time permits, and realizing that some books require more attention than others - should be included. The closer you can come to including all of them, the more you'll stand apart from your competitors, and the more likely, other things being equal, you'll make the sale and they won't.

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