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How to Build an Effective
eBay Presentation

Part I: What Your Buyer Wants to Know from You
Photographic Content

by Craig Stark

#44, 30 May 2005

Clair Bee, coaching legend and author of the collectible Chip Hilton series, died in 1983 at the advanced age of 87. 17 years earlier he completed his 24th and final title in the Hilton series, Fiery Fullback, though this wasn't published until 2002 - fully 36 years later. Why the delay? The times they were a changin' in the 60s, and, like many marriages gone bad, one of the factors that had made his books so attractive at mid-century to millions of young readers, myself included, was precisely the thing that sounded their death knell a decade later: a conspicuous emphasis on traditional values.

Bee saw the writing on the wall well in advance of Fiery Fullback. #23 in the series, Hungry Hurler, had been published earlier that same year and was in the process of more or less slumping in bookstores. Titles that immediately preceded it weren't hitting home runs either. (EDITOR'S NOTE: as you might suspect, Hungry Hurler's low sales numbers account for its elevated value today. It's difficult to find so much as an average copy for under $200.) Given the establishment-bashing climate of late 1960's America, there was no reason to think why Fiery Fullback would fare any better. Shortly before Bee died, his daughter promised she would pursue its publication and assured him she wouldn't alter its contents. It took some time, but she was true to her word.

Of course there were other factors besides the overt expression of traditional values that contributed to the series' popularity. Bee's storytelling ability for one, and, perhaps more importantly, an unerring capacity to exude authenticity. Bee knew his stuff cold. Like his protagonist Hilton, he had starred in three sports. Later in life, after a remarkably successful career as a coach at Long Island University, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Nothing like having been-there-done-that to make things ring true.

As a bookseller, I keep a watchful eye on common books that are collectible. And why not. They're easy to find, and payoffs are handsome and frequent. For years, Bee's books have been intensely collectible. Despite the fact that juvenile sports fiction was published by the boatload during this period, only Hiltons seem to have appreciated in and largely maintained value - well, if that's what you want to call it at this moment in time. The truth is that things in the Bee-hive aren't looking as good for most sellers lately. Final values on eBay have come down significantly from where they were a year or so ago. I suppose this could be shrugged off as a market trend that seems to affect almost all books generally. After all, more Hiltons are out there in large numbers, and it stands to reason that more and more of them would continue to surface and drive prices down.

But even if this is so, do booksellers have to accept this fate? In my case, as a seller who sells them, the answer is no. If it's yes or maybe for you, read on.

When I glance at eBay auctions for collectible books, especially Chip Hiltons, 9 times out of 10 I'm distinctly unimpressed, inadequately informed (or altogether misinformed), and sometimes appalled at the presentations. Photographs, which rarely exceed the grand total of 1, are often unclear, don't adequately reveal condition details, and possess little or no aesthetic quality. Moreover, descriptions frequently fail to include the critical publication data required to establish edition state. It's one thing to parade this junk out with books that have largely or entirely content value, but when you try it with collectible books, it's suicidal. Collectors have become increasingly gun shy at taking chances on auctions that don't communicate what they need to know, and we all know how attempting to extract additional information from sellers before auctions close often nets what the British call a duck's egg.

The sad thing is that this approach is costing booksellers big, and I bet many of them may not even be aware of it. Effective salesmanship begins and ends with effective communication, and if you won't take the trouble to master your photographic and descriptive skills, you'll perennially be in trouble as a bookseller, no matter what the quality of your inventory is.

So, since (I assume) we all agree it makes perfect sense to accommodate the buyers who will be considering your books, I'll start with this: what do I, as a buyer, want from your presentation? Today I'll focus on photographic content; next time on textual.

The first and most important thing I'm looking for is a good picture of the book - as a complete entity. A 3-dimensional object with nothing truncated. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, this is a good picture:

This isn't:

(Note how the area in the top left hand corner of the front board appears to be creased. In the first picture, this is clearly a basketball net.)

This one isn't much better:

Only the first picture gives me an accurate sense of what the book is. Clarity is good, color is close to faithful and the book actually looks like a book, not a lifeless, blurred chunk of pulp. This picture might be the only image I'd need (along with some publication data) to make a confident purchasing decision if this wasn't a collectible book and I had some knowledge of its contents going in. This particular book, however, is eminently collectible and, furthermore, appears to be in collector's grade condition - heck, I've got the thing in my hands; it is. Therefore, because I might be willing to spend a slightly irrational amount to add it to my collection, I want to know more.

What I'm especially interested in are condition hot spots, those locations on a book that are most susceptible to damage. The extremities are especially vulnerable - tops and bottoms of backstrips and corners - as are hinges. In this particular series, due to Grosset & Dunlap's characteristic and unfortunate use of, sigh, inferior materials, copies with pictorial boards are very susceptible to chipping, so much so that it's difficult to find copies that aren't chipped. I'm also interested in seeing the top of the text block. This is where dirt/dust typically accumulate, and in the case of Hiltons, the top edge is stained deep burgundy and functions as a reliable barometer of more general wear - that is, if the color is worn, scratched, sunned (or faded), etc., likely so too will the book be. In addition, I want to know something about the binding - how tight it is - and, if there are other, less typical defects, those as well. Finally, I want to see, not just read about, proof of edition state. A seller can insist all day long that a book is a first edition, but unless I see it with my own eyes or am dealing with somebody with an established reputation, I'm skeptical.

Look at the series of pictures below, and you'll see that every last one of my needs has been clearly met. I now know that the extremities are crisp, the hinges are intact, there's no apparent chipping, the top of the text block is clean and uniformly, vividly colored, the text block itself is tight (note that it isn't lying flat), and "Buzzer Basket" is precisely where I want it to be on the title list - at the bottom. As a collector, I'd know instantly that this book is a sweetheart, something that doesn't pop up every day, and if I needed it for my collection, why, I'd bid freely and without hesitation to get it.

Fortunately, it's not necessary to go into this much photographic detail with every book you market on eBay, not even most of them, but it can make an enormous difference with collectible books, sometimes by a factor of 2 or even 5 times, and even on content-valuable books it helps considerably if one or two good pictures are present. Admittedly, it takes time to take and edit multiple pictures, but with practice you could accomplish this set in about a half hour or less. It's worth it if you stand to profit another $20 or $30 from the effort. And with Hilton's you usually will. At least.

If you aren't able to take quality pictures, the problem could be your camera, your technique, your editing, or any combination of the three. Correct these, and I think you'll be amazed at the interest you'll attract. For more information on book photography, see BookThink's series on this topic.

Since I've already landed on planet Hilton, I'm including the following bibliography. It's complete as issued by Grosset & Dunlap (with the exception of #24), though the series has been republished recently in both hardcover and paperback formats. Note that titles #1 - #19 were initially published in paper-covered boards with dust jackets. Dates in parentheses indicate G & D reissues in coated pictorial boards only. #20 - #23 appear only in the pictorial board format. If you missed this earlier, Hiltons are COMMON. They fall into the same bread-and-better class that C.W. Andersons do and should be a staple for generalist booksellers.

Bee also penned a number of non-fiction titles, primarily basketball guides, which are almost always worth picking up at sales. I won't bore you with titles. Just remember the name and grab.

  1. Touchdown Pass 1948 (1962)
  2. Championship Ball 1948 (1962)
  3. Strike Three! 1949 (1962)
  4. Clutch Hitter! 1949 (1962)
  5. Hoop Crazy 1950 (1962)
  6. Pitcher's Duel 1950 (1962)
  7. A Pass and a Prayer 1951 (1962)
  8. Dugout Jinx 1951 (1962)
  9. Freshman Quarterback 1952 (1962)
  10. Backboard Fever 1953 (1962)
  11. Fence Busters 1953 (1962)
  12. Ten Seconds to Play 1955 (1962)
  13. Fourth Down Dhowdown 1956 (1962)
  14. Tournament Crisis 1957 (1962)
  15. Hardcourt Upset 1957 (1962)
  16. Pay-off Pitch 1958 (1962)
  17. No-Hitter 1959 (1962)
  18. Backcourt Ace 1961 (1962)
  19. Buzzer Basket 1962
  20. Comeback Cagers 1963
  21. Home Run Feud 1964
  22. Hungry Hurler 1966
  23. Fiery Fullback 2002 (written in 1966)

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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