Every item in your inventory is unique. No two used books will be exactly alike; each must be described individually. A good description will put a picture in the customer’s mind that must substitute for a personal inspection.
It might be true that there is a customer for every book. It is certainly true there are customers to buy books in all conditions. Writing a good description is the best way to ensure that the customer is satisfied with his purchase. It also gives the customer confidence to make the purchase; he knows that he is buying a specific copy which you have personally inspected. There are large volume sellers that don’t do this. Every listing uses some vague phrase – “may have underlining” or “may be exlibrary” or “great condition for a used book” or even “millions of satisfied customers”. What does that tell me, the prospective customer? I think it says “We don’t know or care what we’re selling, it’s all about making money.” It astonishes me that anyone buys from them. Yes, we want to make money too. But we are book people and, as representatives of our respective libraries, should give the level of public service expected of a library.
The trick is to be accurate and concise, to give the customer the essential information in a few lines. Essential information is anything that has changed the book from its condition when published. Of course, some things are more essential than others when space is limited. Significant points that should always be mentioned: library discard; underlining, highlighting, or marginalia; missing dust jacket; water damage; wear beyond the normal, e.g. detached covers, broken spine, torn pages, etc. If you have a lightly used copy, lesser flaws can be cited, e.g. a name or gift inscription, bumped/rounded cover corners, a turned-down page corner, etc. I like to note positive qualities when reassurance might be helpful. If a textbook is free from highlighting, say so; when a cd is included with the book, note that it’s present.
Part of describing a book is selecting a condition grading category. There are two systems in use. You will need the Amazon terms for most of your inventory.
Used – Like New: Dust cover is intact, with no nicks or tears. Spine has no signs of creasing. Pages are clean and not marred by notes or folds of any kind. May contain remainder marks on outside edges, which should be noted in listing comments.
Used – Very Good: Pages and dust cover are intact and not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine is undamaged.
Used – Good: All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. May include “From the library of” labels.
Used – Acceptable: All pages and the cover are intact, but the dust cover may be missing. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting, but the text cannot be obscured or unreadable.
Unacceptable: Includes missing pages and obscured or unreadable text. We also do not permit the sale of advance reading copies, including uncorrected proofs, of in-print or not-yet-published books.
If you build an antiquarian inventory you will want to use the traditional terminology made the standard by AB Bookman’s Weekly.
As New is to be used only when the book is in the same immaculate condition in which it was published. There can be no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc., and the dust jacket (if it was issued with one) must be perfect without any tears. (The term As New is preferred over the alternative term Mint to describe a copy that is perfect in every respect, including jacket.)
Fine approaches the condition of As New, but without being crisp. For the use of the term Fine there must also be no defects, etc., and if the jacket has a small tear, or other defect, or looks worn, those should be noted.
Very Good can describe a used book that does show some small signs of wear – but no tears – on either binding or paper. Any defects must be noted.
Good describes the average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Any defects must bo noted.
Fair is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. (which must be noted). Binding, jacket (if any), etc., may also be worn. All defects must be noted.
Poor describes a book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is as a Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.
Ex-library copies must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Book Club editions must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Binding Copy describes a book in which the pages or leaves are perfect but the binding is very bad, loose, off, or nonexistent.