Packaging is an art. Proper packaging, that is. Packaging that will protect the book as it travels to its destination, encountering unknown hazards and mistreatment along the way. USPS and UPS are your partners, but they’re not your friends. It’s your job to prepare a package that can be tossed, dropped, stacked, and bumped and still arrive with its precious contents intact.
Congratulations, you’ve sold a book! You’re ready for the last stage of the process. Print the packing slip. I like to print a copy of the order page as well, so I have something to make a final check of the day’s orders. Locate the book, taking care that it is the exact item sold. As your inventory grows there will be more and more books with similar titles (Quilting for Fun, Fun with Quilting) and computer books have especially complicated, confusing titles. Always double-check that the paperwork and book are a match for title/edition and author. Matching ISBN numbers is the most certain way, but not foolproof. You may have a 10 digit ISBN on the packing slip and a 13 digit ISBN on the book; if there’s any doubt, call up the Amazon detail page which will list both ISBNs and have a photo of the cover.
With the book in hand, you’re ready to wrap. Different formats require different treatment, so let’s consider first a hardcover with standard shipping. A new book in publisher’s shrinkwrap is ready to go, otherwise the first step is to wrap the book in plain paper. This both keeps the book clean and keeps it closed, protecting the pages from being crumpled.
All books benefit from an intermediate layer of protection. A layer of bubble wrap and/or cardboard is good around a hardcover book. The cover edges, particularly the corners, are vulnerable in a padded envelope. If you’re using a box, skip this step.
A standard sized, not too thick hardback will be fine in a padded envelope. A large or heavy book travels better in a box. A fragile or especially valuable book should always be shipped in a box. Use enough paper and padding to hold the book in place and to fill the space; a firm box resists crushing. Run tape around the box in both directions (don’t count on the old tape holding) and use more when it’s a heavy package.
Reinforce any tears or holes in the recycled box and mark out any old labels. Apply the mailing label. Mark it “Media Mail” (standard shipping). Take a last look. Is it ready for whatever USPS or UPS can dish out?
A paperback begins in the same way, with a wrap in plain paper. A floppy package is an invitation for damage. Cut cardboard to size to make a firm backing piece. A piece on both sides or a top layer of bubble wrap is best, but one layer works well enough if the fit is snug.
Slide the book into the padded envelope and seal. I think more tape is a good idea here, too. The fold-over edges can get snagged and ripped, so use a bit of tape to hold them down. A wrap-around with tape is good security for a heavy package or one with prominent edges. Apply mailing label and mark it “Media Mail”.
A dvd or cd is protected in its own case, so paper is unnecessary. Enclose it in cardboard with a padded envelope or use a cardboard folding mailer.
A book to be sent by “expedited” shipping is prepared in the same way up to final packaging. Expedited shipping means USPS Priority Mail or the equivalent UPS 2 day delivery service. USPS will provide free packaging material, either from your post office or ordered online. You can always use your own packaging with Priority Mail labels.
We use USPS for almost all of our shipping. Media rate (the old book rate) is economical and the priority mail flat rate is reasonable, sometimes a real bargain. Bot UPS and USPS offer tracking service. Compare rates and convenience issues and make your own choice.
You will get a better rate if you buy your postage online than at the Post Office. It’s easy to set up an account at USPS.com. The online rate savings is considerable, especially on the tracking service. You do, always, want to add tracking to your package. When a customer asks the dreaded “Where’s my package” question, you want to be able to answer “USPS recorded it delivered ten days ago” or “it’s being held at your post office”. That happens far more often than a package really getting lost, but you won’t know unless you have that record.
Amazon offers online postage through USPS for a small (7 cents) fee. It is a very convenient way to create a mailing label with postage. And it automatically confirms shipment to Amazon, so you get paid. The “buy shipping” button is on the order page. Enter the package weight. Your customer will have chosen either standard or expedited shipping. The Amazon fee will cover postage costs most of the time, but not always and particularly not for expedited/priority mail service. (See the posts Create a Listing and Shipping Tips for shipping strategies) You must ship even when it costs more. Media mail is the usual choice, but a very light package, e.g. a cd, can be sent first class for less; notice that tracking is free for a first class package. With priority mail you choose basic or one of the flat rate levels, if you have used that packaging.
Review the screen to be sure that everything is correct. The shipping date will be ‘today’ until close of business Pacific time. If you are preparing a package for next day’s mail, be sure that day is selected. Confirm the correct service and cost. Click ‘buy shipping’. Print the mailing label, affix it to the package and it’s ready for a convenient USPS drop box or to be dropped off at the Post Office.