How to Make a Living Buying and Selling Books

You can often find used books in resalable condition at library sales.
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To make a living buying and selling books, knowing the difference between a first and later edition can help, but becoming a savvy businesswoman is as, if not more, important. You’ll need to know the market, develop a client list, promote your business, become an expert at knowing when and what to buy, become fluent in identifying rare, out-of-print or hard-to-find books and spend the time necessary to build and maintain a successful business. A passion for books and reading can also help you succeed in a business built on the written word.

What To Sell

    Selling rare, antiquarian, signed or otherwise hard-to-find books is one way to distinguish yourself from other online booksellers, but your upfront investment in these kinds of books may be more than you can afford. Offering books that people want to read at prices they’re willing to pay is critical, if you want customers to buy in the first place let alone keep coming back. You may be able to further separate yourself from other online retailers by specializing in a certain type of book. Turn your passion for New England history or cooking into a specialty online or brick-and-mortar shop that stocks books about a single topic.

Where To Sell

    As the number of physical bookstores continues to decline, setting up an online store is one way to keep your up-front costs low and put in place a platform for getting out information about your shop. You can also post books from your inventory in other online marketplaces. Selling online lets you ease into the book-selling business, especially if you have to transition from working for someone to working for yourself as a bookseller.


    You can often find books for a steal at library and garage sales, auctions, estate sales and secondhand and online stores. Make sure the books are in resalable condition, as many people won’t buy books with torn jackets, missing or ripped pages, or that have pages that someone has written on. Michael Savitz, a used-book salesman, wrote about finding books in thrift and junk shops for He built his business by buying books from unsuspecting sellers who didn’t know the real value of what they had and then he’d resell the books to someone who did know the value.

Keep In Mind

    The IRS may expect its share come year’s end, especially if buying and selling books is how you make a living. You’ll have to pay self-employment tax, which covers social security and Medicare taxes, and tax on any profit your business makes. A benefit of working for yourself is the IRS lets you write-off the costs associated with your business, such as using your home for your business, investing in inventory, creating and maintaining an online store and any travel you may do to procure books for your virtual store.

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