I never intended to sell online. Online retail seemed like the world of big companies, cut-price importers and small businesses trying to make a quick buck by any means. I never imagined I would be carving out my own little niche in that world. And yet, this month marks two years since I started doing just that.

Let’s start with how I got here. It all began with needing to make space and a little extra money. My lease was running out and soon after that insurance would be due on my car – my first, a cute little hatchback perfect for city drives, but insurance is steep regardless when you are a new driver.

Moving was more urgent. Anyone who has ever moved knows how much work it takes to sort and pack and ship and unpack everything, and how it’s also a good time to declutter sort out all that stuff that has accumulated over the years living in one place. For me, moving meant I had to finally part with a few of my books.

I’ve loved books ever since I was a girl, it’s a habit I picked up from my dad, and by then my collection was getting a little out of hand. So many had been bought because they had an interesting title, or a pretty cover, or were part of a series that I just had to complete, or just because I had a long trip and needed something to read on the journey. And I had read them. Most of them. Some of the self-help titles were less than helpful, and though I kept buying books about learning how, I had never gotten myself to draw. It was time to thin the herd, if only for the sake of my poor overworked bookshelves.

Previously I had traded a few unwanted books using Amazon’s Trade In service or dropped a bagful into a charity shop as a donation, but those were ways to get rid of a handful rather than clearing several bookcases. In the end some did go to charity and others as gifts to friends, but that left the majority, too niche to trade in or donate and taking up space I really needed to start packing.

It was a friend who pointed me to Amazon marketplace. I had only a hazy knowledge of the marketplace then – it was the place where a friend bought books for 1p plus postage and then complained half the time that they were not the quality he expected. But those were the bulk sellers, the companies making use of the economies of scale and deals with postage companies to sell so low. I would be selling books in a smaller niche – nerdy, bobby books that had much smaller print runs and attracted a market, so could command a price high enough to make selling them worthwhile.

Getting started was easy. Just like any of Amazon’s other services, joining the marketplace is just a click away from your Amazon user page. Ten minutes of entering my name, address, bank details and such later and I was an official Amazon Marketplace Seller. Now came the hard part, data entry.

Did you realise there are seven pages of data fields you can fill in for every single item you sell on Amazon? Seven whole pages. In theory the essential information should already be there for items already present in the Amazon database, but only a handful of the fields are actually mandatory and the rest are added at the discretion of a seller. Which, for niche products sold by small or limited sellers who don’t want to hire or outsource data entry work, is generally a low priority. But I wanted to be a good seller, and wanted all the information there to inform the buyer.

Did I ever say how much I hate data entry work? Thankfully Amazon has streamlined things a bit now. You can choose to view your product details in Simple or Advanced View and I strongly recommend only using Simple View unless you just want to make work for yourself. Advanced View has every possible field for the category, some of which will make no sense for a product – for example, a deck of cards is sold as in the Toys & Games category, so the advanced view includes fields for Remote Control and Battery types. Obviously I don’t need to fill in those fields for that particular product.

There are a few key pieces of information every listing really needs. Make sure you have these:

  • Item Name & Product ID (eg. GCID, UPC or EAN). Every product in the Amazon catalogue already has these. If you are adding your own product, you’ll need to add this.
  • Your Price: Fairly self-evident. Can’t sell if you don’t have a price.
  • Condition & Condition Notes: Don’t be that Marketplace seller that people bitch about for selling substandard product. Be honest about item conditions and, if appropriate, describe the condition. A lot of sellers simply advertise themselves in this field, but I feel that looks unprofessional.
  • Photos: All listings on Amazon must have photos or they don’t show up on product searches. If you are creating a listing or adding your own listing for a product that lacks an image, you must abide by Amazon’s image guidance (listed on the image upload page). This is going to be the face of your product, make it a good one.
  • Describe your product: So many small sellers don’t, obviously expecting word of mouth or implication to sell it for them. If a buyer sees something interesting but doesn’t know what it is, they won’t buy it. Use HTML for formatting.
  • Keywords: Very important for making your listing visible in searches. Choose wisely. Don’t pick words or phrases in the listing title, those already show up in searches. Pick relevant and related keywords to draw in interested buyers.

Several days of data entry later, I finally activated my listings and waited for my first sale.