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Producing catalogs to sell books is probably the second most important function of the electronic book dealer. Producing catalogs for the net is not too different than those in paper and wrappers. If you have a large list of valuable books, most dealers would hire professional design help and produce both a hard copy and web page version. The rules are different for E-mail versions, like we see on Biblio and RABM, because the format is limited and there are no graphics. The perspective of these comments are those of a collector, but should fit any buyer from catalogs, no matter their motivation.
It may seem self evident, but you really do need to pay careful attention to readability. You have four parameters to work with on E-mail format, upper and lower case letters, symbols, and spaces. We see well designed lists on Biblio every day, but far too many are just too hard to read and undoubtedly get trashed before an adequate reading. A set format would be unwarranted, and would deny the limited opportunities for distinctive appearing lists the medium offers. Noting this, try the following suggestions:
- Use "catalog" numbers if you are posting 10 or more items.
- Use either UPPER case on authors and lower case on titles, or vice versus. A limited use of the net convention for italics, the asterisks (*xxxx*) can also be used, but is redundant if titles are UPPER case, as is usually the most readable.
- Do not abbreviate unless you are sure all the list readers will be familiar with the abbreviation. Not everyone knows all the shorthand and it doesn't take much extra time to spell out all the words.
- Separate each item by one line. Spaces are great aids in readability and if there is no space between items it verges on being unreadable. However too many spaces appear to be a waste of computer memory, and the reader's time.
- List titles and themes are the place to be creative, and Biblio has a few good examples of ways to emphasize a speciality. This is the place to use the keyboard symbols to set your list apart from all the others.
SELLING THE BOOK
If you have what you think are some really good books, then you have to decide who you expect to buy them. If you think your market is other dealers who are very familiar with the books being offered, long descriptions will not add much to your chance of sale, if priced for this market. (i.e.,. cheap) However at minimum it is essential to describe all faults, and this means you have to inspect both the outside ( including dust jacket) and the inside carefully. Missing, soiled, or torn pages and exterior damage will get a return for sure unless noted in your listing. Citations are important to collectors who use bibliographies as checklists of their holdings and allow the book to placed in a continuum of importance and rarity. In many cases the most important references are not bibliographies, but are topic or author handbooks, histories, and encyclopedias. For example, if you were a collector of the illustrated editions of Milton, the Milton *Encyclopedia* would be your most important reference, or of psychology, Boring's Histories would be essential. If you are basically selling to other dealers, the bibliographic citations can save a lot of description and collectors will also recognize the citations. Multiple citations lend credence to the cataloger and increase your chances of reminding the list readers that "they really need that book." Price guides are almost useless for this purpose. Besides, many are not bibliographically accurate and should be used cautiously when establishing the importance of a book.
A neat and readable listing list is important. Many of us have personal predjudices about the extremes in printed catalogs such as when excessively fancy and you know you are paying some printer an exorbitant price as part of your purchase price. The other extreme is unreadable, tiny type, newspaper sized lists. We see analogs of these on the Biblio lists, and more often the expensive extreme in Web site catalogs. To recap what sells (price is obvious, if under priced I guarantee it will sell, and sell fast.) the following suggestions should be considered:
- Know your anticipated market and design your list accordingly;
- Give accurate and honest descriptions of an item's faults. Be a little conservative, it builds good will.
- If an important and collectable book, tell the list readers why they should buy it by citing bibliographic and historical references. Avoid shorthand unless very familiar. For example BAL is familiar to most Biblio subscribers, and for specialized fields the author's name is usually sufficient.
- Provide enough information for the reader to be able to determine if they need the book, either because they collect it, they have customers who ask for it, or it is on a library's buy list. Over description of books that are just good used books is a waste of your, and the reader's, time. If the book is worth owning because of the binding, or other physical or association feature, than a good succinct statement of these features is essential. New dealers often make the mistake of describing something rather common in very glowing terms because they have never seen something like it before. Visits to experienced dealers in big cities and university special collections departments is the only cure for this.
Collectors generally have a network of dealers they trust, and that offer the kind of books they collect often enough to stay on the dealer's mailing list. E-mail is different, you get all the listings whether you buy or not. The quantity of E-mail on Biblio, and the huge number of on-line dealers with URLs, and on the many cooperative book cataloging sites, makes it essential to have a distinctive component in the cataloging process. This can be by specialization, name identity and positive dealings with buyers, or by clever, easily read, catalog design. As a test of your lists format, send it to yourself before posting it on Biblio. If you are listing for the first time, or trying a new format, see if it attracts your interest and try it on friends or family. The subject line should be accurate and not "cutesy." Listing you stock in E-mail lists costs much less than producing a good printed catalog and collectors, and dealers, expect some of the savings to be passed on to them. However if the list is unreadable, poorly described and organized, no one will take the trouble to find the things you thought were "good deals." These electronic catalogs, although constrained in format, can be made attractive and readable and effectively communicate with the list readers. Once you have a format that meets the criteria noted here, it will be easy to do every time you send a new or updated list. If posting for the first time, remember it will be your business introduction to a lot of people, and you should spend a little extra time to get it right.
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