My only reason for penning this 'guide' is to try and help the inexperienced buyer not to be conned (I do not use that word lightly) into buying something that they have been told is good but may be absolute rubbish and worth very little.
O.K. I know that most people selling books on eBay are probably people who have bought books to read and no longer want them or have inherited them and do not want them. That's absolutely fine and can be a good source for collectors.
My BIG problem with some sellers is that they are misleading in their descriptions. I know this can be due to a lack of knowledge. However, far too many books these days are advertised as First Editions, suggesting that they are true first editions when they are not. Condition is another thing. We all have our own ideas and there are not really 'set' rules. I have seen books described as having a 'small mark' and then the picture shows that this mark is actually quite large and the book is is quite disfigured. Or worse still there is no picture and you only find out when you get the book.
The descriptions I really do not like and make me cringe and worry for the new or inexperienced buyer are the ones which state 'Valued at... £some enormous price, where the 'value' comes from a price guide (not really much use) or from a book site (usually ABE). Now I've nothing against ABE: indeed I used to sell books on that site. I might even put some more on one day. It is certainly useful for information but the trouble with using books for sale on ABE as a valuation guide is that the only ones on the site are UNSOLD ones. Unsold books are never a good guide to value. I know of some that have been for sale on ABE for many years. Don't forget that USA prices are usually (not always) very much higher than U.K. I get daily emails from ABE giving me new listings of books that I am after. Almost invariably I find that a book with a realistic price and in the correct condition will be sold before I have a chance to look at it.
Because I have spent very many years buying and selling books I can see immediately if a book being advertised on eBay is worth bidding for/buying or not. No amount of hype 'invest now','bargain', 'worth £1000 [well, yes that is for a perfect copy and my copy is slightly ex-library with a few stamps and falling apart, but don't let that worry you, it's still a rare book]' will make me lose all my senses and bid, bid, bid....
I won't bid for a book described as a first edition unless I am certain that is is a correct first edition, that is a first printing of a first edition. Any other printing (second printing onwards) is really just what booksellers (and publishers) used to call a reprint. In the days before the number line system it actually used to state 'reprinted' in the book. For those of you who don't know I say that a reprint is never going to be worth what a first is, no matter what the seller may say about investment etc. It may be a good alternative for you, but for reading, not laying down. If I can't be certain from the description then I ask the seller. I WON'T bid unless I know exactly what I am bidding for. If the description is vague or not clear enough and it's a book I'd really like I ask the seller for more details. Is the signature in the book or on a bookplate or whatever? Don't forget to check on postage charges as well if the information is unclear. It's better to find out before than after you've bid! It's also better not to bid if you are not sure about something or the seller does not answer your questions clearly, or not answer at all! Another copy will come along soon enough.
I have found some excellent sellers out there. If you find one try to support them. You know you will always get what you are expecting and will never be disappointed. In the long run it's so much better for keeping stress levels down.
Happy Hunting to you all.