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  • Sell Your Art at Online Auctions Like eBay - Selling Tips

    (Note: This article was originally written for collectors who buy and sell art at online auctions, but the version here is written especially for artists who want to sell their own art at online auctions. Artists interested in this topic should also read You Can't Sell Your Art Until You Learn How to Sell It .)


    These days, millions of works of art are for sale online, many of them at online auctions-- nearly 1.5 pieces currently being offered on eBay alone-- and the competition to sell pretty much all of it is intense and international. Smart artists with online auction selling experience are aware of this competition as well as of their odds for success and have developed various strategies and techniques in order to minimize competition, maximize the number of people who see their listings, encourage bidding and bank the bucks when the time comes to cash those buyers' checks.

    The most important aspects of successfully auctioning your art online are knowing how to accurately describe and present it, and understanding who might like it and how much they'd be willing to pay. As in the bricks-and-mortar world of galleries, shows, sales and auction houses, you have to assess your art's quality, significance and most salable characteristics, and have a ballpark idea of its desirability and value in the marketplace. You might call this "researching by comparison."

    You see, basic details about your art, how much it's worth-- and about you, the artist-- are essential to effective selling, and must be presented in ways that position it for the best possible exposure and the most bids. Not knowing how to describe what you're selling in order to attract people who might be interested, or being incomplete in your descriptions, can cause you to leave out important information when you list your art and reduce the number of people who see it as well as the price it will ultimately sell for. Even though you may already have a sense of what your art sells for in retail buying situations, now you have to do comparison research at online auctions. The goal is to familiarize yourself with the auction market for your type of art, what it generally sells for, and how the best sellers present and describe it. The following pointers will help you present the facts in such a way as to maximize your online auction bottom line.

    Initial Research

    Begin by making a list of keywords you think accurately describe your art. These may include your name; the city, state, region or country where you live; the type of art you make, the subject matters, materials, medium, and other pertinent details. One-by-one, type these keywords into an online auction search engine like on eBay for example, and see what kinds of results come up. Pay the most attention to those search terms that locate art similar to yours by other artists, especially by artists who are selling successfully. Your goal is to have your art appear in search results with these kinds of works. If you one keyword at a time, you'll probably get hundreds or thousands of matches per search at the start, so gradually add additional keywords, one by one, in order to narrow down the results enough to accurately describe your art as well as that of artists who make work most similar to yours (especially those whose art sells well).

    See how many and what other types of art come up on each keyword or keyword combination search and compare them to the art you want to sell. Note those keywords that bring up art that's most similar to yours-- those are the words you'll end up using. Also note the other keywords being used in these titles-- keywords you might not have thought of or ever even associated with your art. If you spend any time at all at online auction sites like eBay, you'll soon realize that successful sellers have developed descriptive languages of their own. The quicker you learn those languages that are relevant to what you're selling, the better, your goal being to refine your list to those words that most accurately describe art like yours AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, attract the most viewers.

    Listing Your Art: The Title Line

    The title line is the most critical part of your art's online auction listing. As of September 2014, the title line on eBay can have a maximum length of 80 characters; use every single one of those characters wisely. Title line words are what attract the great majority of potential bidders to your art. Your list of the most popular keywords that accurately describe your art essentially becomes your online auction title line, or in other words, the advertisement for your art.

    Pack your title line with as many keywords as possible. Try different combinations in order to get the most words into the limited space provided, and use the maximum amount of that space possible. Be aware that your art might appeal to more than one type of buyer so make sure your keywords take all possible buyers into account. For example, a painting of a sailboat might be described with keywords that appeal to both nautical enthusiasts and art buyers.

    Avoid use of words like "rare," "fantastic," "important," or "famous" in your title line. They may look great and make your art seem special, but they're space wasters that buyers hardly ever type into search engines when looking for items to bid on. Every single title line word you use should be provide essential specific information about your art, and your art alone.

    Grammar doesn't count in title lines, but spelling does. Avoid words like "the," "and," and other connectors that may please your English teacher, but waste space and don't help people locate your art. Misspell a keyword and you can lose hundreds of potential viewers, so make especially sure everything's spelled right. And never abbreviate important keywords in title lines; most people do not search using abbreviations.

    If you're not that well known and are just starting out at online auctions, focus your title line on the type of art you create and the keywords that accurately describe it rather than taking up precious space with your name. For example, a little-known artist just starting out might use a title line for a painting of a coastal scene that reads "Pawley's Island Beach Marsh Pier Coast Art Oil Painting" rather than "Pawley's Island Beach Painting Herbert Williams Artist." Don't worry-- you can talk at length about who you are, your credentials and what you've accomplished as an artist in the description of your art. When you become better known, then include your name in every title line because at that point, buyers will be searching specifically for art by you.

    Setting Minimum Opening Bids and Reserves

    To begin with, be sure to search completed sales as well as current ongoing sales to see what sold and what didn't (you may have to join some online auction sites to see prices of art that's already sold-- but being able to see final selling prices is essential). Completed sales give you the most accurate idea of what your art will likely sell for and which artists are actually selling it. You'll also see what art didn't sell, and begin to get a sense of what price ranges and asking prices are too high. Sales in progress are worth watching too, not in terms of final selling prices, but more for learning people bid on particular works of art.

    As you continue with your "completed sales" research, you'll gradually get an idea of what art similar to yours sells for online, how common it is, how many different artists are selling it, and how much competition you'll likely have when the time comes to list your art and set your minimum bids. If a search of "completed items" yields more than 50 similar results to your art, you can refine those results in order to get the price information you need. In particular, you can arrange those results in order of descending selling price, from highest to lowest. Arranging the art in highest-to-lowest order shows not only which art and artists get the highest prices, but also what types of title lines, descriptions, and quality of images help fetch those prices-- and more importantly, how the most successful artists present and describe themselves and their art.

    Once you have a good idea of what art like yours sells for, set your minimum opening bids and reserve dollar amounts for your art somewhat less than the amounts you see comparable art and artists selling for online, but not so low as to compromise your credibility (you'll get a better feel for what these values should be as you get more experienced). The lower you can afford to make these initial dollar amounts, particularly if you're just starting out, the more affordable your art appears and the more bids it will likely attract. Setting minimum opening bids or reserve prices too high often discourages bidding and scares bidders away-- so don't do that. You want bidders to feel that if they participate, they'll at least have a fighting chance to win your auctions, possibly even at bargain prices.

    Artists who ask for too much money often fail to sell their art and, worse yet, dozens and sometimes hundreds of bidders watch it fail to sell. This makes their art less desirable the next time it comes up for auction. Seeing art sell is ALWAYS better than seeing it fail to sell. Bidders tend to remember art and artists when they see the art come up for sale again and either bid or don't bid based on past results. If they see your art hasn't been selling, they may bid low or not bid at all. So do whatever you have to do to make sure your art sells.

    Timing Your Auction

    Time the end of your auction so that bidding closes when most people are at home and available such as Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday during the early to mid evening hours. Some bidders use special software to automatically place final bids or have eBay place automatic bids for them so they don't have to be present when sales end. But many experienced bidders still sit in front of their computers as sales end and may bid manually at the last second especially if they really like what they're bidding on. The more potential bidders who are able to be online at the close of your auction, the higher the final bids tend to be.

    Use the longest time option available for your online auction (eBay has various time options for example including offering the art at a fixed price without an auction). You want to give people as much time as possible not only to find your art, but also to learn more about it and you, and decide how much they want to spend. The more people who have a chance to see and bid on your art, and the more comfortable they feel about bidding, the more money the art tends to sell for.

    Displaying Images of Your Art

    Use good clear images to show your art. Bidders want to see details. Show the entire piece, a detail shot or two, and any other important or standout or special areas of your work that people generally tend to like. Good quality images help sell your art and net you higher prices. Also, keep background noise to a minimum-- showing the art against a plain background is preferable. And if it's framed, show the entire frame too.

    Keep image sizes under 100K or so in order to speed downloads for potential bidders. Avoid blurry pictures or ones that are too small, have flash glare, reflections or other viewing problems. People who can't clearly see what they're bidding on tend either to bid low or not bid at all. And make sure that your images can be clearly enlarged so that bidders can get a good idea of what your art looks like closer up.

    Describing Your Art

    Be truthful when you describe your art. Never misrepresent, bend the truth, play with words, or deliberately leave out important information about your art. Avoid personal opinions about the importance or significance of your art unless you can back them up with facts. Keep the tone of your description upbeat, and don't talk down to bidders or place numerous restrictions on how they should behave, when they shouldn't bid, or how or when they are allowed to contact you. In other words, be as open, welcoming and accessible as possible.

    Facts about yourself, your career and your art are always good to include. For example, provide brief information about what galleries or shows you've participated in, what part or parts of the country you've shown in, any awards or distinctions you've received, how much your art typically sells for, how much of it you sell, and so on. This information is especially important if you're less well-known and are introducing people to your art for the first time.

    Include all dimensions, mediums, weights (for sculptures), and other relevant significant physical characteristics of your art in your descriptions. If your art requires special handling or is unique in other regards, explain that.

    Encourage bidders to ask as many questions as possible. You not only want them to get to know you as an artist and a person, but also to be fully informed about what they are bidding on before they bid. This minimizes the chances of misunderstandings after an auction ends. Answer all inquiries thoroughly, completely and quickly. Saving all email correspondences between you and various bidders during the course of each auction is also a good idea and may come in handy in case of any disagreements or disputes.

    Know approximately how much your art will cost to pack and ship and include those dollar amounts in your descriptions. Also explain exactly how you will ship it, who will be responsible for what costs, approximately how much those costs will be, and so on. You don't want to shock the winning bidder after the fact with a shipping bill of hundreds of dollars, for example. Remember that most shippers charge by distance shipped as well as by size and weight so do your shipping research in advance and include a price range in your description.

    Allow winning bidders a certain time period, usually three to ten days, during which they can inspect your art after they receive it, make sure that it matches what they thought they were bidding on, and allow them to return it if they're not entirely satisfied (less shipping costs). Sellers who offer moneyback guarantees like this tend to put bidders at ease and, as a result, net higher prices for their art.

    Assuming you do your research on shipping and customs costs and don't mind the additional work involved, make your art available to bidders in as many countries as you feel comfortable doing. The more potential buyers who are able to bid on your art, the greater the potential for higher bids in a good percentage of cases.

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