Why Do a Book Swap?

Take a good, hard look at your bookshelves. The dusty coffee table books that people got you over the holidays… the silly novelty books that are only funny once (Cats with Mustaches, I’m looking at you)… the college textbooks that you only keep around because they cost $100 each. Wouldn’t it be great if you could wave a magic wand and make them disappear – or better yet, transform them into books you actually want to read? Then you need to host a book swap party!



How it Works

If you’ve never been to a book swap, it’s pretty simple: everyone brings books they want to get rid of, they mingle and enjoy refreshments, they pick out new-to-them books to take home, and the leftovers get donated to your local library or charity. Lazy readers may enjoy the convenience of a public event (Seattle’s Hugo House holds them regularly, for free), where the selection is guaranteed to be eclectic. But I like to have a book swap with friends. It stands to reason that if we like each other’s company, we’re also likely to enjoy each other’s books.

There are a few ways to run your swap. You could give out tickets for each book donated, and then guests “pay” one ticket per book. If the goal is to thin out your bookshelves, you could do a “bring two, pick one” policy. If the goal is fundraising, you could have guests pay $0.50 or $1 per book, bake-sale-style. Or you could just use the honor system and let people browse; this works better if you’re inviting a big group, or holding an open-house event.

Don't forget the snacks!

Don’t forget the snacks!

Book Swap Tips

I’ve hosted a few of these events with various groups of friends, and here’s my advice on throwing a unique party that people will be talking about years later (seriously!).

  • Stock the pond. As the hostess, you’ll want to make sure that there’s enough of a book selection to start things off; you don’t want the swap table to look too thin. Hopefully, this will inspire you to be ruthless when slimming down your library, but if you need to hit a thrift store and pad things out with some 25-cent paperbacks, I won’t tell.
    red wine

    You don’t have to have wine… but it will make everyone smarter and funnier.

  • Invite lots of people. Because of our tiny living rooms, my friends and I used to keep these events pretty small. Then again, the more people you invite, the bigger the selection you’ll get. So tell your friends to bring their friends, and you’re guaranteed to see a wider variety of books.
  • Enforce the “garage sale” rule. The rule, wisely created by a friend who holds frequent garage sales, goes like this: If you choose to come to my garage sale, don’t be offended if you see something you gave me for sale. Your guests may very well be unloading books given to them by fellow party guests! Make sure everyone understands that book donations are anonymous (unless the donor chooses to cop to it), and any resemblance to the copy of 101 Ways with SPAM that Sally gave you last Christmas is purely coincidental.
  • Supply Post-it notes. OK, I stole this idea from the Hugo House, but it’s a great one! Encourage guests to write short notes explaining why they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) the book, “recommended if you like…” or other comments. As they peruse, guests can write in their own responses, and some interesting “conversations” can result. See our complete list of book swap party supplies for more decorating ideas.
  • Don’t forget magazines. Many thrift stores accept magazines as well as books. If your friends aren’t already passing on their magazines to someone else when they’re done with them, encourage them to bring those to the swap, too. (They can just go in a “free” box, separate from the books.)
  • Harvest your crop. Your guests understand that you’ve probably donated more books than anyone, and no one will begrudge you a casual, “Oh, I simply must steal this one for myself!” The real fun, though, comes after everyone has left, when you can sort through the leftovers. Whatever you like, you keep! The rest you can dump in a box and donate to your local Goodwill; just make sure to pull your hood over your face so nobody can see the shifty character dropping off a dozen copies of 50 Shades of Grey.

Need more to read? Check out our 9 easy ways to get free and cheap books!

Stephanie Perry
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