9 Steps to Running a Great Book Swap

The best way to pass on books you love and find new treasures from those you trust.

By Jessica Dukes

Book lovers, does this sound familiar? You love talking about books, and bringing home new ones is kind of an obsession, but getting rid of them is an emotionally draining chore. At a book swap, you can do all three with no bittersweet goodbyes. So why not have your own?

The guest list
You want people at your book swap who really love to read for two important reasons. They’ll be excited to attend and the party vibe will be “so many amazing books” rather than “checking out a yard sale.” Most importantly, you’ll end up with a nice variety of books. Plan for a two- or three-hour event, depending on the number of people coming.

The books
Unless you can invite a few dozen people who are deep into a single genre like Sci-Fi or Romance, your best bet for a successful book swap is to have an all-genres-welcomed party. Even how-to books—cooking, organizing, gardening—can be a thrill for the right reader. Don’t limit the number of books your guests can bring; the larger and more eclectic the selection of books at your party, the better.

The set-up
Create plenty of space for displaying the books, with the covers or spines visible. Make it easy for guests to pick up a book without having to move others. Before the party starts, have a plan to organize the books—typically by genre and subgenre, if possible—so you can put books in place as guests arrive. Provide index cards for partygoers to leave short notes inside the front covers of their books with their name, why they recommend it, and a favorite quote or interesting tidbit.

The swap rules
If you collect a lot of books, let the swap be a free-for-all. We book lovers are a fair and modest bunch, so most people aren’t going to be greedy and take far more than they brought. If you have a smaller crowd with fewer books, try a ticket system: guests receive one ticket per book they contribute that they can use for an even trade.

The paean
Once the book browsing has begun, invite guests to give a short, loving farewell to a favorite book from their contributions. Avoiding spoilers, swappers can talk about how the book inspired them, central and unforgettable themes, or why it’s hard to let it leave their shelves.

The snacks
The most important thing to remember here: your guests will be thumbing through a lot of books. Books that you want to keep clean. Skip the sauce-heavy foods, instead opting for small bites, and offer wet wipes in addition to napkins. Red wine is a risky choice; stick with white. You could even get paper cups with lids and paper straws for cocktails or lemonade.

Check out these fun, literature-themed eats and drinks:

The parting gift
Ask your invitees to bring one book wrapped in a plain brown paper bag with a five-word description written on it that won’t give away the title or the author. As guests leave, they get to choose one from a box or basket by the door.

The book bags
Hopefully your friends will leave with more books than they can carry, so why not treat everyone to a tote bag? Blank, colorful canvas totes like these are priced right, and it’s such a nice touch. (If that’s not happening, all those crumbled up grocery bags under the kitchen sink will do in a pinch.)

The leftovers
If you have remaining books, donate them. Nursing homes, hospitals, high schools, cafés, shelters, Goodwill and The Salvation Army usually accept them. While you enjoy the fruits of your swap, book lovers throughout your community can discover new books and authors, too.

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