How To

How Does A Book Exchange Work?

Neha Patel

Staff Writer

Neha is an editor living in Dallas, TX who reads a little more than her optometrist would like. She works fulltime as a medical editor but also loves proofreading and copyediting all types of fiction on the side as well as conducting sensitivity/authenticity reads for Indian characters and Hinduism. When she's not reading or editing, she's writing her fantasy novel, bookstagramming at @bookishdesi, or collecting records. More at

Some of my favorite presents are books from friends who have carefully thought about what I enjoy and personalize the recommendation for me. Books are art, and art is subjective. This means it truly takes consideration to recommend a book to someone. I mean, there are so many things tangible and intangible that make someone like a book. Forget about the basics like plotting and characterization; it’s also important to consider the person’s interests as well as what they previously enjoyed reading. A great way to get some solid recommendations is to arrange a book swap. How does a book exchange work, though?

There really aren’t many rules for these, because it changes based on who you’re swapping a book with and the when and where said swap it occurring. But if you get the rules right with the right people, you just might walk away with a new favorite read.

If you are interested in scaling your book swapping and/or book exchanging, here are a few things to consider.

How does a book exchange work?

Go Out With a Group of Friends

Like I said, there are a few ways to initiate a book swap. The very first one I attended was a brunch arranged by a group of local Bookstagrammers. It went like this: show up to brunch with however many books you would like to unload off of your bookshelves and place them in the middle of the table. Now I will say that there were over 20 of us, so our kind waiter had to bring some extra chairs for our impromptu library. A hat with numbers was then passed around, and your number dictated when you could make a selection. The general rule was that you could only pick as many books as you have brought. I will say that there were a few folks who brought dozens of books, so at the end, we were allowed to take our pick of the leftovers, and whatever wasn’t picked up was donated to a local library.

Go Online

I have also participated in an online book swap, in which a friend provided an address of a mutual acquaintance who I was to send a book to. In return, I would receive a book from another mutual acquaintance. I honestly wasn’t sure how things were divvied up, but while I certainly sent my book to the person in question, I never received one in return. If you’re hosting a virtual swap or one in which everyone is living in different states or countries, I strongly recommend having a point person holding people accountable. Having a set budget for books and shipping is also advisable. In these cases, I do not recommend swapping books with strangers, as it can quickly turn into a pyramid scheme of sorts. Only do an online swap with folks you know will be true to their word

Host a Book Party

Something I have been wanting to do since moving into a larger apartment is to host a book swap with close friends, sort of like a secret Santa, and basically have a bookish party.

I have also seen larger organizations such as schools and churches put together large-scale book swaps in which donations of books are taken and then put together for a day-long event. Some places even include branded book plates so participants can see who had the book before.

How to Start a Book Exchange

Here are a few things to consider before arranging a book swap:

  1. Find friends, colleagues, family, neighbors, and acquaintances to participate. Dig into your network for book lovers. Trust me, they’re there. I think the more the merrier for book swaps, so have your friends reach into their network as well.
  2. Decide if it’s going to be an in-person event or an online event. In-person events can be anything from a brunch to a party. Online events can be Google or Zoom meetings (with books shipped beforehand) with everyone coming together to share their new reads.
  3. Consider a remote option in times of COVID-19. You can have a point person who coordinates everything by having all participants fill out surveys of what they’d like to read. Those answered surveys are then taken by the point person and handed to others in the swap with information of who filled out the survey. The participants then send tailored books to the person whose surveys they have and get one in return. An option like this is safe as long as the point person keeps everyone accountable.
  4. Set a budget. Emphasize if the swap is for folks to clear out their shelves or if this will be like a secret Santa in which a strict budget is set. It’s best to be upfront about money, especially if there’s shipping and handling costs involved.
  5. Make sure people follow through. Again, it’s not fair for someone to take time, energy, and money to find a book for someone only to not have that reciprocated. Be mindful of everyone receiving a book.

You can also check out how to do a holiday book exchange and learn a little more about using Little Free Libraries.