How to Host a Book Swap: My Book Party in NYC

Lots of people in a room with books and happy

I love reading good books. Whether it is on my Kindle, a book I own, or a borrow from the New York Public Library – reading takes up a lot of my time.

One of my favorite parts of a good book is discussing it with smart people and then sharing the book with them.

At my 36th birthday party, I gave guests copies of some of my favorite books.

My Book Swap and Cocktail Party

On Thursday, 31 May 2018, I threw a book swap and cocktail party.

Lots of people in a room with books and happy
Here we are! The book swap and cocktail party was awesome.

I love hosting cocktail parties but I have never tried a book swap.

The idea was simple: let’s get together a bunch of new friends, readers of my Friends Newsletter, and old friends. Then let’s share our used books and have some drinks.

I asked all of the attendees to bring a few books they would like to pass along.

Event Logistics

Cocktails and Book Swap for Nick Gray's Friends
Screenshot of the Splash RSVP page for my Book Swap and Cocktail Party

Venue: We hosted the party inside a conference room of a big shared office space near Madison Square Park.

Time: It was advertised as 7:00 – 9:30pm. Our first guest arrived at 6:50pm, and the last guests left around 9:55pm.

Invitation Platform: For the first time ever, I used Splash aka Splashthat. (Thanks Lauren H. for encouraging me to try this!) Usually I use Facebook Events, but because I was inviting many people that I wasn’t yet friends with on Facebook, we tried this. I’m glad we did. I liked using it.

Copy that I used:

You’re invited to come to my first ever Friends Cocktail Party and Book Swap. Bring as many books as you want. Or none. Friendly non-readers are welcome. I plan to bring as many books as I can carry in a little backpack. We’ll have tables in the space to lay out books to give away or trade. No sales, please :-)

The Book Swap Setup

One of the book tables, towards the end of the night, books having been picked up.

We had four tables available for people to put their books on. I provided index cards and fat markers and asked people to write their name on the card and tape it near their books. I was a little vague, at first, about how the book swap should happen. I think I said, “If you see a book you like, find its owner, and ask if you can trade!”

Table with books for a book swap in Manhattan
Book table filled with some brand new books that Peter Knox generously donated.

One hour into the party, with LOTS or MOST of the books still out, I made an executive decision and said, “OK! We only have 1 hour left. I’m making the call that all books are OPEN for FREE TAKING. If you brought a book that you LOVE and you only want to trade it, pick it up now! Otherwise the doors are open, go at it!”

Learn more about my party formula and read The 2-Hour Cocktail Party book here!


With a huge group of people, I love to do a “Roll Call” of icebreakers for everyone to quickly say who they are and what they do.

For more on how I like to help big group facilitation, see my post from the BestSelf Unlocked Event in NYC

Big group doing icebreakers to introduce ourselves and meet new friends. The industrial lighting was less-than-flattering. Photo by Peter Knox
What we lacked in romantic lighting, we made up with enthusiasm and great books. Photo by Peter Knox

Guest Feedback

We got lots of great comments about the event. People loved how simple it was, the free drinks, and the good crowd.

One comment that stuck out to me:

“I loved that there was something I could do individually – by myself – during the party. I think this is the first party you’ve done like that. If I was talking to someone and I needed a break, I could go and look at the books available. I really liked that.”

By The Numbers

51: Number of RSVPd

34: Number of guests who showed up

This is much lower than my regular parties – the night prior had 39 RSVPs and 41 guests. I attribute the low turnout to the fact that we made registration SO EASY, and that many of the guests had never attended one of my parties before. We didn’t do personalized 1:1 invitations and instead advertised this party in one of my Friends Newsletters. That lowered the attendee investment / involvement, making it easier to “flake” and not show.

3.7: Average number of books people brought

15: Number of people who had arrived within 15 minutes of the start time

3: Number of support staff that I had helping me with logistics. Thanks Scott the Bartender, Mike the Everything Man, and Zaharo for letting us deputize her as Book Table Champion.


It was a lot of fun. It’s easy to do a party like this in combination with my regular cocktail party format.

If you’re a beginner to advanced level party host, I highly suggest you try doing a Book Swap! How to get started: message some people in your Core Group and ask, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing another cocktail party and adding a used book swap to it. Would you want to come?”

Do you want to come to my next book swap and cocktail party in Manhattan? Email me and say Hi!

What you should do next...

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