New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Tips to Make a Book Sale Grow

By: Regina Lenox


Have enough volunteers so that no volunteer feels overwhelmed with their work. Make volunteers feel appreciated. If possible offer refreshments while they are working.


Obviously the more books you have, the more books you can sell. Where are donations accepted? Could more than one place be used to accept books, making it as easy as possible for donors? Can you offer a pick up service for larger donations?

If you are a non-profit organization prepare a donations slip which your donor can use for a tax deduction. If you have a web site, make a downloadable form for counting books.

Make sure donors know what books are not acceptable. Consider the elimination of encyclopedias, magazines, books in poor condition, and moldy books since they do not sell well.

Requesting book donations with the same intensity as the sale is advertised.


Sorting makes books sell much more quickly. Customers do not like looking through unsorted books. They become bored or frustrated. Some book sales have only a few categories. Sorting can increase the bottom line.  

Initially sort into categories (see list below). Then have a volunteer who will “fine sort” the category. If the category is very small, then it can be put in one or two boxes and labeled, ie History or Science. Fiction categories should be alphabetized by author. Buyers will appreciate this and buy more.

The most important question to ask when sorting is:  If I were the buyer where would I think of looking for this book? The Ithaca Friends have a cross reference list to help not only customers but also sorters.

Collectable Books
Entertainment/Drama /Music/Records
Foreign Language
History/Government/Law & Crime
Home Improvements
Local Interest
Religion & Philosophy
Science/Medicine/ Health/Computers
Social Sciences

  • General
  • Stories
  • Mystery
  • Occult
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Westerns


Have a box for collectable books when sorting. In today’s Internet world, it is easy to check the value of a book. Newer books can be scanned with a bar code app (ie PriceCheck from Amazon) which volunteers with smart phones can use. Two good sources on the Internet are Addall ( and Via Libri ( The Ithaca Friends’ experience is that the prices that a book sale charges should be about half of that of  a dealer. Some pricing on the Internet is unreasonable. Check the Internet to see how to identify first editions. A good source of information is to search the name on The Ithaca Friends uses A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride.

If a rare expensive book is found, and it does not sell at your book sale, it can be put up for sale online through various methods like ebay, amazon, etc.   

In order to save wear and tear on these books, mark the book inside in pencil. Put a piece of paper with the price in the book with the price showing.

These books should have a secure storage location during sorting, whether it is at the sale site or stored at a volunteer’s home.


Shelving is the easiest way to display books. Shelves hold approximately 50 percent more books than tabletops. Many times only tables may be available. When using tables put books in boxes with cut down sides to contain them within a category. Mark the end of the box with the category classification, ie Cookbooks, Mystery, History, Science, etc. Bindings should be up so that they are easily read.
If the lighting is not good utility lights, which you can buy at your local hardware store, will help in dark areas.


Make sure the layout works for the customer. Put all your fiction categories in the same area. Make sure there is enough room for people to move freely. Lay out the sale like a grocery store. Put the most popular categories as far away from the entrance as possible so that the customers will need to pass categories where they did not plan to buy, before they get to their destination category. This is good marketing.  

Collectable books should be in a small area of your sale where the books can be watched. In Ithaca the Friends are fortunate in that there is a room solely for collectable books. There should be a cashier for this area or an arrangement should be made so that the selected book would be transported by a volunteer to the cashiering area for pick up and pay when the customer leaves the sale site.


•    Check supplies for “tally sheets,” “cheat sheets,” scratch paper, pens, and refreshments for volunteers. If charge card machines or cash registers are used make sure you have enough additional rolls of tape for the machines.
•    Make copies of the map for posting and for handing to customers. On the map a membership form could be added as well as information about donating books, rules, and pricing schedule.
•    Ask a local grocery store for a donation of bags for customers to collect their books. This is good for the customer and good publicity for the store.
•    Additional boxes are appreciated by customers.
•    Walk the sale and make sure there are no dangerous items lying around, like scissors, nails, cleaners, etc.
•    Post a sign outside the site with the rules and pricing.
•    Check lights and if you have a bathroom, make sure there are plenty of supplies.


Make check out simple and understandable.  If you have a sale that lasts more than one day, the  prices can drop each day. In Ithaca the sale is 10 days long, and each day prices drop. Determine the prices of your books by categories (see list below).

Example of a Tally Sheet:

  Number of items   Category Total
A   Hard Cover Books (per volume), Trade Paperbacks, Books on CD, CDs, Computer Software, DVDs, Puzzles, and Games      
B       Children’s: CDs, Hard Cover Books, Pop-upBooks, Puzzles & Games        
C Mass Market Paperbacks        
D  Books on tape, Cassettes, Comics, Maps, Pamphlets, Videos and Children’s Baby Books, Golden Books, Records, and Videos        

Paying for the purchase is now one or two step process.   
To avoid the need for calculators, you can have what is referred to as a “cheat sheet”. This can be done on Excel and looks something like this:


# of Items $3.00 $1.50 $1.00 $0.50 $0.25 $0.10
1 $3.00 $1.50 $1.00 $0.50 $0.25 $0.10
2 $6.00 $3.00 $2.00 $1.00 $0.50 $0.20
3 $9.00 $4.50 $3.00 $1.50 $0.75 $0.30
4 $12.00 $6.00 $4.00 $2.00 $1.00 $0.40
5 $15.00 $7.50 $5.00 $2.50 $1.25 $0.50
6 $18.00 $9.00 $6.00 $3.00 $1.50 $0.60
7 $21.00 $10.50 $7.00 $3.50 $1.75 $0.70
8 $24.00 $12.00 $8.00 $4.00 $2.00 $0.80
9 $27.00 $13.50 $9.00 $4.50 $2.25 $0.90
10 $30.00 $15.00 $10.00 $5.00 $2.50 $1.00









ONE-STEP CHECKOUT PROCESS: The Pricer is also the Cashier.

TWO-STEP PROCESS: The customer goes to the Pricer first. The Pricer only fills in the number of items in each category. The customer then takes the Tally Sheet to the cashier, and the information is entered into the cash register. This avoids mistakes of addition. The cost of a cash register is less than $100 and programing is simple.

Make sure there is plenty of start up cash on hand. Remember that often the morning of the sale many customers have been to an ATM machines to get money, which is mostly $20 bills.

If at all possible take credit cards. If customers can charge purchases, more books will be sold. This can be arranged at a local bank. There are some simple ways to do this with smart phones as your method of accepting charges. Square ( is one business that makes this simple.

If there is another event that would complement the book sale, see if it is possible to coordinate the two events, sharing publicity. If every year a craft fair is on a specific weekend, it would have a built in customer base. In Camden, Maine there is an art show next to the local library and the book sale is on the library grounds.

Many Friends groups offer a preview sale to members. Make sure the rules are clear.

Questions to answer are:
        Members are limited to one visit and may purchase a limited number of books.
        Single membership, would allow one person to shop
        “Family membership” and who would be allowed?

The Ithaca Friends have not done this in the past. There are advantages to this in that your membership rolls will increase. You will be able to get email addresses for use in advertising the next sale.

1.    Book dealers will come to your sale. The Friends in Ithaca have tried to welcome dealers, but not give them any advantage over other customers. The 50 book limit helps. The customer checks out with 50 books, takes them out of the building, and may then gets back in line to buy more. If someone has more than 50 books, the boxes of books will block the aisle. Counting more than 50 books takes a lot of space and is time consuming for the Pricers.

1.    On the first day there is a 50 book limit for everyone per visit.
2.    Checks are accepted. Customers name, address, and phone number should be on the check. Customers must also produce a valid photo ID.
3.    No food, drinks, or dogs (except working dogs)
4.    Books should not be removed from the shelves or tables with the intention of later making a decision on whether to buy them. Those customers who “strip” shelves or tables will be asked to leave.
5.    Only two wheeled carts are allowed. Strollers are allowed only if occupied by a child.
6.    No sitting on the floor: people sitting on the floor are obstacles and customers may fall over them.  


• Design and distribute posters and bookmarks to any establishment which will allow them, ie library, laundromats, grocery stores, banks, restaurants, etc. Your poster should contain, date, locations, an identifiable logo for you organization, and a map of the location of the sale. Some businesses will accept bookmarks but do not have room for posters. Atlanta Fiends has a poster with information on the top and bottom. The posters are distributed to area schools, where students are asked to draw a scene from the book sale or library.
• Divide the town into sections and ask for a volunteer to post a section 10 days prior to the sale. Keep a list of where the poster went so that it will be easier next year.  
• Have a banner made to publicize the sale.  There are several web sites that do this for a reasonable price. If the sale is a predictable date, make the banner generic enough so that it can be used year after year, such as “First weekend in May”.
• Make sandwich board signs that can be put on the street to direct people to the book sale.
• Use the Internet. A web site can be helpful. It does not have to be complicated, and the cost is low. Put web address on posters and bookmarks. If you do not have a web site, have a Facebook presence. There is no cost for this. Also have a twitter account. Tweet and post often to request donations and to advertise the sale. For Facebook do not use a personal page but establish a business page. Have several administrators and take photos and post.
•  Ask the library that is supported to list the event on their web site.
•  Record verbal PSAs (Public Service Announcements) to be played over local radio stations concerning donations and the Book Sale. Most radio stations will help you with this at no cost.
•  Appear on local radio and television.
•  Send out press releases.
•  Put an ad under "Garage Sales" in the local newspapers.
•  Submit the book sale dates to any publication or web site with a calendar in your area.
•  Contact the Visitor Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for assistance.


Get together with volunteers and others who worked at the book sale and discuss what worked and what did not work. Often this is done with a Wrap Up dinner or lunch. Talking right after the sale will improve the next sale.

Click here to read how the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library's book sale has grown since it's inception in 1946.