In the BooksA booster club in Bethesda, Md., recently raised about $15,000 with its annual used book sale. As a well-established event, the two-day sale draws book enthusiasts and dealers from within, and outside, the community.
The Walter Johnson All School Booster Club has been holding its annual used book sale for eight years. And for the last few years, the sale has seemed to get a bit bigger every time.
"It's grown nicely every year," says Book Sale Co-Chair Lisa Weed. "We've put a lot more effort in promoting the sale, and we've also recruited a lot more volunteers every year."
Over the years, the club has found that recruiting volunteers is the key to holding a successful sale, and is just as important as promoting the event. "Holding a used book sale includes a lot of physical work," Weed says. "You're slinging books around. We collect about 25,000 books, and we've found that you'll kill yourself if you try to do it on your own."
Getting everything set for the sale takes about three months. Right before the school goes on its winter break, Weed puts a notice about the sale on the school's list-serve. "In December, I like to let people know that we will begin collecting donations of used books right after the school's break," she says. "We try to let parents know, so maybe they'll gather up their used books over the holidays. Then we collect those books at the school from the beginning of January through the end of February."
During the same timeframe, the other co-chair of the event starts recruiting volunteers. "She gets the word out as I'm asking for books," Weed says. "It's important for us to split the work, so I work on advertising and soliciting books, and she recruits and manages the volunteers. By the time the whole thing is done, we have over 100 volunteers enlisted.
"There are probably 20-25 parent volunteers who make up our core group," she continues. "Once we've been collecting books for three or four weeks, we get together with that group once a week and start sorting through the books and categorizing them into genres."
The books are dropped off and stored at the school, which has been valuable for the club--both in having the ability to accept donations during school hours, and in reducing the amount of moving required for the sale. "The book sale is held in the cafeteria," Weed says. "And the big closet where all the books are stored is right next to it. Physically, it's a great set up--books are dropped off at the school's office, anytime between 7 am and 7 pm, then the school's janitors bring them down to the storage closet."
The club starts advertising the sale in the local newspaper about two months in advance. Notices for the sale are also put in the Washington Post periodically, as well as the Express, which is distributed solely on the Washington, D.C. metro system. "Although we don't track the ways our sale attendees find out about it, we've found that some heard about it only through the Express newspaper," Weed says. "We've also had people come from 30 or 40 miles away, just because they're avid readers of printed books."
In order to reach an audience of dedicated book sale attendees, Weed posts notices about the sale on booksalefinder.com and booksalemanager.com. These two Websites are dedicated to used book sales, and are frequented by dealers who buy and sell used books, although they attract used book enthusiasts, as well.
"I also go to Meetup.com," Weed says. "That allows people to find others who share the same hobby, and they can form online clubs. Using that site, I look for book clubs in the D.C. area. Then I send e-mail messages to those clubs, soliciting donations and advertising the sale. I figure they are avid readers, so they might like to donate or come to our sale. I do that in early January, so they have enough time to donate, or make plans to come to the sale."
The club also uses the Internet to recruit and schedule volunteers for the sale. "We use volunteerspace.com, which allows people to directly sign up to volunteer for particular work sites and tasks," Weed says. "Once you register your event, the Website helps with coordinating the volunteers' schedules. Using this mechanism has been essential for us, since we have so many volunteers."
The biggest force of volunteers is needed the day before the sale, since the brunt of physical labor occurs that day. "You need a lot of help when you take all of those books out of boxes, set them up on tables, and organize them neatly for displays," Weed says. "We spend 10 hours setting up the sale, and have about 150 volunteers that day--but each volunteer only works two hours, so nobody's back gets broken."
On the first day of the sale, there is a $5 entry fee for the first hour, which was a new addition to this year's sale. "We get a lot of book dealers from a 100-mile radius," Weed explains. "They're highly motivated to be one of the first people in the sale, and they start lining up about an hour before the event opens in the morning. They were happy to pay $5 to get the best access to the books, and we found that it's a great way to boost our revenue--we made about $700 just from that."
During the first day, books are priced between $1 and $3, although there is some variation based on size and content. For example, the small board books for babies and toddlers are typically four for $1, while a large coffee-table book may be priced higher than $3. On the second day, attendees fill a bag of books for $10 or a box for $15.
If another club is interested in holding a similar event, Weed's advice is simple: "However many volunteers you think you'll need, triple it. Then, about two weeks before the sale, see how volunteers you have. If you don't have enough, do a big push and call for more help."