What To Do With Unwanted Books

I know. It’s a sad title — all those poor, unwanted books that appear on Christmas morning. Kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys. But January is the month of returns in the retail world. Books are unwrapped only to find their owners unexcited at their arrival. Maybe it’s because grandma misjudged your taste; you’re a fan of Star Wars but never got into the novels. Or maybe your sister knew which series you’re reading, but couldn’t remember which books you already have. Or maybe your collection is all hardcover and your uncle sent you the small, cheaper paperback version which just throws off the whole vibe of your beautiful shelf. Whether it’s a book you simply don’t want, or a book you already have, now you’re stuck trying to figure out what to do with it. There are — luckily — a couple of options.

Before you march off to the store to return/exchange it, check for a receipt first. The same can be said for any gift ever given; stores need to know that what you’re bringing them came from them in the first place. The item you have doesn’t matter — one bookstore does not want the books you bought from someplace else. “But they’re just books!” people cry. “What do they care?” Well, they didn’t get any money in the first place, did they? So why should they be forced to take back something you never bought from them? Consider if you ran a business; someone bought a necklace at Walmart, and it looks like one that you made. Yet they want to return it to you and get their money back. You wouldn’t be inclined to give them anything, would you? It’s the exact same concept here. The type of receipt you have will determine what you can do with your return.

What’s more, you can check out the store’s return policy beforehand since 99% of all receipts have that information printed on them. Typically it’s on the back or bottom of the receipt. Or check the website if the store has one. Or heck, just call and ask someone that works there. A lot of stores are flexible around the holidays, though, since they realize people are buying gifts in November and often those gifts will come right back to them in January. Just make sure to get your return/exchange done in January; after that stores become less forgiving. I mean heck, you’ve got an entire month to do it, so I’m not sure what the holdup is.

  1. Original receipt: This little slip of paper gives you all the power. Or at least, almost all the power if you’re not the original purchaser of the book. When you take back a book with the original receipt you get the full amount of what was paid for the book. You’ll get that however it was paid for. However, if grandma bought it with her credit card, then you can’t exactly have that money put on your card. Sorry, but that’s a little too much on the fraudulent side of the spectrum, so you’ll have to either exchange one book for another, or get store credit. But if grandma paid for a $26 hardcover with cash or a gift card, you’ll get all that back to you in the same fashion. It’s one of the best deals you’re going to get.
  2. Gift receipt: A lot of stores have gift receipt options, that way you don’t know grandma paid $26 for that hardcover. Kind of irrelevant when doing a return and you’re going to find out anyway, but that’s beside the point. It allows her to keep her original receipt for her own records while you still have great return power. Gift receipts typically mean you’ll get store credit in return — but it also means you still get the full price of the book — or at least the full price that grandma paid. So now you have $26 to get a few paperbacks or a completely different hardcover. Win-win situation.
  3. No receipt: Here’s where things become problematic. You can claim all day long that grandma bought Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass from the Books ‘n Things store, but unfortunately your word doesn’t mean much. I know, it sounds harsh and chances are you’re telling the truth, but a few kids in the class have ruined it for everyone by lying about where they bought the books, which is why receipts are king in the world of returns. So what the heck do you do when you’re stuck with the first book in the series and all you need is the second?

Try anyway?

Ok, well, booksellers already aren’t a fan of you if you’re trying anyway. Depending upon who you go to and how they’re feeling about what you’re bringing in, they might make an exception or they might apologize and send you packing. Look, I can’t tell you how many people stroll into the store and claim they bought the book there, only for me to discover they bought it at the Target down the street, or Amazon, or it still has a sticker from some other store on it. This is why we can’t have nice things. But — and I’m using this sparingly so do not use it like the key to the city — if I have an extremely popular book that I could use one or two more of, I might make an exception for you. If you’re a regular or the store has a frequent shopper card or membership program or something, then you have a better chance at success.

However, do not pass Go or collect 200 dollars. If a bookstore makes an exception for you, chances are you won’t get the full price of the book back. They don’t know if that book was purchased on Amazon or their store (again, sorry, but your claims are irrelevant without proof of purchase — aka the receipt), or if grandma bought the book while it was 20% off and then used another 20% off coupon on top of that, so you’ll likely get the lowest price they’re able/willing to offer. That $26 hardcover might only be $14 online, so you get $14 either in store credit or as credit in an exchange. Don’t try to argue. The bookstore is well aware of the list price of that book, but since they have zero proof it came from their store, you’re lucky they’re doing anything for you at all as they are not obligated to take anything back without a receipt.

Head to a Used Bookstore

This may seem like a less appealing option since used bookstores tend to give you far less than the book’s original price, but sometimes it’s what you’re going to be left with. Used bookstores all have their own personal formulas for calculating what they’re willing to pay for your book. Yes, even if your book is brand new, right out of the box, you’re still not likely to get the full $26 for it. Remember the part where I said the store doesn’t know where your book came from? For all they know, it might have come from their store where it’s currently selling for $10. Because no used bookstores are created equal, there isn’t even really a ballpark price I can offer for the type of book you have. Suffice to say brand new, high-demand books will fetch the most. After that, the price can drop quite drastically.

Book Swap

There are a lot of places you can swap your current book for something you might actually want. My local library has a section in the back full of free-to-take stuff and where I can also drop off books I don’t want (in decent condition, of course). Check your town to see if there are any little libraries that have sprouted up — there are two where I live. They’re tiny and adorable and how I ended up finally reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. Or organize a book swap with friends, family, or co-workers (just be careful if you include grandma — you don’t want her to know you weren’t jazzed about the book she got you) where you all bring in books — wrapped for a surprise if you like — and swap! Perhaps you’ll end up with something you’re interested in.

Donate or Re-gift

I’ve dropped off books I no longer read at both my library’s free section and to the little libraries in town without picking up a new title. I’ve used a few books as prizes when I did raffles on my blog years ago. I keep my books in excellent condition, which is why this works. Since your book was a gift, it should be brand new and worth it as a donation or re-gifting it to someone you know would actually want it. True, you aren’t getting anything in return at this point, but there’s no reason to throw away a perfectly good book, and who knows? Maybe you’ll make someone very happy when they receive the book they’ve been hoping to get.

No matter what you choose, just try to be kind during this portion of the holidays. Once Christmastime is over people seem to think it’s okay to go back to being angry, rude customers (although that doesn’t stop a lot of them even when the holidays are in full swing). Realize that this is simply the way it’s been — the way it’s always been — and it’s not likely to change any time soon. So if you can’t return a book you don’t want, you might as well pay it forward and hope that next year people are a little clearer about what you read.

Or maybe just tell them to get you a gift card to your favorite bookstore. Then you’ll be in charge of what ends up on your shelf.

1 Comment

  • Kelly McCarty January 10, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Unless I am very, very sure of someone’s tastes, I never buy books as presents, even though I love books. I also prefer to receive bookstore gift cards because I’ve had way too many people try to convince me to read The Left Behind series or clean romance novels to trust most people to pick out a book for me.


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