swapcardsI’m writing this article as the very first postcard swap here at Mixed Media Club is drawing to a close. I’m writing it so I can point your all here for future swaps, so that we all have the same information and expectations about swapping.

Before Signing Up

There are a few things you should do before you sign up for a swap. Take a breath before rushing to say yes, and consider the following:

  • You should read the swap instructions.
    Most swap hosts put their thoughts about what the swap is about in writing. Some (me) write a lot of instructions, hoping that everything will be crystal clear up front. You should read that stuff, whether it’s short or long, and understand it. Don’t assume when you see “postcard swap” that it’s just like the postcard swap you did three years ago on some other site. Read and understand the instructions for this swap. The host didn’t write those instructions for her health.
  • You should know how to operate a calendar.
    As a swap participant, this is the single most important skill to possess. Look at your calendar. Find today’s date, and the swap deadline date. Thing about what you have going on between now and then. Holidays? Relatives visiting? Your kid’s prom? Other swaps? If you have a lot of stuff going on, or if you just cannot possibly do what the swap instructions describe in the time allotted, don’t sign up. Wait until next time, because trust me, there will always be another swap.
  • You should understand what you’re swapping.
    If you’re signing up for a postcard swap, you’re swapping postcards, right? Make sure you know what a postcard is, rather than assuming you know. Check to see if the swap has a theme, and that it’s one that interests you. Make sure you know how many you’re making, and if there are any restrictions about what you should make them front or with. Don’t be the twit who sends 5 mixed media spring flower postcards for a winter-themed watercolor postcard 3 for 3 swap.
  • You should calculate the cost.
    The costs of doing a swap come in time and money. Do you have the time to make however many items are required? Do you have the money to purchase the materials you’ll need, and pay whatever postage costs are involved? Very often, postcard swaps require the postage to get the package of cards to the host, and then postage to send them out again individually. Check your pockets, and do the math. If you come up short, you shouldn’t sign up.
  • You should ask questions.
    If anything about the swap requirements is unclear, the time to ask questions is before you sign up. This doesn’t mean you should hammer the host with comments or emails, asking questions about every little thing. Your host is not your personal art concierge. Limit your questions to information that isn’t already provided, and absolutely necessary. Whenever I get a lot of questions from one person, or questions that are already answered in the information provided for each swap, it tells me they really aren’t good swapper material yet. Good swappers read, and think, and then ask questions if necessary.

Assuming you’ve done all these things, you know what and how many to make, and you know you have the time and the money to participate, you’re ready to sign up. Be sure to follow the instructions for signing up. Don’t email the host, saying, “Sign me up!”, if she asks you to fill out a form to sign up. She will silently roll her eyes, as she puts you on her bad swappers list.

Once You’ve Signed Up

If you’ve signed up for a swap, and been accepted as a participant, here’s what you should do next:

  • You should follow the swap instructions.
    Hey, remember those swap instructions you read? You should follow them! Do what is asked, because that’s what you signed up to do. If the instructions say to make three, make three.
  • You should send exactly what is requested.
    Many swaps are written with requirements about what to send. If the host asks you to send three postcards, four address labels, and four First Class stamps, send exactly that. Don’t send more postcards, cards, ephemera, or other stuff in your package, because the host has to sort through all that, and figure out which three cards you intended to swap—and trust me when I say that while it may be readily apparent to you, it’s not always clear on the receiving end. Don’t even think about sending the host a long note with instructions or your life story on it. Send only what is required for the swap. No more, and no less.
  • You should check your list twice.
    There’s usually a short list of things you should include in your swap package: 3 postcards, 4 stamps, 4 address labels. Make sure you have all those things in front of you before you start filling the envelope. Count everything twice. Make sure it ALL goes into the envelope.
  • You should package appropriately.
    I cannot tell you how annoying it is to get swap items that are packaged like Fort Knox! If you are sending postcards, they should be sturdy enough to go into a single, plain envelope. Likewise with artist trading cards. If you’re swapping larger things, like journal pages, sandwich your stack of pages between two pieces of chipboard in an envelope, or send them in a rigid mailer. Ideally, when the swap host unwraps your package, there’s only an envelope to throw away, and everything else is swap materials.

    Also: ease up on the taping. One piece, across the flap of the envelope, is sufficient. Do not tape your package so much that the host can’t get into it without tearing the envelope apart. She will be silently sending curses in your direction as she tries to open your package without destroying the items within.

  • You should respect the host’s time.
    Translation: you should not waste your host’s time with extra emails or comments. Unless she asks you to, she probably doesn’t need an email from you saying you’ve mailed your package. She probably doesn’t need an email three days later, asking if your package has arrived yet. Only contact the host if it’s necessary, or if she asks you to.

When Disaster Strikes

Even in the most well-planned swaps, things go wrong. If you have a disaster drop into your life, or you just don’t think you can get your swap items made, packaged, and sent on time, here’s what to do:

  • You should withdraw promptly.
    Boom. That’s it. If you get sick, have a death in the family, or your muse goes on an extended vacation, you should withdraw as soon as you realize you’re not going to be able to continue. Some swap hosts (me) give instructions for withdrawing. Follow them. If the host hasn’t given any guidance, contact her privately, and let her know as soon as you can that your train has been derailed. Most hosts will appreciate you letting them know sooner rather than later, so adjustments to the swap can be made.

When the Swap Has Ended

  • You should say thanks.
    If it’s possible to contact the folks whose stuff you got in return, let them know that you received it, and thank them. You should also thank the host. Remember all that extra stuff you wanted to send to her in your swap package? Don’t send it to her after the swap, either! Instead, send her a note or a postcard, thanking her for hosting. Now that the swap is over, she actually has time to read and enjoy it, instead of trying to figure out if it’s for her, or one of your swap items.
  • You should understand we’re all different.
    In any swap, there will be artists of varying levels of skill. Some may be participating for the first time, while others are seasoned veterans. Some may be good at painting, while others can barely color in a stamped image. Understand that we are all different, and respect it. You will receive returns from your swap. Some of them may look good to you, and others may not. Accept that swapping is about the doing, not about the getting.

OK, that’s it for today. What else do you think people should know to be good swappers?

2 thoughts on “How To Be a Good Swapper

  1. Great post Lisa! Time is a huge issue.
    Sometimes the host gives a very generous due date, it is easy to sign up and then forget about the swap until it is too late to either submit your best work, or you completely miss the deadline.
    I have commitment issues, so I try to start my artwork prior to the swap sign-up deadline to help me gauge if I will be able to devote the necessary time to participate prior to even signing up for the swap. This also helps me determine if I have all the supplies I need on hand to complete the swap on time. Call me anal, but I hate to be unreliable.

    1. I think you aren’t alone in preferring to work before signing up, Carolyn. I always try to leave good amount of time between sign ups opening and closing, but sometimes, so many people want to do a project that the time for signing up gets cut short. I think people who work like you do might end up out in the cold.

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