So, you want to start a book club. Sounds easy, right? Think again. Putting together a book club is trickier than it sounds, but we’re here with some pro tips to help your literary circle thrive.
Step One: Focus on the members
The first step in starting a book club is deciding who your fellow readers will be. A book club can be comprised of two readers or 200, and it can take place in person, on the phone, or online. Think about the people in your life who you’d most want to talk about books with and extend an invitation to them. Consider which people would be serious about diving into a new book each month, and who might be less inclined to.
If this is your very first book club, we recommend keeping the group small because it will be easier to coordinate schedules when it comes time to plan meetings and to find common ground when picking new titles.
You might also want to consider asking your new members to join in a fun and creative way that reflects the vibe of the group you hope to create. NetGalley’s Tarah started her book club by inviting fellow readers to her home for food and drinks, and then surprising them by asking if they’d be interested in meeting again to talk about books!
Step Two: Location, location, location
Congratulations, you have your members! The next hurdle is where you’ll all meet. Bars and restaurants may seem alluring, but are often loud and can make discussions difficult. You want a place that is comfortable, quiet, and welcoming. Very often, the best location for a book club is in the home of one of the members. For groups who live nearby, rotating houses can ensure that everyone has a turn to host!
Don’t despair if members live too far away to meet in person. Some of the most successful book clubs hold their meetings over Skype, on phone calls, or online through sites like Facebook and Goodreads. Think about what would work best for you and your fellow readers.
Step Three: What time is the meeting?
If only time would stop for book club meetings. It’s likely that the members of your club have a multitude of commitments (school, work, kids) that may make scheduling meetings a challenge. Consider everyone’s schedules and find a time that works for everyone. Book clubs tend to be synonymous with wine and dinner, but think outside of the box if that doesn’t work for your group. Maybe your club best works when meeting over coffee at the beginning of the day, or on quiet Sunday afternoons. We find it often easiest to first narrow down the day of the week your members are most likely to be free and pick the time from there.
Step Four: How often are you meeting?
Starting a book club can be exhilarating. It’s tempting to dive in head first and try to meet as quickly and often as possible. Keep your excitement, but take a breath and think about logistics. Many clubs meet every month, some every six weeks, others every season. Talk to your members about their personal reading goals, their vision for the club, and their schedules. Work together to find a pattern that allows everyone time to read the book, but not so much time that they may forget their comments about it.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far into planning you’ve nailed the basics. The above are some of the biggest hurdles that prevent book clubs from succeeding. Now that you’ve had them set you’re ready to move on to the fun stuff.
What will you read?
The traditional book club structure might not work for you and your group. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit. One member of the NetGalley team is in a book club that takes its inspiration from Tequila Mockingbird. They read a book and make the corresponding drink at their monthly meetings. Another NetGalley staffer is in a book club that assigns a theme each month (rather than a single title) and allows members to read a book that they feel fits the theme. If a standard formula works for you, go for it. If you want to try something different, don’t be afraid to try.
But seriously, what are you reading?
A bad read can be the kiss of death for a book club. Some clubs choose to set a page limit, to ensure everyone has time to read the book and to stop anyone from picking Infinite Jest (which clocks in at over 1,100 pages). Some blacklist genres that few are interested in. But we think the best thing to do is to encourage your members to make thoughtful choices and listen to the other readers. You might find a classic that no one has read, or you might learn that they’d prefer to read new books (in which case a trip to your local indie bookstore could help make the selection easier).
It should go without saying, but don’t force anyone to read a book they don’t want to. If someone takes a hard pass on a book, let them skip that month or be open to changing the selection.
How are members reading?
In our team’s NetGalley book club, I like audiobooks, Dana prefers ebooks, Tarah reads library books, and Lindsey is all about paperbacks. When selecting titles, pick books that are easily accessible to all of your readers and let them dive into the story in the format of their choice whenever possible. Ask members if there are any formats that don’t work for them or aren’t accessible to them to help the group make the mindful choices.
We also recommend checking out your library or local indie when getting the books. Some libraries offer book club kits that come with 10 copies of the book and a discussion guide, and some indies may offer a discount for the purchase!
How are discussions guided?
Book clubs can very quickly turn from a discussion of metaphors and foreshadowing to a catch-up session between old friends. It’s tempting to let the conversation flow organically, but it’s best to be prepared with a list of discussion questions or thought-provoking comments. For popular book club reads, you can often find discussion questions online. You can also ask each member to come up with two questions to pose to the group.
Discussion guides are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to book club fodder. Read up on the author’s interviews, essays they’ve written, and more for a fuller picture of their writing process and added insight into the book.
Wine and dine
Half the fun of a book club is getting to eat and drink with your friends. You can go the extra mile by planning a menu directly inspired by that meeting’s selection, or focus on what your members personally love. Whether you have everyone contribute or leave the prep to the host, ensure that each meeting has enough food and drink for everyone. And, of course, be mindful of dietary restrictions, allergies, and whether or not everyone is comfortable with alcohol being served.
Is your club virtual? No problem! You can create a themed menu for readers to create or buy for themselves. Indulging in the same drink or treat is a great way to feel connected no matter how many miles separate you.
Some of the best book clubs hold meetings that have nothing to do with sitting in a room and discussing a book. Is an author coming to speak at your local bookstore? Take the club on a field trip! Is there a writer’s walking tour in your city? Go for a stroll! Attend library events, go to festivals, and don’t keep your club confined to a living room.
If you’re just getting started, you might want to save this step for a time when your club is more established. Until then, it’s fun to start looking ahead to see which authors might be in your neighborhood this year.