Rules and Expectations to Consider When Starting a Book Club

A book on its side with scrabble letters spelling out 'book club' sticking out from the pages

So you’ve started a book club (maybe even a virtual one!)—what’s next? As you think about the type of book club you want, your book selection process, and the way you’ll structure your discussions, don’t forget to consider any rules and expectations you want to set up for yourself and members. Below check out our examples of how to get started and leave any tips you have in the comments!

Guidelines

Depending on the size and format of your book club, you may find that having clear rules or guidelines can be beneficial. Laying these out early can set your club up for success. It can be helpful to post your rules online if your group has a website, social media page, or Discord. They can also be emailed to new members as they join.

 

Allow every member a chance to speak without interruptions
Respecting your fellow members is a cornerstone of a good and long-lasting book club. Everyone is sure to be excited and eager to chat when you get together, and it’s important to make sure that when the conversation does begin, everyone is given time to share without being spoken over.

Be upfront about what isn’t acceptable
It’s important that members feel comfortable being themselves and sharing their opinions in your group, and to ensure that it’s wise to have a no-tolerance policy on hate speech or discrimination of any kind from the start.

Embrace good-spirited discourse
No two readers have the same opinions, so it is inevitable that a meeting will occur where two readers find themselves having completely different thoughts about a book. In a club, these can be some of the best discussions because they encourage readers to think about their own reactions to a work and may open their mind to new ways of viewing a book. 

Make it clear from the club’s start that everyone in the group is entitled to share their opinion and that any differences in opinion should be kept polite and not made personal. 

Respect members’ limits
Books have the ability to deftly explore challenging and difficult topics, but some readers may find that it’s better for their mental health if they don’t read about certain issues. 

If your book club is made up of friends, check in with everyone privately to see if there is anything that they would prefer the group not read. A form where members can be anonymous is also a good option if you’re concerned about members not feeling comfortable being upfront.

If your club is open to the public, readers will always have the option of sitting out a book and you can help them make an informed decision by sharing a book’s content warnings early or directing readers to where they might find them (such as on an author’s website or in reviews).

The moderator has the final say
Even if your book club runs its discussions without a moderator as a guide, it’s important for each group to have a host (or two) who can keep everyone on the same page. 

Expectations

When creating a book club, it’s helpful to go over expectations for both the hosts and the members. Managing expectations early can let members know if the club is a good fit for them and make them aware of what is being asked of them as a member.

 

What does participation look like
While some members come prepared with a list of all the plot points they want to discuss, others might need some time before they feel fully comfortable sharing their opinions. Make it clear that, unlike school, participation is not graded in book club. Focus on creating a welcoming environment and the participation will follow.

Similarly, there may be members who fall behind in their reading but still want to be part of the discussion. Let them know that it’s a book club, not a finishers club, and that everyone is welcome to partake (as long as they don’t mind spoilers!).

And finally, we’ve all been that reader who finds a book they love and simply cannot stop talking about it! Embrace the passion your members have for discussing books, but make sure it’s clear that everyone deserves a chance to share.

Be conscious of meeting length
For many readers, a book club can be a fun escape from work and endless to-do lists. But it’s still wise to be respectful of everyone’s time. Setting clear parameters about when meetings or events are and how long they’ll last allows members to create room for the club in their schedule and to plan around it when needed.

Schedule check-ins
Book clubs evolve and change alongside their readers. The format of your club may shift over time, and it’s helpful for members to know that they can be open about things they’d like to see the club do differently. Setting up quarterly or annual check-ins give members a set time and place where they know they can share their thoughts and give the hosts an opportunity to reevaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

Balancing book and social conversations
While discussing books is integral to having a successful book club, it doesn’t mean that social conversations need to be against the rules. Setting up scheduled time before or after the designated discussion window offers members chances to catch up with each other without having those conversations take over the meeting. Making those boundaries clear and easy to follow can help moderators keep discussions on track and lets members know where and when to catch up with their book buddies.

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

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