Building Better Book Clubs: How to Start a Book Club

August 29, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

is a series of posts focused on all things book club related: discussions, listicles, how to’s and more!


 

Have you ever finished reading a book and immediately thought to yourself, “Oh MAN! I wish I had someone to talk to about ______! But there is no one around/ready to chat/available/etc. Worst.”? Have you already tried to seek out book clubs and found them wanting or completely non-existent? If either of these concepts resonates with you, you might want to consider starting a book club!

But where do you start? Below you will find a list of questions you’ll want to ask yourself before starting your book group. It’s important to self-identify what it is you want from this group before embarking on this journey. Future posts in this series will give you tips on book club logistics, how to grow your book club, and what meetings should look like. But, let’s not put the cart before the horse! Take some time to reflect:

 

What do you hope to get out of this book club? This is important. The cornerstone of your book club and the direction you take things from here on out rests on the answer to this question. This could be just for fun and relaxation, or it could be to challenge your mind to think more critically. It could be to meet new people or to solidify existing friendships. It could be about re-reading old favorites or finding gems you’d never think to read. Consider your goals. Write them all down. Yes. Every. Single. One.

What kind of book club do you want this to be? This is reflecting back on my post Types of Book Clubs to Join. A lot of this depends on the answers to your questions below. But, this could be a book club which meets at a local library or online and anyone could join; a public book club. Or, it could be private; just you and your friends. Heck, you could sit around in silence and just spend the time reading. Madness, I know. But there are options!

What kind of books do you want to read? Ahh, the fun question. Books books books! A lot of groups focus on genres, themes or reading levels. You could also be a branch of a celebrity-driven book club and read those selections. Or a group of people all reading books from certain book subscription service or award list. There are many options to choose from!

 

 

How often do you want to meet to discuss? There are a ton of options here. You could read a few chapters a week and meet weekly. Perhaps monthly or quarterly is more your style. This should not only be reflective of the length and complexity of the books you want to read, but also the availability of your members. Or, considering the next question, perhaps you think setting a meeting time isn’t even necessary!

Do you want to meet in person or online? You might have already reflected on this after reading my In-Person or Online? post. If you aren’t certain which direction you’re leaning already, check out that post for some considerations which will help you decide!

Where and how do you want to meet? Whether you are meeting in person or online, there are plenty of options. For me, this is one of the best parts. Popular in-person options include someone’s home, the library, a coffee shop, a park, or a library. Depending on where you meet will determine some other restrictions, such as whether food or drink is available.If you are meeting online, consider what platform you want to host your book club. There are tons available! Perhaps you’re more low-tech and you want to focus on Facebook or Google options. But there are tons of potential platforms: Litsy, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and more await your online bookish discussions! Heck, you can even use Oprah.com for your own book club hosting: You get a book club, and you get a book club, and you get a book club!!!

 

What does the size and membership of your perfect book club look like? The number of people around the table matter. Too many people and conversation can last too long, or not everyone gets their say. Too few and the conversation is stilted. Consider what would be perfect for you. It will certainly be different for everyone! Also, consider the demographics of your community. Often, our friends are very like-minded to us. Perhaps it would benefit the book club to seek out more diversity of thought and background. But, if you aren’t having tough conversations, that might not matter as much. It’s up to you!

How book-focused are the members of your perfect book club? I see you laughing. But honestly, how many times have a collection of friends gotten together and only discussed the book for 15 minutes out of 60? Do you want to find people focused on books and nothing else? Or is this more a social club based on books? Both are just fine! Just consider how important the percent of the time you spend ACTUALLY talking about books really is to you.

Do you want to run this alone, or find help? Think long and hard about this. If you are someone who initiates the book club, people will instinctively look to you for leadership. This could be great! On the other hand, if you aren’t one for project management or you’re really busy, it might be nice to enlist help. Based on your answer, I’m sure you could identify people you either want to invite or avoid based on your decision. Nothing worse than wanting to lead something and have someone take your mantle of leadership away or getting stuck leading something you don’t want to. Book club should never be a chore! 

How will you communicate with members? This is the most important thing I think people often overlook. Communication is key to long-term success! If these are your close friends, word of mouth or texting might be just fine. But if they aren’t? You’ll want to consider how technology can help you. Google and Facebook both provide strong options for coordination. E-mail might also be just fine.

 

It’s important to establish your vision before you begin your book club quest. People will look to you for leadership, even if you don’t want to lead the book club long term. You’ll need to be prepared to answer all the questions they will inevitably ask! Once you’ve answered the questions above, you can begin to consider the technical logistics. But until then, take some time to reflect. Be honest with yourself! There’s nothing worse than starting a book club only to realize it just wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.


What do you think?

  • Are you interested in starting a book group?
  • Have you ever started a book club?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the idea of developing a vision first? Why or why not?
  • What would you like to add or remove from this list of considerations pre-book club?

43 Comments

  • Jane @ Greenish Bookshelf August 29, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Love this post! I am all about book clubs…mostly for the fun of getting together with friends and eating good food 🙂 But seriously, you bring up a lot of good questions. I have been in book groups in my neighborhood, church, and with friends from my master’s program and they are all a bit different.

    Currently, I’m in a book group where we rotate who picks the book and who hosts. So we have read a lot of different genres–children’s, WWII, biography, bestsellers, etc. I like it because there’s no pressure to read the book if you don’t have time or interest. We spend some time talking books and some time just talking about life 🙂

    I guess you could call our #AnneReadAlong2017 an online book club, right? I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I like it 🙂

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 10:28 pm

      Thank you, Jane! That means a lot to me. I think these questions are important to find a good fit for your reading needs. It makes me so sad when someone doesn’t connect well with their book club– and I think a lack of these sort of introspection is often why.

      That’s really fun! Some of my book clubs have rules– such as, “You don’t have to finish the book, but if you show up, expect spoilers.” I love the low pressure commitment you identify for your book group. Does the host pick the book?

      Yes! I would *definitely* classify our #AnneReadAlong2017 as an online book club (I actually have a draft post about the kinds of book clubs I’m involved in to give some examples of how book clubs can be different and how people can modify to fit their needs; this is certainly mentioned)! Somewhere on my To Do list is to put together discussion questions for all these books. I’m so behind. But, aren’t we all? 😉

      • Jane @ Greenish Bookshelf August 31, 2017 at 5:23 pm

        I like the “expect spoilers” rule. That seems fair. We have a similar unspoken rule. We have done it both ways–sometimes the host picks and sometimes ladies want to host but don’t want to pick a book or visa versa. It’s been working well.

        I was in a group with friends from my masters program before we moved to Texas and that was a totally different group. We read a lot of classics and even wrote little responses to the books sometimes. It was neat since we all at the literature analysis background.

        I hope you post your “types of book clubs you’re involved in” post soon. I’d love to see what you’re doing. Perhaps we can do a final discussion post that asks some book club discussion questions. Kind of a look back on the entire series discussion. If we are not behind 😉

        • Jackie B September 1, 2017 at 1:10 pm

          Your masters book club sounds like it would have been really interesting! Do you have a masters in literature?! Oh wow. That intimidates me a bit. What did you focus on in school?

          Ooooh– I love that idea for a type of wrap-up post. I’ll email you in a bit about what I’m thinking. 😀

          • Jane @ Greenish Bookshelf September 2, 2017 at 6:07 pm

            Haha yes I do! British Literature. My thesis is on William Wordsworth and his Victorian legacy. I’m partial to the British Romantic Poets 🙂

            Will look for your email! 🙂

            • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 4:28 pm

              OH MY GOSH. PLEASE WRITE A POST ABOUT THE BRITISH ROMANTIC POETS. Perhaps one of the TTTs which is a freebe you could repurpose to something about which poets we should read, or which poems are your favorite! I reallllly want to appreciate poetry more than I do. I think part of my struggle is that I don’t know how to find *good* poetry. Halp!

  • Krysta August 29, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    I kind of do want to start a book club, but I don’t know who would join it! 😀

    • Jackie B August 29, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      That can be such a challenge! I find that making bookish connections is key. When you’re talking with people who you think would be great book club candidates, just bring up books when you’re around and talking with them. Bookish people are hiding everywhere! Those people will latch on to your book comments or bring their own recommendations. That’s a great sign.

      Or, if you want to involve complete strangers, I’d work with my local library. See if they would be willing to host and put up posters, etc. You’d be surprised how many people would just show up to a book club. Or, you could start a group online! I find that Litsy and Goodreads have a plethora of people waiting to chat books. 😀

      • Krysta August 30, 2017 at 7:55 pm

        I don’t know. It seems like whenever I meet someone who tells me they like to read, they mean like one or two books a year. Which is fine except it’s not typically easy to convince someone that we should then read more books. Together. :/

        My library actually holds book discussions every now and then but I can never go. Maybe if I could host that would be better because it would have to be on my schedule! 😀

        • Jackie B August 31, 2017 at 4:23 pm

          Preach. “I love to read!” they say– and then you ask what they are reading: “Oh, I’m not reading anything right now. But the last book I read was Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it was great!” — which is all fine and good, but now you know they are really just someone who reads the popular books, and probably not as often as you. The number of times people have just STARED at me when I said, “Oh, I’m reading 3 books simultaneously right now…” or when they ask how many books I think I read a year and I respond, “Definitely over 100. I think I hit 150 last year?” — right. Well, to each their own! They might be more of a quarterly book club goer. 😉

          That’s one of the best parts! Setting the schedule for meeting means that you can ALWAYS be there. I love it. Nothing makes me more sad than having to miss book club.

          • Krysta September 1, 2017 at 5:10 pm

            Reading several books at once is the way to go! Then you have options when you’re not in the mood for one!

            Yeah, sometimes I forget some people don’t read at least 50 books a year. That’s what happens when you blog, I guess!

            • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 2:23 pm

              Exactly! I love reading one physical book, one e-book, and one audiobook at the same time. For some reason trying more than one e-book is a real challenge for me, strangely. I don’t know why… How do you break up your multi-book reading?

              • Krysta September 4, 2017 at 9:57 am

                I don’t have any set system. I might be reading a classic, a fantasy, and a nonfiction. Or maybe three fantasies. It just depends on what I feel like picking up!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 29, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Wow Jackie! If I were shopping book clubs I would have hit gold reading this post… really a great look at all the aspects you’ve got to consider!

    My book club has a leader and she does dictate a lot even though we vote and decide as a group. We actually host a part in December and do a book trade where we choose the books for the year. During summer months we don’t meet so we meet 8 months of the year… depending on how many women we get to come it’s hard to choose between the different books. It can be a little bit of a popularity contest at times but I like that everyone brings a book they are excited about to share.

    Many of our members attend just to socialize and haven’t had time or inclination to read the book. I thought this aspect was spot on in your post. Is is certainly a major thing to consider. Depending who comes we can have a rollicking great time debating or it’s just an agreement fest. ♥️

    • Jackie B August 30, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Thank you! That means a lot to me.

      It sounds like you’ve had quite a few experiences with book clubs. I’m glad that you get exposure to many new books during the selection even if you don’t read them all. Have you ever taken someone’s book club suggestion and read it, even if the book club wasn’t going to read it?

      I can get frustrated if everyone has the same opinions on the book, sadly. I need a lot of thought diversity in my conversations! That said, I don’t mind spending only part of the time chatting about the book. For me, a lot of this is a social event. 😀

      Thank you for sharing your experiences!~

      • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 30, 2017 at 1:08 pm

        I agree that talking about more than the book is good, it helps people come even if the book didn’t interest them and they may change their mind!

        I have read some of the other books. Not this year though… I’m so swamped and I have book I’ve been wanting to read for a while! ♥️

        • Jackie B August 30, 2017 at 3:22 pm

          Preach at me. I feel like the books I *need* to read are drowning out the books I *want* to read. O_o

  • Diana August 30, 2017 at 1:35 am

    Interesting post. I am in a bookclub so I can relate to most of these tips and see why they are important. That one on discussions made me smile. In my bookclub, we have members who are all book-talk. I am about 80% book-social talk but there are others who only say one word about the book and then embark on other stories. E.g That book was interesting but it reminded me of my cousin, you know that cousin of mine who got married…blah blah lol. It can be annoying if you don’t have similar goals so yeah, its important to find out what kind of book club that you want to belong to.

    • Jackie B August 30, 2017 at 3:15 pm

      I think that’s one of the most important things to consider, honestly. I am with you, about 80% book-20% social talk. But when things start to get dominated by social talk I get restless and bored. Oops!

  • hannahpotamus August 30, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    This was a really fascinating post!

    It actually made me want to join a book club, except I am SWAMPED with stressful work *deep sigh* buuuut it would be so fun to participate in one when I have more leisure time!! starting a book club sounds challenging; I have so much respect for people that lead them because I know it can take a lot of time and effort to communicate/coordinate reads with everyone. I love discussing books with people, and it’s always fun seeing other friends’ perspectives on the same story!

    • Jackie B August 31, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks, Hannah!

      I totally understand being swamped and how starting a book club might be exhausting. I have a draft post somewhere about how to locate and join a book club (if this is too much for you). It’s definitely quite a bit of time, but I love doing it. If I could be a professional book-discussion leader, well, I would totally do that. Someone must pay people to do that somehere, right? And must pay them REALLY well. 😉

      • hannahpotamus September 1, 2017 at 6:06 pm

        Professional book-discussion leader sounds like an AWESOME job. 😀 Also I feel like it’s so much harder than it sounds??

        • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 3:11 pm

          I mean. It might be much harder than it sounds. But we won’t know until we try, right? Right. Let’s make that a billion-dollar career as part of our global takeover. MWAHAHAHAHA!

  • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy August 31, 2017 at 2:42 am

    All really good points to consider – I like what you said about knowing whether you want the club to be book-focused, and that it’s also okay if it’s a social club based on books. In the book club I used to be in I liked that it was also just a chance to socialise and catch up with friends, and even though we did spend a lot of time discussing the book we’d just read, we spent time discussing other things too (especially if the book we’d just read didn’t lead to much in the way of discussion!). I think we all enjoyed that so that was okay. But I can imagine there would have been tension if some people had wanted to focus more on the book, or less.

    • Jackie B August 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Thank you— Yes! I have definitely been to book clubs where some people want to socialize and never come having read the book– but they don’t want spoilers. Obviously, that leads to a lot of tension. Setting expectations for what you want out of the group is key to long-term sustainability and your overall happiness.

      Are you in any book clubs currently?

      • Nicola @ Thoughts on Fantasy August 31, 2017 at 1:19 pm

        Ah yes that would be annoying – fortunately at our club there was an understanding that if you came without having read it, you would be getting spoilers, tough luck! No one minded that so that was good.

        I used to be in a book club in Australia, but ever since I moved to Germany I haven’t 🙁 I thought about trying to find some to join here but tbh I don’t know if I’d find the right one in my city and I don’t have the energy to set one up… so now I kind of have a Skype book-club-of-two with a good friend instead and that works 🙂

        • Jackie B September 1, 2017 at 12:35 pm

          Oooh, Skype book club! That’s super fun. I love that technology allows us to communicate with friends over long distances like that. I have a friend I chat books with once a month, too. As long as it meets your book-discussion-needs, you’re just fine sticking with this! 😀

  • Laila@BigReadingLife August 31, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Great post! Having been in the same book group for almost 10 years now – wait, I think it’s actually been ten years – it’s been interesting to see how we’ve evolved. Members have joined and left because of moves and babies, and most recently, just not having enough time to be involved. But we’ve gotten 4 new members in the last year, work colleagues of members, mostly – and it’s been a really positive change! We are actually the book group I’ve always wanted now, where we talk a LOT about the book and a little about other stuff. We actually have members who READ THE BOOK every time. Before that was in issue, to the point where I was getting annoyed. So I guess we’ve accidentally stumbled upon a great chemistry, and I’m very grateful!! Group dynamics can be so tricky.

    • Jackie B September 1, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Yay! I’m so glad you stumbled across the right book group for you! Group dynamics are SUPER tricky. And it can be really challenging to bring in new members as well. You never know how that new voice will influence the group. I think it’s better that you moved from a group which didn’t really meet your needs to finally one which DOES. I’ve definitely left groups after newer members started to change the culture I loved. Oops.

      It makes me so happy when people actually read the book! There’s nothing worse than going to a book group all ready to share your thoughts only to find that no one else finished it. Ugh.

  • KrystiYAandWine August 31, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Wonderful post, Jackie! You’re so right about needing to really figure out what you want out of book club before you get started. We’ve talked about this before, but I had a few unsuccessful book clubs before my YA and Wine book club, and if I would have done this first, it would have made such a big difference! I’m looking forward to seeing more book club posts from you! 🙂

    • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Thank you! Yes– we have both have some less than desirable book club experiences. But I’m glad that I can help people consider what they want most in a book club to prevent that.

      I have so many ideas for future posts! I wish I could just take a week off of work and write them all down. But, this is the folly of us book bloggers, I guess, yes?

      • KrystiYAandWine September 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm

        Yes, that’s definitely true. We always want to post and do more with our blogs, but time is short when you need to read books too. 🙂

        Can’t wait to see more of these posts! <3

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom September 2, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Great post Jackie! I love this series of yours. I totally agree that if you are looking to start a book club, you need to sit down and work out the logistics first. I’ve never successfully started a book club, but I have attempted and failed… twice actually. These attempts were many years ago AND I didn’t do any prep work. Basically I tried to force my friends into doing a book club, but none of them are readers, so it isn’t a big surprise that it didn’t pan out 🙂 I have belonged to my first book club for almost a year now and I love it. I never really considered the size & membership of a book club, but it really does make sense that there is a line between too many and too few. We generally have about 7-10ish people at every meeting and it seems to be a good number. Some months it was more, and looking back it was a little harder to give everyone a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions. I also never really thought about the diversity (or lack there of) in the members… We only have one male member, which is a shame, but I do always like hearing a male perspective on some of the topics we discuss.

    Lots of great points here Jackie. Cannot wait until the next installment 🙂

    • Jackie B September 3, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      Thanks, Amanda! This series is so near and dear to my heart. I’m glad others enjoy it.

      I’m sorry you had some repeated failures when starting a book club on your own. What sort of things got in your way other than potential members (or the lack there of)? It can be challenging to start a book club when you don’t have reader friends. I’ve found that taking a risk with people you don’t know as well, but are self-identified readers if often a great way to start. Scary, but more successful in the long run!

      Size is a big deal! One of the local library-hosted book clubs I used to attend ran into that problem for me. We had over 25 people start to show up regularly. It got to the point where you had to go around the room in a circle (more or less) to even get a chance to speak. And the moderators were calling on people. It… it didn’t work well for me. I want to discuss, not wait my turn!

      It can be hard to get some diversity of thought and opinion in a book club since most personal book groups are friend-focused. I have an idea for a future post to talk about how to widen thought diversity in a more like-minded group. Hopefully that can help some groups!

  • theorangutanlibrarian September 8, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Yes- I have definitely finished a book and desperately wanted to talk to someone about it. I love the way you went into so much detail here! And I really like the way you said to consider having some diversity of thought and backgrounds. And I definitely get why it’s a good idea to develop the vision of what you want to achieve first and agree about communication 😀

    • Jackie B September 10, 2017 at 8:17 am

      Thank you so much! There’s nothing worse than not having anyone to talk to about a book– expect for maybe people who say they want to talk about a book and aren’t interested in at all. O_o

      Do you currently participate in a book club?

      • theorangutanlibrarian September 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm

        You’re welcome!! Yes for sure!!! I definitely agree! I often just find myself talking *at* my poor family as I try to figure out my thoughts on a book 😉

        No I don’t, I really should, I just never seem to have time 😉

        • Jackie B September 10, 2017 at 4:54 pm

          Ugh. Don’t we always lack the time? I just wish I could stop working and spend all my time reading/blogging. Don’t you? 😉

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