Tips for Starting Your Own Book Club

Book clubs are a fun and effective way to meet other book lovers with similar interests, so here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way from starting and running my own book club. When you’re done reading, grab a bottle of wine, call your gal pals, and rush on over to your local bookstore or library (subtle hint) and get your own book club started!

Make sure participants have shared goals in mind.
Thinking about what goals you have in mind for your book club and making sure everyone involved is aware and in agreement is crucial to making your book club a success.One to do this is to set up an interest meeting – formal or informal – to talk about how the book club will function. How often will you meet? Will there be a theme each month? Is your book club restricting what kinds of books you’ll be reading (young adult, mystery, non-fiction, literary)? What kind of atmosphere will it be?

Presenting an outline to potential participants will give them the opportunity to decide whether this book club is the right fit for them or not. If you’re looking to host a book club where the majority of time will be focused on book discussion and a participant is looking for an opportunity to socialize, they might be disappointed when fifty minutes of an hour discussion is used to talk about the book. You also don’t want participants showing up to book club thinking they are going to reading literary fiction if your focus is going to be on romance novels. They’ll be disappointed because the book club did not meet their expectations. Laying out all details will help you avoid potential conflicts and/or frustration.

NOTE: If you have no theme in mind or are not tailoring your book club to be genre-specific, it’s also a good idea to take inventory of what kind of books your members are interested in reading. This will guide you through the most difficult process of setting up a book club – picking out which books to read.

Don’t let one person make your book selections.
If I could climb to the top of a mountain with a megaphone and yell this for all to hear, I would. Repeat this refrain with me a few times. Do not let one person select the book. Do not let one person select the book. DO NOT LET ONE PERSON SELECT THE BOOK.

Picking out books to read is a tricky job in the first place and it’s even trickier when you are trying to please a variety of tastes. No one likes to hear that everyone hated the book that was selected that month, especially if you decided to pick out a book you absolutely adore. To avoid hurt feelings or starting a trend where the majority of your participants dislike what you read, make it everyone’s decision.

While having a group decision sounds difficult, I’ve found this method to be surprisingly easy. Between our book club meetings, I ask participants to send me recommendations of books they think would make great discussion. Each month, I select three to four titles for our book club selection (for two months in advance) and print up sheets that have synopses of all the titles. The first five minutes of our meeting each month are spent reading over the synopses and taking a group vote.

Making book selection a group decision takes the pressure off of one person so no feelings are hurt if the book isn’t a smash hit with the group. Additionally, it’s rare that the book choices are consistently disliked by participants since they had some say in the process. This minimizes the feeling of being obligated to read material they don’t like and keeps everyone happy.

Don’t let your group get too big.
If you want your group to be focused on having a thoughtful discussion, make sure you keep your group size to a manageable number. The ideal number for a good discussion is around 8 – 10 people. This allows everyone the opportunity to talk (if they choose) and gives you enough people to keep the conversation going.My book club is more casual in that we encourage people to read and come if they can and if they can’t, that’s okay. This means that I have approximately 15 people on my mailing list, and I consistently get anywhere between 6 – 10 people for every book discussion.

Of course, this is just a suggestion. If you are looking to have more of a social event, you might want more people at your book club, and that’s great! You’ll just want to figure that out beforehand so you can prep your book clubs accordingly.

Mix it up.
Unless you have a group that’s narrowly sticking to a theme or genre, make sure to keep your book club selections exciting by mixing it up. For instance, my book club leans towards reading more literary fiction, but we’ve also read some wonderful light-hearted, entertaining reads and make an effort to add in non-fiction every few months.

Other ideas to consider for your book club is to switch up the format. Perhaps your typical meeting consists of selecting books, socializing for a little bit, and then discussing the book for the rest of the time. For your next meeting, you might want to host a book club where you read a title that was recently made into a film and host a movie night instead (beware of copyright law if it is a public event) or maybe even read a book where a local author will be coming to town and go as a group. Changing up your format can help keep things exciting and is a great way for your group to bond with each other.

Borrow books instead of purchasing them.
While buying books is an easy way to read whatever title the group is interested in, consistently purchasing books can be expensive and exclusionary for some people. Plus, why buy something when you can borrow it for free? Many libraries are a part of a library system and are able to request titles through their Interlibrary Loan service, making getting eight copies of Tell the Wolves I’m Home a breeze.Of course, that means you will have to check with your library system to make sure there are enough copies available, but wonderful book fairies who are also sometimes referred to as a librarian LOVE to help you find great book club titles to read. Also, some library systems have book club in a bag kits available for checkout (ours does). A typical bag will come with about a dozen copies of a title and a set of book club questions.

Bring snacks.
And make sure they’re delicious. Need I say more?

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