“Rules are important, but no matter what the rules say (or what you read on other blogs) book clubs are about reading and having fun.“
You want to start a book club?! Amazing!
I’ve been in quite a few book clubs in my day and am currently organising two different groups (one with my close friends, and one with a group of co-workers) and have learned a few things about how to start up a book club and how to make sure your reading group is successful early on (as well as what NOT to do when starting a book club).
What to expect?
In this article we’ll talk about how to start a book club that people will actually enjoy, including the things you need to keep in mind when starting any kind of reading group or book club, as well as some of the common pitfalls to avoid when organising.
How do you start a book club and how do you make sure your book club is successful?
First things first, while the rules and ideas below will give your book club a good chance at succeeding, no matter what the rules say (or what you read on other blogs) book clubs are foremost about reading and having fun. It’s about what the members want to do and what they enjoy. Don’t take it too seriously.
Now, that being said, on to the tips!
Pick the friends
This is everything. You can’t have a book club by yourself. Well…you can, but people look at you funny when you get in arguments with yourself at the local library.
The key here is to start with a core of people that are as reliable as possible. For the first couple of months it’s all about getting into a rhythm. People are busy, life gets in the way and everyone loves leaving things (like reading your book) to the last minute. You need at least one person who is going to read the book and show up to the meeting with you. Try to keep the group smallish at first (think 5-6 people MAX) and make sure there are a couple of people in there who you can trust to show up on book club day!
Pick the books
Now you’ve got your crew, you need something to read. For the first month, I suggest picking a book for the group yourself and just telling people that, that’s what you’ll be reading. If you can get everyone together to pick a book together, fine (or you can handle it through an email thread), but that often leads to delaying the first meeting. Pick your own book to start. People will follow.
In subsequent meetings, I like to ask people to bring one book recommendation each and then we discuss each book at the end of the meeting and vote (if you do this, remember to leave time for it!). As the organiser, make sure you bring a couple of options yourself just in case some of the other members forget. Like I said, getting your book club going is all about rhythm. You don’t want to have to miss a week while people discuss what book they want.
Pick the location
Where’s the best place to host a book club? There are a lot of potential answers: cafes, libraries, your house, but we all know the real answer. The bar. Ideally a place where you can spend some time, is quiet enough that you can hear each other, but also noisy enough to drown out and arguments you might be having about the meaning of the Scrabble game in the Handmaid’s Tale. Bonus points for having your event on an off-night when the drinks are cheaper!
Pick the time
Book ahead. Some people will always bail at the last minute, but you want to give them enough notice so that they don’t have a good excuse.
If some people can’t make it, it’s up to you if you want to reschedule or not, but be aware, if you reschedule every time one person can’t make it, you’ll never have your book club. Set the date far enough in the future that people don’t have an excuse, then have your event, rain or shine.
Pick the next book
As mentioned before. I’m a big fan of democracy (when it comes to picking new books for my book club). This means fewer complaints (usually) and lets people get a bit more engaged with the new book and maybe get a bit of background before they start reading it.
So set the rules for how the next book will be picked ahead of the meeting and make sure everyone knows what the rules are. I like to “force” people to bring at least one book recommendation and then vote, but I always have a couple of extra book ideas in my back pocket in case people don’t bring anything.
Note: I recommend leaning towards shorter books at first. For the same reasons I keep mentioning, you want to give you book club every chance at success. Shorter books let people make sure they have time to read it and let you get off on the right foot. Build on the momentum of two or three successful meetings and work up to longer books.
There! Now you know how to organize and host a book club! Next in the series, I’ll give you some tips on how to guide conversation during the actual meeting, in case it stalls out (hint: it will).
Remember, at the end of the day, book clubs are pretty low risk. Worst case scenario you read a book. That’s what we call a win-win.
Until next time!
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