Moving to Texas meant I would be leaving some pretty great groups of people behind, and along with them, the regular activities we had, like our monthly book clubs. In Indianapolis I was actually part of two book clubs for years, and most of the time was able to attend them both groups each month. It was so nice to leave the kids behind, read new books and genres, eat some yummy treats, but also to have a little girls night, staying up late into the night (and on a school night!). I loved these nights and I was determined to start a book club myself after we moved if our church congregation wasn’t already hosting one.
And guess what? They weren’t. Several people had always wanted to start one, but no one had taken that initiative, until I did it, and we’ve had our monthly book club like clockwork for the last several months since it began, and it takes very little work once it’s started to keep it going, if you set it up right. That’s why I’m sharing my tips on how to start a book club, complete with book club suggestions and recommendations, discussion questions ideas, and generally how to run a book club discussion and keep a group going.
The book clubs I have been a part of are all run the exact same way, and they all seem to work. Yes, there will be times when only one person will show up, or when attendance gets sparse, and is really only the same four people showing up month after month. But, there are tricks I’ll share to combat that too! The key is planning, excitement, and reminders.
How to Start a Book Club – Tips and Suggestions
Build the Group
The first thing you have to do when starting a book club is get a group! You can’t have a club with no members (or just one member – yourself). So, the first thing you have to do is find out who is interested in joining a book club. For some people, books are about as enticing to pick up and read as it is fun to watch paint dry: it’s just not their thing. That’s fine and totally acceptable. It’s probably best to move on, unless you know this person really just deserves a girls night once a month (and, um, who doesn’t?) and then you can just tell them they should come for the social aspect if nothing else.
I highly suggest asking women at your church if they are interested in joining a monthly book club with others from your congregation. It can be a fun social, outside of church, way to better get to know each other, and encourage each other in the good habit of reading books. If you don’t belong to a church, you can ask neighbors, coworkers, family, or even reach out to people in your community you interact with regularly. But, don’t limit the people you invite! Old, young, well-read, or novice reader, it can be great to have different perspectives and life experiences affect the discussions of your book clubs. So, ask your mom or grandma to join as well. Invite women who are single, or married but without kids. Or, don’t limit your book club just to women!
When you ask people if they are interested in a book club, get their information if they say they are interested. When I was starting my group here in Texas, I asked for people’s email addresses, if they were on Facebook, and phone numbers (and if they had texting). I have found the best way to communicate with a diverse group of people is through email however, as some people are more sporadic with Facebook usage, checking their phone, or whatever. But, in case you have a very tech-savvy group, feel free to set up communication in a different way that might work better for everyone than email.
Figure Out the Best Time
When I was collecting emails and gathering people, I actually created a little online survey for people to fill out. However, I think I should have just made an editable group Google spreadsheet instead, as some people didn’t leave their names on the survey, so I didn’t know who the answers belonged to!
But, the biggest question I wanted answered was what was the best time to meet?
Because, when you have a large group of people interested in doing something, the hardest part is making it work for everyone. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to.
In fact, the current start time of our book club is horrible for me because my husband isn’t home from classes until after it’s already started, which means I am late every single time, and when the host lives 20 minutes away, it means I’m like an hour late to the meeting.
For me, I automatically ruled out certain days of the week that I knew wouldn’t work for many of the people in my group or would interfere with family time, and ruled out weekends (weekends are busy enough for many people). So, we basically were choosing between two different nights of the week (Tuesday or Thursday night), but I didn’t know what time to start it.
Some people prefer it to be earlier, some later. I’m in the second half, as I have kids to put to bed, and a husband who’s in classes until late at night. Others though don’t have kids at home, or their husband can do bedtime duty instead, or their kids are old enough to do it themselves. So, I asked for 15 minute start time intervals that worked best for them. Based on the response, I then chose a time I felt would fit a bit in the middle ground. Currently, this means our book club is meeting at 7:45pm on a Tuesday night.
But, it isn’t just any Tuesday night of the month. To keep things streamlined, and help people better remember when book club is, book club is assigned a certain Tuesday of the month. For us it is the third Tuesday of every month.
In the book clubs I have been in, a specific end time hasn’t been set, but if a host needed one, because they have an early day the next morning, want to go to bed before too late, or there is a problem with people just lingering around longer than they are wanted, set up an official end time for the group. Some of the book club meetings I’ve been a member of have lasted until midnight, as we all just enjoyed gabbing about motherhood, movies, life, whatever! That’s some of the best reasons to have a book club! However, some nights everyone has left only an hour or two after it has started.
Reminding Members about Book Club
When you send emails out about book club, be very intentional with your subject lines! People don’t always open every email, or if they do, it can get lost, but chances are people won’t delete the book club email for awhile. This means that it will be there in their inbox for weeks. So, if the subject line of the email shares the book, the time, the date, and the location in it, it’s a built-in reminder for people in the club! (So, a subject line for a book club email might be “July Book Club at Mary’s house Tuesday July 21 at 7:45pm discussing The Help by Kathryn Stockett.”)
When book club is over for the month, it is important that you have a host already lined up for the next month, and that they pick a book very soon if they don’t already have one in mind at the meeting. You, the organizer of the book club, or the next host, can send out email notifications to the group about the book selection, to make sure those who weren’t there know, and that everyone remembers the title and author so they can pick up a copy to read. If you can, select hosts and books for the next several months at one time. It makes everything run smoother, and easier on you, the organizer.
Then, at least two days before the next book club meeting, remind people that book club is THIS Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday and starts at 6pm and will be hosted at Susan’s house, who’s address is 1234 Butler Street. It is generally nice to let the host know if you are coming or not so that can better prepare their little treat or whatever they may be providing. Or let them know if you will be late. And if there are any special directions to their house, like a gate code, be sure to include that as well in the email.
Then a reminder email (or texts/FB messages) the day of can be helpful for those who may be extra forgetful.
Hosting Book Club
As the book club organizer, your main work will be completed once you have rounded up a group of people, collected contact info, and established a start time and set day of the month. From then on out, your book club will just about run itself.
Because, in all of the book clubs I have been in, the book club host changes every month, which means the location of book club changes every time too.
While you may be able to choose a public location, like a library, community center, church, or other meeting place if you feel more comfortable doing so, there is something really fun about going into people’s home. I also feel like this is especially true when you all know each other from a public setting like church, school, or work, but don’t know each other that well outside of those situations.
But, do what feels most comfortable to the members of the group. And don’t make anyone feel like they have to host, or host in their own homes, if they are uncomfortable doing so for whatever reason. This person can still have the opportunity to host, but do so at another person’s house. They would still be in charge of selecting the book, sending reminders, and bringing the treat, but the location would be somewhere else.
Because, as the book club host, you get to pick the book for the book club, have everyone over to your house (or other location), and serve a little snack or treat or drink.
Picking the Best Book Club Books
However, the hosts who are picking the books for book club should be mindful of a few things.
- Not all books are appropriate books for every group to read.
- Not all books are great for group discussion.
- Some are too long to read in one months’ time for most people (so if they want to pick a long book, they need to give people a 2-3 month notice of this book selection).
- Not everyone has the same taste in books.
- Not everyone wants to buy books each month.
Basically, this means the host should pick great book club books: books people want to read (at least somewhat – introducing people to new genres or ideas is good if the members are willing), books that won’t offend people (aka doesn’t have excessive swear words, aren’t sexually overt, or overly gory), aren’t too long so that people will have a chance to finish them in time, and lend themselves to excellent dialogue and book club discussions!
Oh, and it’s best to pick books that are widely available, and have copies available at the local library. Not everyone wants to buy books all the time, or lend their copies out, or have to buy copies for everyone else. While you can do this, if you really love the book, it’s best to choose books available at the library, on ebook, and at the local book store.
This may take some trial and error on everyone’s part. Generally speaking, the person who is hosting has already read the book they are choosing, but that isn’t a requirement. However, they should try to start reading it early on, in case they decide the book is inappropriate or isn’t really that great of a book to discuss, and can then find a different book for everyone to read still before the next meeting.
Another thing to consider when selecting books to read is the time of year! It can be fun to read a Christmas story during the Holiday season, or a creepy horror story for Halloween, or a sappy love story for Valentine’s Day. But, this is completely optional.
If you are looking for some suggestions of great books to read, here are some great book club book recommendations:
- Top 32 Popular Fiction Books for Book Clubs
- 45 Seriously Spooky (But Not Quiet Scary) Books
- 32 of the Best Underrated Book Club Novels
- 50 Greatest Love Stories Ever Told (in a Book)
Some of my favorite book club discussions have been about the following books: The Glass Castle, Unbroken (read my review), The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, Heaven is Here, and A Wrinkle in Time (read my review).
Leading the Book Club Discussion
One of the things I know many hosts are fearful about is the pressure to lead the discussions on the book club book!
While the book clubs I have belonged to have all been pretty low-key, and are touted more for their “girls night out” properties and general socializing, I still think a great book club discussion is important to actually have if you want to start a book club that will be successful.
Thankfully we live in the day of the internet, so many book club discussion questions and guides can be found online for the book of choice. Some books even include discussion questions at the end of them. But, many books don’t. When it comes time to discuss the book, I do think it’s good to ask more than just “What did you think of it? Did you like it?” This is perhaps why it’s also important to choose books that naturally lead to discussions, strong emotions and opinions!
As you read, highlight your favorite quotes (or write them down somewhere else if you are borrowing it from the library). Write down impressions. And try to recall what you thought was going to happen (perfect for mystery novels or books with twists). But, also talk about the characters! Who did you love? Who did you hate? Who did you connect with the most? And what did you think of certain events that happened in the story?
Also talk about things you didn’t fully understand – ask how other people interpreted a passage or part of the story: you don’t have to have all the answers as the host! And ask what you think might have happened after the novel, or questions that seemed unfinished. And talk about the themes of the book, and what you learned, or why you loved it (or hated it!). Why did you pick this book?
Picking Out the Next Host
Try to line up several months of hosts at once. It allows the host more time to think about their book selection, as well as helps things run smoother. Most of the time someone will volunteer, especially after a little gentle prodding. Make sure you, as the organizer, write down who said they’d host in which month. And, if you need to, specifically ask someone to host, but respect people’s no’s.
I have loved being a member of a regular book club. It has helped me love reading books! I hope all of my tips will help you know how to start a book club successfully and keep it running so that you can get swept up in a good book regularly (in case you already weren’t like me) and also get out with people at least once a month.
What tips do you have for those who want to start a book club?