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How to Organize a Successful Book Club

January 10th, 2010

book-club.jpgBook clubs present a wonderful opportunity for voracious readers to share their passion for reading with like-minded people. While the joy of reading is most often regarded as a solitary pursuit, there is much to be gained in elevating this cerebral pleasure to the level of shared experience. Think about joining a book club in an online community, through your local library and bookstore, or better yet, start your own!

Book clubs seem to be growing in popularity at the same time that reading, in general, appears to be on the decline. This paradox may be explained by the possibility that while fewer people are reading, those who are reading books are more passionate than ever before. Perhaps it is simply the well-documented “Oprah Effect”. Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, since its inception in 1996, has become a national phenomenon capable of catapulting book sales into the millions for previously unknown authors. Inclusion in the Oprah Club has become the Holy Grail for contemporary authors in search of commercial success.

In organizing a book club, there is much to be learned from Ms. Winfrey. Here are a number of considerations and suggestions for use in putting together your group.

Recruitment and Membership: Decide if members will be recruited from your circle of friends, neighbors, family, co-workers, or a combination thereof. Will it be an all girl club, couples, or open to all? Remember that the club presents a wonderful opportunity for making new friends and listening to different points of view. Invite neighbors and use the meetings as a chance to get to know one another better. Ask friends to bring a friend and you should have no problem putting together a manageable group. Six to twelve members is an ideal number. Anything larger becomes somewhat difficult to moderate. If you do end up with a larger group and good attendance, consider breaking into smaller groups for discussion and reconvening for food, drink, and a little gossip.

Location of Meetings: Where will the meetings take place? As organizer, you may wish to offer up your home or arrange for a rotation of “hosting” duties among the members. If this is not practical, consider church or library meeting rooms. Restaurant locales may present audio problems, particularly for larger groups. Work-based groups often meet at the office for lunch.

Frequency and Dates of Meetings: Most groups meet once every four to six weeks. Poll your members to decide what works best for the group. Pick a date and time and then stick with it! Accept the fact that not everyone will be able to make all meetings. Otherwise, you will spend an inordinate amount of time scheduling and rescheduling in a vain effort to accommodate everyone.

Leader/Moderator: A discussion group of any size needs a moderator to initiate the topic, get the discussion flowing, refocus the discussion when necessary, and referee the occasional outburst. Remember that you want people to disagree, as long as their position is put forth in a respectful manner. Controversial and even unpopular books often make for the liveliest meetings. If everyone agrees that a classic such as Jane Eyre is a great book, there’s really not that much else to be said. The moderator should solicit input from all members and facilitate the flow.

The moderator is not a teacher and need not play the role of school master. There’s nothing wrong with a little gossip and unrelated conversation as long as the discussion doesn’t stray entirely off point.

Book Selection: Taking turns seems to work best in choosing books. Decide in the beginning if your club will be fiction only, fiction and non-fiction, or a mix of classics and today’s best sellers. You may wish to exclude certain genres (i.e., serial romance novels or self-help books, by way of example only) or an adventurous group may decide to impose no limits at all. This should be a collective decision, made while bearing in mind that one key purpose of the club is to broaden the perspective of all members.

Selections may be made one meeting in advance or you may wish to present a schedule for months in advance. This method allows fast readers to jump ahead and also permits slower readers or people with overly busy schedules to skip a month, if necessary, in order to catch up. Anyone having trouble with selections should feel free to consult the myriad of suggested reading lists available at the library and on the Internet.

Reading Guides: Free reading guides are available online to facilitate discussion. These guides pose a number of thought-provoking questions and come in quite handy if the conversation dwindles.

Authors as Guests: Consider inviting the author to participate in your meeting via speaker phone, chat room, Twitter, or even in person, if he or she is local to your meeting place. A number of successful and soon-to-be successful authors are now networking with book clubs as a key component of the marketing effort to promote their book. They are quite happy to answer questions and provide insight into the creative process. Obviously, this may not work with the most famous of authors, but you will be quite surprised at how many will be more than eager to join your group. You will then be able to brag that “you knew them before they were famous”.

Food, Drink, and Fun: Finally, do not forget that meetings are a social occasion and a fine excuse to relax and have FUN! Food and drink will go a long way toward creating an atmosphere conducive to honest discussion. The spread can be as simple or elaborate as you wish. Solicit input from members early on and then set guidelines so all members know what they are expected to contribute, if anything.

Once your new club is up and running, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a good read. Take notes or mark passages for the group discussion.

Remember that by venturing into new genres and previously uncharted territory on your reading list, you will view the world it all its complexity through the eyes of the author and your fellow literature lovers and possibly learn to appreciate their unique points of view.

Reading is a key to understanding and books are gifts to be shared. Share and share well!

This article on organizing a successful book club was supplied to us by Mary Asbury from Constant Content.

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