What Makes a Book Club Great – the People, the Books, or the Wine?

So you want to start a book club. Book clubs have been around a long time – long before the Internet and Oprah Winfrey. But, both the Internet and Oprah’s high profile book club seems to have breathed new life into the idea in recent years. I’ve never hosted a book club, but from what I hear, it’s difficult to start one that’s successful and lasting – even for avid readers.

You can start a traditional face-to-face club or take advantage of the Internet and host a virtual readers’ group. I’ve even heard of successful hybrid groups where some members meet in a physical location and others attend virtually.

What Makes a Book Club Great…and Successful?

So what makes a successful book club that retains members and attracts new readers? Is it the people, the books, or the wine?

Here’s what I think might make for a great one (at least from my perspective):

Make it social and fun. Create an atmosphere for your book club that feels more like a social gathering than a school session. People need a break from the stresses of their everyday. Interacting and discussing a common interest with others can act as a great stress reliever and interject fun into the routine of life. People clamber to get involved in this type of activity.

Choose a genre. If you’re going to read women’s fiction, don’t invite couples to join. If you want to make your club co-ed, choose a genre that’s appealing to both genders – like crime thrillers, for instance. Of course, you still choose to make your club women- or men-only, but if you want couples to join, don’t choose chick lit books.

Pick shorter books. Choose books that have somewhere around 300 pages or a little more. Books over 400 pages may take too long to get through as a group, tend to be more literary and don’t lend themselves well to the requisite fun, social atmosphere. Books with fast moving plots work will probably work best, so do the highbrow reading on your own time.

Assign distinct selections for reading. At each meeting, assign certain chapters for members to read to prepare for the next time you get together. For example, you might ask readers to read chapters one through five, then after you meet and discuss those, ask them to read six through ten, etc. They can read ahead, but it’s important that they retain a fresh recollection about what happened in the assigned chapters so everyone can have a satisfying discussion about the reading.

Choose a meeting schedule. How often will you meet and when? Will you meet physically, or get together online via a platform like Google Hangout? I’m thinking once a month and on a weekday might work best for most people. Members may have family or other personal obligations on the weekends and more than once per month might be pushing the boundaries of free time for many. For in-person meetings, decide if you’ll meet at someone’s home or a local coffee shop, library, or other public place.

Name your book club. Come up with a name for your organization. I’ve seen a wide variety of names including: Hot Lit Mommas, Reading with Wine, Men Read Too, Token Man Book Club, Happy Bookers, Booktini Beasts, and many others.

Communicate. Send out regular email communications with meeting reminders, upcoming book selections, local events like book signings, and other relevant information. Some clubs set up Facebook or Google Plus pages where members can communicate between meetings.

Give back. Once you get started, you can collect modest dues and put them toward a literacy award at a nearby public school or use the money to buy books for donating to the local library. Community involvement builds strong bonds between members and can help encourage others to experience the joy of reading.

And now for one of the most important elements of a great book club…

Serve food and drinks. Feed them and they will come. Each meeting, a different member (or two) can supply the food and beverages. This way, members won’t have to worry about grabbing a bite before heading to the meeting. And don’t forget the wine (or martinis). Who would want to miss out on that? Of course, have some of the more boring choices on hand (i.e. sodas, tea, coffee) in case some members don’t drink adult beverages. If you’re hosting a virtual book club on a Google Hangout, you can each hold your beverage of choice for a digital toast. Check out these book club menus and recipes from the LitLovers site.

For further reading, you might want to check out Book Riot’s 10 Ways to Kill Your Book Club.

As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t ever hosted a book club, nor have I been a member of one, but it’s certainly an interesting idea. I have spoken to many book clubs over the years and encourage people to read books by local authors and invite them to their book clubs – it’s a lot of fun for both the readers and the authors. If anyone ever choose one of my books – like Stone Cold or Chasing the Dead – for their book club, I might consider popping in on the club’s Google Plus or Facebook page to answer a question or two, maybe lend some insight. Who knows?

Do you host or attend a great book club? What makes it special and what keeps members coming back? I’d like to hear more about your experiences with reading groups.


Photo credit: shereads [dot] com

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