Sunday, December 10, 2023
HomeFantasy BookHow To Start A Book Club: A Book Club Pro's Ultimate Guide

How To Start A Book Club: A Book Club Pro’s Ultimate Guide

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a long time now, you know I am a book club enthusiast. Maybe a book club addict? Whatever you call it I love being part of a book club.

I’ve been part of MANY book clubs over the years (at one time I was juggling 3 at the same time!) that have last for YEARS or are still happening.

Book clubs have been such a huge part of my life at very crucial moments — when I had friendship breakups and needed new social circles or when I was a new mom and just moved to a new town.

a book club holiday party

They have been a huge part of my story and such an enriching part of my reading life. And every book club I’ve been in — except one — I’ve started myself and I am ALWAYS asked on tips for how to start a book club (that lasts).

If you’ve been trying to find a book club to join to no avail or are a go-getter who loves organizing and planning things, I want to give you all my tips and tricks on how to start a book club.

For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about an in-person book club but many of these tips could help you get started for an online book club as well.

And if you are on the fence about starting a book club, I think this post also helps lay out whether it’s a good idea to start your own book club or not.

Because, as much as I’m an advocate for being part of a book club, I will say that organizing and running one yourself is not always for everyone and sometimes is not for the faint of heart. It’s always good to know what you might be getting yourself into.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you click on a link and purchase something I’ve talked about or recommended, I’ll receive a very small percentage of the sale. Please see my disclosure policy for more info

Don’t miss my new book club organization secret weapon as you set up your club!

BookClubs is a (FREE!) game-changer when it comes to managing and organizing your book club all in one place so you can focus on the books and the conversation without endless text threads, Facebook groups, etc! You can start or organize a club, get great book club suggestions, managing what your club is going to read or even find a book club to join. Check it out here.

How To Start A Book Club: A Step By Step Guide

How To Start A Book Club: At A Glance

Obviously there is no right or wrong way on how to start a book club but, having done it quite a few times, I think I’ve gotten a grasp on the things that make starting a book club easier and to create longevity from the get-go.

Use this guide to help you along the way but, remember, it’s just a loose guide to help you get started. There may be circumstances or preferences that I haven’t run into yet.

1. Figure out why you want to start a book club & what type of book club do you want it to be

The first step, in my mind, is really fleshing out WHY you want to start a book club because everything you do after flows from what your hopes and vision is for your book club and how you will construct it.

There are so many valid reasons to want to start a book club and I think just knowing what type of book club you envision really can help you plan one with purpose.

Surely it can morph into something else naturally but I truly think you’ll see actually giving this some thought will help with you most other steps along the way.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Why do you want to start a book club?

  • are you new to an area and want to meet people?
  • are you wanting to meet other readers and talk about books because you just really love books?
  • are you craving riveting and in-depth conversations about books? To learn something?
  • looking for new social opportunities/looking for new friends with a shared interest?
  • do you want to get back into reading or give you accountability to read more?
  • do you want a fun activity to bring together your friends or family? Want to bring together your co-workers?

For me, most every reason I’ve started a book club was to make new friends (at different stages in my life), connect with other local readers or bring together a group of people I casually knew for more social opportunities.

Starting a book club gives you an easy ice-breaker of coming together to talk about a book you’ve all read — something I could do for hours on end with anybody (sorry strangers I’ve struck up conversations with when I see you with or near a book). It gives you a shared goal plus it’s nice to start with a shared interest when trying to make social connections.

I think, for me, since I get a lot of intense book talk between my blog and other online book communities, I’ve used book clubs as a different way to come together over books. You might be starting for a different reason.

Whatever your reason or desire is for starting a book group, it is valid!

2. What type of book club do you want to have?

I think this is a really, really important question to think about and I think is the reason so many book clubs fall apart or so many people think book clubs aren’t for them after one time of going to one that just simply had the wrong vibe.

Being clear on the VIBE you want for a book club is so important and also equally as important to communicate that vibe when you get to the next step.

I had a girl show up for one meeting with a book club I had started and never come back but, later on, she told me she wasn’t feeling it because she was looking for more serious book talk whereas this book club was super chatty about the book (for a little bit) but also about anything and everything.

We got off topic A LOT. The vibe wasn’t for her and that’s okay! It was EXACTLY what I, as a tired new mom in a new town looking for friends, needed.

I personally have found myself feeling intimidated by joining book clubs that seem a bit more on the highbrow literary side so I typically don’t because that not really the vibe I’m looking for when I’m choosing how I want to socialize.

I think that is so important to figure out what kind of vibe you seeing your book club having so you know who to invite, what books to pick, how to run your meetings and even WHERE to meet.

Some things to consider:

  • do you want to be laid back or more structured? (i.e specific questions for the meeting vs free flowing conversation)
  • are you expecting to be discussing more literary merits of a book? Or casual book talk? (for me personally I LOVE talking about the book but adore the organic conversations that have happened because of topics in the book. We’ve had some amazing conversations about friend breakups, marriage, parenting because of books. I cherish that as much as much as I do talking about the actual book. But you might be different and want to discuss the themes and the writing and engage in more serious book talk that doesn’t get too personal).
  • do you want to be super book-focused/stay on topic or are you into books being more of a vehicle for socializing?
  • Do you want it to feel casual? Intimate? Fun? Thought-provoking? Formal? (I think this matters when we talk about the venue — i.e meeting at a loud restaurant versus meeting at the library or coffee shop versus someone’s house).

Note: I think it’s a good idea to have an idea of how you envision book club so that you can attract the right people and, also, make sure you are getting out of it what you hoped for or was the reason you were starting the book club.

However, remember your book club might evolve and there is room for flexibility. Nobody enjoys a book club dictator who won’t take input. I’m not saying bend your book club to something you don’t WANT but I’m just saying — be open to the possibilities of what it might evolve into or be open to suggestions from people in the beginning stages. It doesn’t have to be 1000% your vision as long as the bare bones of it is still what you hoped for.

Action Step: Answer the questions above and write down a quick paragraph or list of what your ideal book club would look like.

2. Figure Out Who You Want to Invite Or How You Want To Get Members

Cute young woman reading a quote from a book while attending a book club reunion

The next step is one of the important ones that can make or break a book club for so many reasons. Now that you know why you want to start a book club and thought about the type of book club you want to have, it’s time to start filling the seats and figure out who you want to invite/how you will find members.

Some things to think about:

1. Decide how many members would be ideal.

I’ve been involved in both very small book clubs (3-4 people) and book clubs on the larger size (10-12 people) and there are pros and cons to both. I have personally had GREAT experiences with both — though I think it gets a bit unwieldy past 12 people and I don’t recommend that big.

A smaller book club is great for: more intimate conversation, less planning/scheduling conflicts, easier to find a venue (ask me how I know all about finding places to eat & meet with a big group), people who might not want to speak up in a large group, less drama, really getting to know book club members, feeling heard

A larger book club is great for: tons of differing and interesting perspectives, socializing with a lot of different people, being able to hide a bit if you aren’t as chatty, pretty much always guaranteed to have a good showing even if a couple people have to miss

2. Figure out the who!

If you’ve been thinking about starting a book club you probably either fall into two camps:

  1. You know exactly who you want to invite
  2. You aren’t sure how you are going to get people to join

Things to ask yourself:

  • Will you invite close friends or family only?
  • Will it just be people you know or will you open it up to new people?
  • Will you welcome anyone who wants to join or will there be some criteria for membership?

In my own book club starting adventures I’ve experienced 3 different scenarios:

  1. I went into it not knowing anybody. Two of the book clubs I started came about like that thanks to social media! I will share more about both instances later.
  2. I invited a friend or two that I knew and asked them to invite a couple people so it became a mixed group of people I knew and acquaintances/friends of those people who I didn’t know yet. This was nice because there was some connection between members in some way. Great way to mix friend groups (i.e. maybe your high school friends and a couple work friends).
  3. I was part of a meetup group for women in their 20’s/30’s looking to make new friends in my area and, a few months after joining, created a book club within that group— so a mix of people I was getting to know already/had become friends with and then sometimes new people would join. So basically pulled from an existing group of people who I was already acquainted with but not close with yet.

It really all depends on your comfort level and the reason why you are creating a book club in the first place. Meeting up with strangers might be off-putting to you or maybe you are looking forward to meeting new people outside those who you already know!

Some tips for finding members to join

If you don’t already know exactly who you plan to invite, here are some ideas of ways you can find members.

If you don’t want to meet with complete strangers:

  • curate a group amongst your existing friends and family (like I said before, you can pull from different friend groups or social situations. Ask a close friend, that mom you always chat with at preschool pickup, that person at work you enjoy chatting with that you think would all get along well).
  • put the call out on Facebook or your Instagram. You’d be surprised at the people in your life who might be interested and the interesting mix of people you could get together who might have been wanting to be part of a book club but didn’t know where to find one. I actually joined one this way when a girl who I was friends with on Facebook (but barely knew in high school) posted about wanting to start one. This one fizzled out after a year and only existed within a Facebook group but I enjoyed meeting new people that all were connected to this acquaintance.
  • Bring a friend style: If you get one or two people who you know are down for putting together a book club, have them open it up to their social circle and invite a couple more people. It also can give you more confidence to have someone else to plan with if you don’t want to go it alone.
  • source members from groups you are already in: maybe you want to ask some people from work or the moms from your mom group or your church or a social club you are already part of.

If you don’t mind meeting up with people you don’t know yet/are starting a book club TO make friends, here are some tips of places to find members:

  • social media — This is how two of my book clubs started.

    The first one I asked on my Twitter account for my blog and a few people who followed me said they were local and would be interested. We met in public (obviously!) and it ended up being a great group that lasted for years in my 20’s.

    The other way I started one was in a local Facebook group I was in for local moms. I was moving to the area and my go-to move for making friends is book club so I asked if anyone had a book club to join. Not one person said they did but I had like 40 women who said “no but I would love to join one.”

    So I started a sub-group for the mom’s club and ended up a really great book club on the larger side (anywhere between 5 to 15 members would show up every month). Ask around in groups you are in or if you have a public account of any kind.

  • your local bookshop/library — ask if you can put up a book club flyer or if they’d be willing to put the notice out in their newsletter. Perhaps they’d even be willing to host it there initially!
  • Start a meetup group (or a similar site): I had a great experience using Meetup to make friends and, though my book club was a meetup within a meetup group, it’s a great place to find people who are wanting to show up socially.
  • already existing book communities — This could easily fit underneath the “social media” bullet point but I wanted to call this out specifically. There are TONS of great book groups on Facebook (spivey’s book club is a great one on Facebook!) and I’ve seen people find other readers local to them through these groups.

Action Step: Decide who you will invite, based on the questions above, and get to inviting them or at least putting the idea out there.

NOTE: These next steps can either be figured out fully before you invite people OR you can figure these things out alongside your book club Members but AT LEAST think about them before you invite people.

3. Decide Where & How Often Your Book Club Will Meet

Once you have an idea about who to invite or have already gotten people to commit, it’s time to decide where and how often you’ll meet. I’m tackling in-person book clubs for the purposes of this post but I can touch on online quickly.

three women at a cafe talking

Deciding where to meet

Remember above we talked about knowing the vibe you want for book club? This is where that comes into play! Your meeting location will really help set the vibe of book club.

And, remember, you can always try a couple different places to find what feels right for your group.

Also, book clubs evolve. One group started meeting at coffee shops but, as we all got closer, we started having it my apartment.

Things to think about:

  • do you want to always meet at the same place? Or change it up every time? Two of my book clubs ALWAYS kept the same location — one we met at the same Panera every month and the other we met at a really cute tearoom bi-monthly. Another book club rotated peoples houses, another only met at my apartment because I lived central but everyone brought food since I hosted and had drinks. My current book club meets at different restaurants every month.
  • what do you want the atmosphere to be like? What places would match that energy? What places wouldn’t?
  • how much work do you want to put in to you (or someone in your group) hosting book club each month? Where you host it will have differing amounts of work/time associated. Hosting it at the same places requires less energy and thought about finding a place each month. Hosting it at different restaurants (especially if you have a larger group) can require time and energy to find suitable places and make reservations. Hosting in people’s homes requires some level of planning, preparing and hosting refreshments.

Also think about the costs that might come with hosting at different places especially if people might have different financial circumstances and might not be able to swing nicer restaurants each time. Or perhaps your time of day might determine your location. Picking a venue like a coffee shop or a non-food serving place keeps it pretty low-cost to attend.

If you are meeting online, then decide how to do this. Things like Facebook groups or a Zoom room are ideal for a virtual book club meeting and there are quite a few ways to do this without any cost involved.

Some common places of where to meet in person:

  • coffee shop
  • restaurants
  • library/bookstore (sometimes libraries have special meeting rooms)
  • parks or other outdoor spots if your weather allows it
  • in your home

Deciding how often to meet

Typically book clubs meet once a month. However, I have been part of book clubs that meet bi-monthly or quarterly depending on people’s schedules, lifestyle or if you are tackling huge tomes for book club.

Decide how much of a time commitment is realistic for your group. Factor in if it is realistic for your group to read one book per month plus set aside one one day/night to meet per month.

You might find that having it bi-monthly or some other time-frame works best for your group and will help keep book club fun and not overwhelming/become one more thing on someone’s to-do list.

Action Step: Curate a list of potential meeting places & decide how often you will meet. You can do this step ahead of time or pick your first meeting spot for your first meeting and discuss with the group.

4. Create A Process To Pick What Books To Read

One of the biggest tasks in starting a book club (and continuing to run a successful book club) is the process to decide what books you’ll read.

Having a good process/framework that is agreeable with the group is so important to picking books that people want to read and discuss!

Decide if there are any general parameters to reading material

Before you even choose the actual book club book, decide what types of books you’ll want to read and any parameters there might be. I wouldn’t get TOO in the nitty gritty with it and make it too narrow but it’s nice to think about if you are wanting to narrow it down in any way.

  • are you only reading a certain genre -i.e. sci-fi or mystery book club or non-fiction specific (self help, business) book club only- or are you open to any genre?

    There are plenty of book clubs who are genre-specific due to interests of the group and there are groups who will read anything and everything under the sun.

    If you are going genre-specific, just remember that might make it harder to find members if they aren’t interested in that genre. But, the upside to that is, then you will have a great curated group who also likely enjoys the genre you’ve selected.

  • will you all read the same book?

    Okay this might sound like a silly one at first but I’m actually in an online book club right now through a local library where we don’t come to the meeting with a specific book that we all read but rather talk about what we’ve been reading or are currently reading. It actually is SO fun and low key and I love it. It might be a fun option if you just want general book talk — even just for the summer months when everyone is busy.

  • are you reading books that have been out a few years or do you want to stick to brand new releases?

    This is something for you all to discuss/ think about this when it comes to if members will be able to access them — especially if your group is primarily library users as new releases can get quite spendy and wait lists for libraries are long for hot new releases. I know some clubs have a parameter that it must be out in paperback or it must be easily accessible for everyone to get from the library. I personally have never had any hard or fast rules around that but we tried not to pick hot new releases unless we were all dying to buy and read it anyways.

  • are there any page limits to how long your book selections will be? Not everyone will want to tackle 900 page tomes. Or maybe you are a group of new & busy moms who want to read books under a certain amount of pages.
  • how will members access their books?

    That really does, like I said above, matter if your book club does not want to drop money each month. Also maybe refraining from picking books that are hard to find or are ebook only. This also matters in timing — making sure you pick your books well in advance so people have time to get them AND read them.

  • will you be working off an existing list or will your group be selecting their own books (some groups might read along with already existing groups (ie being a local offshoot of a bigger online group or celebrity book clubs)
  • will you have a monthly theme to narrow down selections? (ie. a different genre every month, seasonal themes, fun monthly prompts to fill a la the Popsugar reading challenge, only read book to movie adaptations)
  • will you pick based on any sort of book club bundles that might be offered? (sometimes libraries have book club bundles as well as bookstores or publishers might have some special book club offer).

Decide how you’ll pick a book each month

It’s time to figure out HOW you will decided what to read every month. It’s an important element because picking the right engaging book is important for longevity of a book club but also keeping people happy feeling like they are part of the group.

I am personally of the mind that talking about it as a group is best so that everyone will feel good about your process for picking books but definitely come with an idea how you might want to do it.

I feel like in my own book club experience we’ve picked in a variety of different ways but they all worked because they were mutually agreed upon (even if that process changed and shifted over the years).

COMMUNICATION! Big key to any successful book club along with making everyone feel heard and valued in the process.

Some different ways to choose that have worked well for my book clubs:

  • every month it is one member’s choice: You rotate through each month so that everyone gets a chance to pick a selection.
    • Pros:
      • This way makes everyone feel like they get a voice and their reading taste is accounted for.
      • It’s also fun to see what books other members loved or are excited about
      • good way to get outside your comfort zone sometimes if people pick things you wouldn’t
    • Cons:
      • Taste is subjective and it could be a book that every other member is not into at all or a book that doesn’t make for a great book club book for whatever reason.
      • Sometimes people can take it personally or feel badly if everyone hated the pick — especially if it was a member’s favorite — or if habitually a person’s picks have been duds.
      • some people don’t like the pressure of picking (or don’t know what’s out there if they are newly into reading) and honestly just prefer reading whatever the group picks.
  • everyone who wants to puts in a suggestion for that month and then everyone votes on it: This way everyone can feel free to put in a suggestion but majority rules on the pick. You can always cap how many suggestions are allowed each month (ie. each month we only take 5 suggestions but make sure the next month anyone who didn’t get to suggest gets a chance first) or you can throw a bunch of suggestions in and the top vote-getters can be the suggestions for the next few months or the year if you like to pick way in advance.
    • Pros:
      • the majority of the group will be happy with the pick if there was a clear winner and feel like they had a stake in the pick which increases the chance people read the book.
      • This way is super fair!
    • Cons:
      • the majority book taste could get old for other members with different taste/a book rut could happen if you lean toward the same types — The only con I’ve come into with this one is from personal experience. The group kept leaning towards the same genre/types of books (light reads with not a ton of discussable stuff outside the basics) and I was craving something different personally to read and discuss with them. But alas, majority ruled. It was fine because I liked being part of the group but I definitely (Along with another girl) felt less into the picks.
  • a hybrid of the two above: Everyone gets their assigned month to be in charge of the pick but they offer a 2-5 suggestions and then the group votes on which one they’d like to read. So, everyone still gets to pick but majority rules in the end!
    • pros:
      • everyone still gets to have their taste represented but the group is also taking part in deciding the book which makes everyone feel like they had some say.
    • cons:
      • There aren’t many cons to this in my mind however I’ve had members who really don’t want to have to come up with a list of books and would rather just participate in the voting or the reading. My solution was always just letting them do just that and not have them pick until they decided they did have a suggestion.
  • the leader picks the books:

    The leader can either solely pick the selection for the month or the leader offers up a few picks each month and the group votes on them.

    I will be honest, I don’t recommend this unless the group is down with it.

    For the first year or so of one of my book club’s, my group was really happy to have me pick the initial selections and they voted on them. They appreciated that I was knowledgeable about books considering I blog about books and trusted me to select books that would make for good book club books. I would always add any suggestions people made or any books we all collectively seemed interested in during any meetings to the poll also.

    After a little while people seemed more open to giving suggestions so it became more like option #2 above where anyone who had a suggestion put it in and we voted.

    • Pro
      • if the leader has a knack for knowing what makes a good book club book or has a pulse on what the group enjoys/would want to discuss, it can be great.
      • It also makes it easier and less coordination as a group. Again, I think this is only a good option if the group is harmonious in this decision.
    • Con
      • it can some a little close to book club dictatorship and not be fun if it’s not agreed upon by the group and people can feel less invested in the book club’s success if they don’t have a stake in it.
      • The other con I found, when I was the one putting selections out, was that it felt like A LOT of pressure on me and I felt very responsible for the group’s happiness.
      • I think this route also can make it hard if the leader has a specific book taste. I have a tendency to pick dark/sad/heavy books that are super discussable but I had to work hard/be self aware to offer lots of different types of books because my group was not a fan of too many dark/sad books.
  • freestyle — I had one group that would just discuss it at the end of the meeting and just kind of bounce around suggestions or say “oh this book is becoming a movie next month, let’s read it” or “has anyone heard of this one? I keep hearing good things” and then we’d all just — kind of agree or be excited about one and that would become our pick?

    I feel like your group has to be super chill for this type of process but it’s always an option. I don’t know how it worked but it just DID with that group. Super informal way of picking and kept it easy with no official nomination and voting process.

    • Pros
      • really chill and low pressure potentially
      • can create a nice flow book club wise to pick what you all are in the mood for or any sudden interests/pop culture stuff that arise
    • Cons
      • can be hard to plan ahead to get the book on a shorter whim (normally with a more planned approach you know the next book or two ahead of time)
      • can be a little stressful if nobody has strong opinions or if, on the other side, nobody can agree in a fair way
  • Make a master list of suggestions & pick off that each month to nominate: I haven’t done this but a friend’s club has had success with this. They have a master list of books they add to and each month they pull a few off to vote on. What doesn’t win stays on the list for another time. They use a random number generator to decide which ones to vote on from the list.

Those are the most popular ways to pick and the ones I’ve personally experienced that have worked well. As some book clubs get under way, it might evolve or you might come up with your own way that works best that is super specific to your book group.

I think the key is just making sure everyone feels good about it and don’t make it unnecessarily stressful.

As the leader, it’s up to you to really sense if the way you are doing is working for the group but also to make sure people feel like they can communicate ideas and suggestions.

You never know what fun and interesting ways you’ll come up with as a group in picking books to keep you engaged!

I once heard of a group who gave picking rights to people based on merits — aka who attended the most meetings and who actually read the book. I personally would not enjoy it but it really worked for that group to make sure members were participating in order to pick a book.

It really just depends on your group!

Another note, before we move on, if you are using any sort of voting — decided if it will happen in person or online via some sort of survey or form (Google Form, Facebook poll, etc). Also decided if it will be anonymous voting/nominating or if everyone can see your vote/knows who is nominating the books.

If you need help finding some good suggestions to get you started:

Action Step: Decide any genre or logistic parameters in types of books you will read and decide on a starting point process on how to pick books. I’d suggest for the first meeting you pick the first book or two so it’s less stress and then you can discuss from there how you’d like to pick books or you can offer up your idea for how you think is best. The first way you do it doesn’t have to be set in stone!

5. Set Some Group Guidelines

As well as the process to select the books to read, you’ll also want to think about a few group guidelines.

Now, I am of the opinion that this is FUN and we don’t need a big, elaborate list of rules and guidelines or a blood oath to join.

However, it never hurts to lay out a few of the basics to keep things moving smoothly and so that everyone can have similar expectations.

Things to possibly think about:

(remember you don’t need all of these guidelines — pick what matters to you):

  • guidelines for hosting if you choose to do it in homes (will there be food? Should people bring anything? Is the host responsible for their month?)
  • what are your thoughts about members coming without finishing the book?

    My experience — My book clubs have always been low-key about this sort of things. My only rule is if you come to book club without having finished the book you don’t get to complain about spoilers.

    Other than that, as long as you know we will be having book talk first, feel free to join — but also none of my clubs have been of the literary discussion types. However, if people aren’t reading the books habitually, it makes it tough to discuss a book.

    So I get when people have rules/expectations about this. I’ve just gotten lucky that all my groups equally enjoy the book and the non-book talk and balanced them both nicely enough that people mostly always read but felt welcome even if they just couldn’t finish a particular book.

  • what are your expectations about attendance?

    While my book clubs have always been laid back about this point (because LIFE), it also helped some of them were larger so we always had a good showing. And the ones that were smaller, we all became close and didn’t care if it was only 3 of us in case some couldn’t make it.

    My experience aside, I totally understand when people do have stricter “rules” about attendance because people showing up is the only way a book club can be successful.

    I think being flexible and understanding is key, however, there is nothing wrong with having some attendance guidelines to weed out the perpetually flaky members to ensure good group energy.

    Just remember: too strict and you might scare people away!

  • are you cool with non-book conversations and getting off topic? It’s all about that vibe you are hoping for as we’ve talked about. I think it’s totally acceptable to gently mention that you are hoping for really good on-topic book discussion or that you envision a book club that is super social in addition to talking about the book.
  • are you allowed to bring a friend? Are you open to new members? What is the process for that? This is one area I’ve had conflict in more recently. Not everyone felt like more was merrier and wanted the group dynamics to change. Addressing this early on is a good idea (doesn’t have to be the first meeting at all — in fact I think bringing it up after a few is a great strategy).
  • how do you handle discussions that get contentious? With other adults I hope we can be respectful and I’ve never personally had this be an issue. I also think along with this is having the expectation that everyone will discuss the book without trashing other people’s opinions or take on the book.

You can totally have a formal document that you share with everyone (and new members if they join) but I’ve always found just having a quick “here’s what I’m hoping for out of this book club” is received well initially and gets everyone on the same page.

With any new members, I just share quickly what we are about like “Hey hope you don’t mind getting off topic mixed with some book talk!” and that seems just fine for the crowd I’ve attracted.

I think it’s up to you what type of book club you want and what kind of commit you desire from everyone else. Laid back and flexible has worked for me but might not be the route that works best for the direction of your group.

Also, if you have habitual problems or issues, it might be good to have more guidelines later on after you’ve gotten a handle on it.

You don’t HAVE to make a huge declaration or rules right away. A quick “this is what I’m envisioning” has always been well received and guidelines came if problems or feedback arose.

Action Step: Brainstorm any loose guidelines you might want to incorporate to make your club run smoothly. If you come up with any, jot them down and decide how you will communicate them to your new group.

6. Set Up the Discussion

Sometimes with a book club, there’s a natural discussion that happens when you get together.

But, especially in the beginning if you aren’t an already established group of friends or you are wanting a more structured discussion, it never hurts to do a bit of preparation before a meeting so that if everyone is a little quiet, there’s a way to get things started with some questions or book-related icebreakers.

Some help with discussions:

  • There great online guides that offer ideas and suggestions to start a discussion at your club. They typically are more generally questions and discussion starters.
  • google the book you are reading + “book club discussion”, you can sometimes find all sorts of websites that have created book discussion guides for specific books (especially if the book is more popular).
  • Bookclubs has some fantastic guides to check out.
  • The author’s website (or even the publisher for the book) sometimes have suggestions for book club discussions for the particular book (even within the back of the book sometimes!) so don’t forget to check that.

A lot of my book clubs have really flowed nicely but it really is a good idea to have something prepared initially in a pinch if people are quiet or if the book didn’t give a TON to talk about naturally — get people thinking with some prepared questions.

Be prepared, at least until you can determine how meetings will go, which I think you can get a good sense of after a few meetings.

My go-to is just having everyone either give a star rating of what they thought or if they liked it or not. From there things normally get going but some book clubs might require a little more leading and that’s okay!

To that point, outside of whether or not you will have structured discussion questions, decide if your discussion itself will take on any structure or if it will be free flowing and if anyone will be the dedicated person to leading it (yourself or the person’s whose pick it was if you go that route).

Going around in a circle ensures everyone gets a turn to speak but also can make the conversation stilted or make people feel pressured to answer something they don’t want to or feel put on the spot versus being able to answer when they HAVE something to contribute.

Free-flowing discussion with no order is great for conversation but sometimes certain members can easily dominate the conversation and other more quiet members might have a hard time getting to say what they think.

As a leader, I typically always go to the free-flowing but I also keep a close eye on if I think anyone keeps getting cut off or hasn’t had a chance to say what they thought and find a way to let them jump in, as well as, redirect any conversation away from anyone having a monopoly on the conversation as slyly as I can.

If you aren’t bothered by leading in that way, free flowing is great. If that makes your palms sweat to have to think about doing that, maybe structured is best in the beginning to keep the discussion balanced.

You will see how things evolve as your group continues to meet and be able to notice if you need more structure or can just leave the discussion alone.

Action Step: Come up with a few good questions to lead the discussion (even if you’d like a more free-flowing conversation in the future) in case you need it in the beginning!

6. Sort out any basic logistics for going forward

The final step in setting up your book club is to cover a few of those basic logistics about meeting up going forward. Again, these might sit alongside your guidelines and how the books are chosen, depending on the size of your group and your own availability as the founder of a book club.

The MVP of book club organization and logistics for me is Bookclubs — an app/website that makes creating and running a book club easy. It’s nice because it keeps it all organized rather than having long, disorganized text threads or rely on everyone being on the same social media. Check Bookclubs out here — it’s free though it does have a paid option for more features.

Figure out with your group:

  • When, where, and how often you meet — will you meet on the same day every month (one group of mine was the 3rd Thursday of every month) or will you propose a couple dates and have everyone vote to see which one is better (one of my groups did that to ensure the best attendance). I personally like having it the same time every month, based on initial discussion, because juggling schedules go to be too much every month.
  • How to communicate with other members about meetings and such going forward — will you have a group text? Slack? Facebook group? GroupMe, Whatsapp, and Bookclubs are also great ideas!
  • Who to tell if you aren’t attending (if you want people to do this) and how long before the meeting you need to RSVP: We typically required 24 hours notice for the group that met in restaurants so we could have an accurate head count.

Action Step: Consider signing up for Bookclubs for organization/logistics help or decide on another way to keep track of it all.

Final Thoughts:

The book club experience is a great way to share your love of books or to meet new people – sometimes both! Book clubs have been some of the most fulfilling social activities of my life and some of the things I’m most proud of starting and watching how they grew.

Gayle Forman signing photo
A throwback to my first ever book club group meeting an author we all loved (Gayle Forman)

Follow these steps and you’ll have a solid foundation for your book club that will be fun and interesting, without too much stress for you as the club organizer.

My biggest hope is that you take away these two things:

  1. you don’t have it have it all figured out at your first meeting but it’s important to have some idea of what you want so you can go forward attracting the right people (chemistry is important!) and the right vibe for your book club. I’m a big fan of letting a book club evolve with time as long as it is still relatively within the realm of WHY you started it. See what works, see what doesn’t. Communicate and make people feel like they can voice their opinions about how book club is going to keep keep coming and having a good time.
  2. pick good books that provide good discussion!! I am a huge fan of letting people pick the books you will read but I definitely think some books make for better book clubs than others and not everyone has that eye for what kind of book falls under that. Especially in the beginning you want to start off strong with books that make people want to chat and have things to talk about with little awkward silence because the book was a dud. I think as your book club goes on and is established it matters LESS if only for the fact you’ll find an ease of conversation regardless if the book was a dud.

The reasons I’ve seen book clubs fall apart are related to these two things — not the right vibe or atmosphere created (whether that be the right mix of people or being on the same page of what they want to get out of it) and not the right books to get people talking and excited to show up.

Even when people get busy, they will make it a priority if they feel invested in the group and fulfilled in what they hoped to get out of a book club.

Technically it’s relatively easy to start a book club but it takes a lot more to keep one going and I think putting together one thoughtfully makes it a lot easier from the get-go to give you a better chance at longevity.

I hope this truly helps!! Let me know any great advice you have for starting a book club.

P.S. Check out these great book club ideas for inspiration!



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