The only thing better than reading great books is talking about great books, and that's why book clubs are the best. If you've looked around your communities and not found a book club that you can join, then why not start your own? You don't need any prior experience, and the only prerequisites are a love of books, and maybe some organizational skills! In this article, we'll walk you through all of the considerations and expectations of how to run a book club!
How to Start a Book Club
Decide who's invited to your new club. Is it a group of your friends? Coworkers? Neighbors? Is your club open to the public, or do you want to keep it invitation-only? If you aren't sure, you can get the input of some inaugural members to decide what's best for your group. You can always change your mind or revisit this topic as your book club grows, but it's good to establish some boundaries and a foundation upfront.
Pick the focus of your book club. Are you reading YA books? Are you genre-specific? Is the goal to read books that aren't usually picked for popular book clubs, or to read books on a broad theme, such as books set outside of the U.S.? This focus will be your guide for choosing books and maybe even determining new members, so it's wise to come up with a guiding principle early on. Again, this can evolve as you grow, but it's important to come up with some parameters so everyone has a sense of what to expect.
Decide how often you'll meet. Once a month seems like the most common meeting frequency for most book clubs, but it's always great to check with your members and see what will work for them. You might also want to decide upfront if you'll skip a month (like December, when the end of the year holidays make everyone's schedules busy) or maybe a month in the summer, when people might be on vacation.
Pick your time and place. You'll want to pick a day and time that is convenient to most members, and to ensure success it's wise to keep the day and time the same from month to month. Next, decide where you'll meet up! Are you meeting solely online, or in-person? If online, decide on which platform you will use and make sure everyone is familiar with it. If in person, decide on a location. Can someone host you all in their home? Do members want to take turns hosting people? Or rather, will you choose a more public location like a library, bookstore, restaurant, community center, or bar? Think about what restrictions you might find run into in the public spaces--do you need to reserve the space? Is there a limit to how many people can attend? Is it a good environment for conversation? Does the location make anyone uncomfortable or discourage people from participating (some members might not feel comfortable meeting in a bar, for example)? All of these are important considerations.
Name your club. It's not necessary, but it can be a fun way to distinguish your group and help get the word out--if that's what you want!
If you want to use an app to help your book club stay organized, check out our guide to the best book club apps on the market!
How to Get Books For a Book Club
Sourcing books is a very important consideration for every book club, and it's best to err on the side of being sensitive to your members' limitations when acquiring new books. It might feel awkward talking about what people can afford, but it's good to have that discussion upfront with members, and encourage people to be honest about what they can manage. Is your club going to steer clear from expensive, brand-new hardcovers? Will you agree to stick to paperbacks under a certain price point? Will it be enough to agree to pick only books that are easily accessible through your library or the inter-library loan program?
You may also come up with book sourcing solutions such as checking out what book club kits are available at your local library (book club sets of 8-20 copies of the same book that can be checked out to your club), or exploring programs such as Book of the Month's Book Clubs program, where your book club can buy discounted Book of the Month picks collectively. If you need help coming up with book club selections, check out our list of 2021 book club recommendations!
How to Set Book Club Rules and Expectations
Setting rules and expectations is perhaps the most challenging part of book club, but it's necessary to ensure you have a smooth reading and discussion experience! Here are some things to consider:
How do you choose books? Does each member get a turn at picking the book? Do you come up with a list of picks and then have members vote? What sort of vetting is required for putting forth book suggestions (i.e. does someone need to have read and recommended it, or does it need to have favorable trade reviews?) and how do you define what book fits your club? Do you pick books month to month, or will you pick out a few months' worth of picks ahead of time, to give people a chance to prepare? And finally, do you have a page limit? While that 600-page tome may look great, maybe it's not the best pick for members who don't have as much time to read during the month.
How do you plan on running meetings? It's important to know your group--are you the type that wants to chat and socialize beforehand? Do you have a guideline on letting yourselves chat about non-book stuff before diving into the discussion? Do you need a discussion leader? How do you decide who will lead the discussion, and will you take turns?
How do you plan on staying on topic? It's easy for anyone to get distracted or fall down the rabbit hole of off-topic discussions, so make a plan to stay on topic! That might include having a prepared set of discussion questions ahead of time (make sure to decide whose responsibility that will be beforehand!) or maybe a code word for when you all need to get back on topic.
Book Club Meeting Ideas to Get Started
If you're still nervous about starting a book club, don't be! You can start a club with as few as two people, and then build out from there. Here are a few suggestions for getting started:
Pair your meeting space or meeting snacks with your book! Did you read a book set in Thailand? Maybe you want to meet up at your local Thai restaurant and discuss the book over some authentic food.
Host a book-to-movie watch party! Did you read a book that has a recent adaptation on film? Plan to go see the movie as a group, or have someone host a watch party, and then follow it up with a discussion of the book and movie!
Make it memorable with food! Did you read a book that is heavy on food descriptions, or did you choose a cookbook? If your members are adept in the kitchen, host a potluck meeting where everyone brings a dish to pass from the book, and feast as you discuss!
Go on an outing that is inspired from the book! Does a character in your book receive a tarot reading? Book a tarot session for your group, and then follow it up with a discussion! Read The Henna Artist? Hire a henna artist for your discussion. Did you pick The Lager Queen of Minnesota as your pick? Plan an outing to a local brewery and try a flight of craft beers over your discussion. This way, you make your book club meeting a cultural experience!
Invite the author! Did you know that many authors are up for joining book club discussions virtually? Check their websites to see if they're available for Skype or Zoom book club sessions and invite an author you love to discuss their newest work!
How to Come Up With Book Club Discussion Questions
Coming up with book club discussion questions doesn't have to be intimidating, but we understand why people might feel a little overwhelmed! While it's true that once people get talking, the conversation tends to flow, it's nice to come up with some questions to get you started, or to help when the conversation is dragging. Here are some tips and tricks!
Come up with an ice-breaker question! This can be anything that's related to the book, but perhaps not directly about the book. For example, if you read a book about a road trip across the U.S., you might ask everyone what their ultimate road trip snack is. This is a fun way to get everyone comfortable with sharing, and get the conversation rolling!
Start out with "easy" questions. These can be questions that are easily applied to each book you read, such as "What did you think of the main character?" and "Which character did you relate to the most?" You might also ask people what their favorite lines in the book were, and what they thought of the ending.
Look up discussion guides online. Many publishers will write discussion guides for the books they put out, and then print them in the back of the book or put them online. Some other groups also share their discussion questions, and here at TBR we have also provided discussion questions (and activities or snack ideas) for many popular books! Check out our Born a Crime discussion guide, Educated discussion guide, and The Silent Patient discussion guide.
How to Find Great Book Club Pick Recommendations
If you're a book person, we doubt that you'll have any trouble finding great recommendations. But what makes a great book club pick? We advise picking books that fit within your theme and focus, are readily available to members, and have a wide appeal to many different types of readers. Still need help deciding? Here are a few lists to get you started!
In need of more great book recommendations? Sign up for TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations! TBR is a personalized book recommendation service that sends you books you'll love to read.
Here's how it works: Simply fill out the reader survey and let us know what you want more of--such as book recommendations for your book club's theme or genre--and what you're not keen on. Then, an expert Biblioligist will read your responses and recommend three books just for you. Receive your recommendation letter via email in about two weeks, or opt to receive your recommendations as brand new hardcovers from our partner, Print: A Bookstore in Portland, ME in about three to four weeks. Learn more and sign up now!