How To Start A Book Club This Summer
Calling All Bookworms 📚🐛
In the “first season” of quarantine last May, my close friend Carol and I were texting about a book we’d both recently read. At one point, Carol said, “We need a book club in our lives.” Let’s start our own, I nonchalantly encouraged.
Fast-forward one year and ten meetings later: We’ve grown twice in size, and our community is filled with mutual friends, friends of friends, and coworkers. We’ve read books across varying genres including How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s horror Mexican Gothic, and my favorite, Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half. (All A+, by the way.)
And in that time, we’ve bonded, too. When I was coping with the death of a loved one, members banded together to send me a self-care gift card. When a friend shared a pregnancy announcement, we exchanged celebratory messages and emojis. This group became more than just a book club—it became a community.
Renee M. Powers, founder & CEO of Feminist Book Club, shares the same sentiment: “[The experience] is all about building relationships. The book you choose is simply an excuse to start a conversation, but at the core of any good book club is the connections you make with others.”
If you want to start your own book club too, here are the best practices I learned along the way to build a flourishing #amreading community.
Step 1: Envision Your Ideal Experience
First, consider these questions on what you want this space to be. Understanding your ideal experience will help curate members, balance expectations, and ease the process of scheduling later on.
Do you have a co-host in mind? Splitting the work is easier when it comes to identifying upcoming books, managing dates, and spearheading conversation topics. In my group, one friend leads scheduling but we rotate discussion leaders monthly.
Is this space strictly dedicated to books, or is it more social? Is it expected that everyone finishes reading by the meeting date, or do you need to hold back on spoilers?
What is your area of focus? Perhaps you want to focus on classics, fiction, #newreadsonly, or even debate on recent events.
Do you want to stay in touch outside of the book club or is it a once-a-month meet-up? We have an Instagram group where we’ll share relevant news, posts, or author events; otherwise, we meet on the fourth Thursday of every month.
Is your preferred engagement online-only, even post-pandemic? Or are you hoping to meet face-to-face? Being in person requires extra planning (for example, finding an ideal location), but it can be a more interactive experience, too. On the other hand, being an online group has helped to expand and retain members wherever they are, like when I moved cross-country.
Now that you know what type of experience you want to establish, it’s time to find members who will help make that happen.
Step 2: Identify & Invite Your People
Some will say that the magic number for a book club is under a dozen people, while other book clubs (ahem, Oprah’s) reach more than 100,000 readers. You should do what feels right to you—two people count as a club, too!
To find our community, I reached out to fellow bookworm friends and Carol did the same. We also put out a call on our social media, openly inviting anyone who might be interested.
If you aren’t finding personal leads, try scouring online platforms like Goodreads or Meetup.com, posting on Next Door, a neighborhood app for locals, or exploring #Bookstagram on Instagram. Lupita Aquino of @Lupita.Reads shares that checking out the hashtag is a “great space to find a network of readers, many of whom host monthly book clubs or read alongs—you can find [or start] the book club format that fits you best.”
Then, send out a welcome note or pre-book club meeting invitation to all potential members. It’s a chance for everyone to meet prior to jumping in, especially if you know you’ll have particularly diverse perspectives.
Want to curate the experience further? Send out a survey asking for members’ demographics, contact information, or reading preferences. With their consent, you can share responses with the group. We keep a spreadsheet of everyone’s birthdays, Instagram handles, emails, and favorite genres, which anyone can access.
Echoing Powers’ earlier point, Aquino adds that it’s all about nourishing relationships with your members: “They want to be seen; members want to be remembered and know that you care about them.”
Step 3: Pick Your First Book & Meeting Date
The selection process for each club is different; some leaders prefer to choose a book for the group while other book clubs have a shared decision making process.
Here’s what works for us: Every few months, we survey members and ask them to rank specific preferences (i.e., ‘Would you rather read Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner versus Caste by Isabel Wilkerson?’ Trick question; they’re both on my list.). The highest ranked books are designated as our future reads. We also invite suggestions for the following quarter.
Working a few months out gives everyone plenty of lead time to read, and identify which books they may need to purchase or request from the library. Because we sure aren’t going to finish President Obama’s A Promised Land in three days.
To make it easier to shop—and to keep money in our communities mid-pandemic—we curated lists of independent, women-, and Black-owned bookstores, many of which ship nationally. Our local favorites include WORD Bookstores, The Lit Bar, and Book Alley.
Create a set schedule by polling members for their best ongoing availability (i.e., weekday evenings at 8PM ET or weekend mornings at 10AM PT). Hold the dates on everyone’s calendar, including the online link or physical address. Don’t forget to send out meeting reminders a few days ahead of time.
Step 4: Host Your First Book Club Meeting
You’ve sent the invites and shared a reminder. Now’s the time to host!
As you’re reading, keep track of any passages, themes, or takeaways you’d like to discuss. (Be mindful of any sensitive content or topics that can cause major conflict.) See if a book-specific guide or associated activities exist, as publishers or authors will often include these online or in the index. A pro-tip: With advance notice, some authors may even be willing to join a meet-up for a Q&A.
When everyone arrives, say a brief hello and re-introduce one another. This can be an apt time for an icebreaker, says Aquino, adding: “If you want to make the icebreaker bookish but more personal, here’s a great question to ask: Name one significant book that changed you and [if you feel comfortable sharing], in what ways did it change you?”
Then dive in. If you’re not sure where to start, our friends at Bookriot have dozens of questions to pose. An effective first question is simply asking if readers enjoyed this pick, and conversation will usually flow organically afterwards. Aquino recommends focusing on “discussion hotspots” to see which topics keep members most engaged.
If the discussion starts to feel stale at any point, Powers, who curates the Feminist Book Club’s monthly picks, suggests keeping a few creative questions in mind. For example, around a book’s title, “Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor inspired a fascinating deep-dive into the metaphor of a hurricane (there isn’t an actual hurricane in it), so that’s a question I love to ask.”
Keep in mind that some attendees may not want to participate in the discussion and would rather just listen. That’s fine, too! As an introvert, nothing is more uncomfortable than being singled out when you’re not ready.
By the end of the first meeting, take a temperature check on how the conversation went and note any suggestions for the future. (Moving forward, you can also assign different discussion hosts based on interest and preference.) Close with a reminder of what to expect next, whether that’s an email to identify future reads or the following meeting date.
And there you have it, your very own book club!
For me, it’s been a fulfilling experience to see this book club grow and evolve. I hope these tips help start your own in a sustainable way, too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to this month’s pick 😉 (Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters, if you were curious).
Have you ever started or joined a book club? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. 💛
Henah Velez (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She holds a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship and is a proud Rutgers grad. Originally from NJ, Henah’s now in Santa Barbara, CA, where she loves shopping small, hanging with her pets, or traveling. Say hi on Instagram!