5 Tips for Starting Your Own Book Club

Thinking of joining a book club? That’s a great idea—you’ll make new friends, learn from them, and all the discussion will help you deepen your appreciation of your favorite book. 

There are many online book clubs, but there is something very special about meeting with people every week, talking over a hot cup of coffee and cookies, and having a real, face-to-face conversation. So, why not start a book club of your own and invite friends, co-workers and people in your neighborhood? Here are some tips to get you started. 

1. Decide on the kind of book club you want to have.

Some book clubs focus on a particular kind of genre or interest. For example, do you want to tackle classic literature, lighter popular fiction, or the titles in New York Times’ bestseller list? Do you want to study all the works of a particular author? Or maybe you’d like a themed approach, like “feminist literature” or “different vampire novels.” 

You may want to ask your friends, co-workers and neighbors what kind of books they enjoy reading, and what they would look for a club. And—every few months or so—you can ask your members for feedback. “Is this working for you? Do you want to try something else?”

2. Think of the mechanics.

Do you want everybody in the club to read the same book, or create a common pool so you can borrow each other’s favorite titles?

Do you want the discussions to be very in-depth? For example, some book clubs will also ask members to study the cultural context of a work, or distribute a related reading. (For example, if you’re reading Albert Camus, “The Plague,” you may want everyone to check a few simple websites that explain the Existentialist movement.)

3. Look for members.

Ideally, a book club should have at least 5 to 15 people, especially since it’s rare to get complete attendance on the day you want to meet. It’s disappointing to show up and find just 2 people in the room, and even the eager members will start skipping meetings if they feel “nobody’s going to go anyway.” 

Don’t worry if you can’t recruit a lot of people right away, though. It’s normal for book clubs to start with three to four people. Very often, the group will grow (someone will invite a friend, or a co-worker may be intrigued and decide to “try it out for a couple of weeks.”) You can also print out a simple poster to pin on a community board, post a Facebook message, or invite people at your next PTA meeting or church fund-raiser. 

Of course, you do need to consider where you’ll meet, and how many people that venue can comfortably accommodate. If you plan to hold it in your living room, you may want to limit the members to 8 people. If your house is too small for a crowd (and you don’t want to be bothered with vacuuming the living room the day before a meeting) consider holding it in the community center, restaurant, library, or a nearby school.

4. Set up the logistics.

How many times will you meet? Members do need time to be able to read the book, and not feel like they’re cramming chapters (which completely takes out all the pleasure of reading). Before, book clubs met every month, but this can be unrealistic.

Consider scheduling your meetings every six weeks, but keep in touch in between. You can set up an e-group, or just periodically call each other to have “mini discussions” over the phone. It’s a great way to build friendships between members.

You also need to decide how long the meetings will be, and to keep to the schedule so you don’t inconvenience members who have other appointments. The schedule also reminds people to stick to the discussion.

You can casually say, “Oh wow, it’s already 9—we only have an hour left!” It’s also easier to control schedule when you hold your book clubs in a public place, like a library or a restaurant, rather than your home.

Logistics also includes who should host the meeting, and (if you’ll serve food and drinks) how to make it fair. Will you all pitch in and split the bill? Hold a potluck? Or take turns hosting it in your home? 

5. Share the responsibilities.

As a general rule, it’s much easier if you share the “hosting” responsibilities with other members. Even if you started the book club, you can easily get burnt out from having to think about finding a venue, planning a menu, or calling everyone up to remind them about the meeting. 

You can ask your members to take turns being the “captain” of that month’s discussion. Or, you can divide the duties. You can be in charge of calling everyone up, but somebody else coordinates the food contributions (if it’s a potluck) or finds a venue.