How to Start a Book Club Online or in Person

Whether you’re looking for something to do during the stay at home order or hoping to start a long term activity, a book club is a wonderful idea. Starting a book club online or in person is easy and only takes a few simple steps.

Why do you want to start a book club?

To begin with, you need to know why you’re starting the club. This may sound like a no brainer but give it some thought or you may end up with a dud for a club.

Do you want to engage in philosophical discussions about the relative value of plot driven vs. character driven fiction in literary novels? Or, are you using it as an excuse to put your feet up, eat delicious appetizers, and drink wine with your best Ma’am friends? The reason is likely somewhere in between. Once you have your “why”, you’re good to go.

how to start a book club

What is the theme of your book club?

Book clubs usually have a theme, or rotate the theme at each meeting. Either way, you need to consider options for book club themes. Here are a few to consider:

  • Movie Night: Select books that are, or are about to become, Hollywood movies.
  • The Classics: Choose a list of top classics are read through each.
  • Best Sellers: Identify a best seller list and read the top listings for the year or the top listings for the past twenty years or more.
  • Literary pursuit: Read literary masterpieces and discuss.
  • International: Travel the globe from your living room by choosing an author from a different country each meeting. If you want to narrow it down, select a single country and authors from that country.
  • Spice it up: Close the shades, grab a glass or your favorite beverage, and a stack of banned books.
  • It’s all in a name: Read books with a number, color, or place, in the title.  Chose selections with a single word title or those that begin with a specific word.
  • In the beginning: Devour debut books from top authors.
  • Genre: Your club could be all commercial fiction, romance, thrillers, science fiction, historical fiction or any other genre you chose.

For a detailed review of some unique and interesting book club themes, read more here.

Who will you invite?

In my opinion, this is the most important question to consider when starting a book club. The success of your “why” hangs on this decision. Think about your goals and the people who can best help you to achieve them. How many people do you want in your group? Should they be like minded or are you seeking diverse perspectives? Does education level matter to your group? How important is it that you know all your members well? If you want a large group, a good way to expand your reach is to ask each invited member to bring a friend or two. This is also a fun way to expand your social circle.

If you’re starting online but plan to eventually transition to physical meetings you may want to limit your group. While it may seem like a great idea to have a 50-person book club online, there are very few living rooms that will hold such a crowd!

How often will you meet?

The frequency of meetings will be driven somewhat by your theme as the length of books vary depending on the theme you chose.  A typical romance novel, for example, runs from about 50,000 words to 90,000 words making a monthly meeting ideal. Some of the most well-known literary classics, on the other hand, exceed that count by almost tenfold. “Gone with the Wind” comes in at 400,000 words while “War and Peace” is a whopping 550,000 requiring a longer interim between get togethers.

how to start a book club

Where will you meet?

If you’re starting a club anytime soon, you will surely be meeting online so we’ll look at those options first.

Social media and other forms of technology are easy and readily available ways to stay connected and run your club. Many combine video with chat, text, and voice features. With so many apps to chose from there is one that should meet your needs. Some commonly used free apps are Facetime (only available for Apple products), Zoom, and Skype. Another one with some additional features is Houseparty. This app allows multiple video participants to engage in shared activities such as games or book clubs.

Consider your long-term plan for meeting space as well. It will help you to determine the structure of your group.

How do I get started?

I recommend you start by setting up a Facebook group. Be sure to make it private so only you and other members can see the content, comment, and post. You can use the group to reach out to friends on Facebook and invite them to your club. It will also serves as a place to discuss topics, post author interviews & new book listings, and talk about anything club related – or not club related. Establish rules for your group so it doesn’t become the wild, wild, west. A few well thought out guidelines for etiquette will go a long way.

Gather your members, assess their opinions on theme, and schedule your first meeting. Be prepared with a list of themes and some possible options from each one as the group’s first read.

What should we do at the first meeting?

The first meeting is all about laying the groundwork for future meetings. At a minimum, you should do the following:

  • Agree on a theme.
  • Select a moderator or agree to alternate moderates on a predetermined schedule.
  • Identify a list of potential books for the next few meetings.
  • Discuss a budget limit for each book.
  • Identify a member to keep track of meetings and titles.
  • Determine the ground rules for meetings.
  • Establish location or locations.
  • And finally, discuss the possibility of food & beverages at meetings. Is this really a question? Just because you’re meeting remotely doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy food and beverages together.
how to start a book club

What else should I think about?

The most important thing to remember is that your book club should not become a chore. Mix it up from time to time. Try a theme with food and beverages. Consider small gifts or favors if your budget allows. Most of all, remember to make it fun!

For other ways to stay connected while maintaining social distance, read “Connecting with Friends While Maintaining Social Distance

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