For around two years, my best friend and I have been trying to breathe life into a local book discussion group. Our genre’s a little niche, but we still get interest and even book suggestions from members. We’ve tried gathering for tea, for brunch, or even in the library so no one feels pressured to spend money. Yet the meetups are consistently her, me, and a set of excuses. We finally accepted we might need to try something different, so I researched how online book clubs make it work. Here’s what I learned!
If you’re interested in starting an online book club, these basic steps will give your new group a great start. There are a lot of different ways to run a club, so I’ve included some alternatives, too.
If you’re already a member of a book club, how is your group set up? Reply below so your experiences can help out a beginner!
1. Choose a Genre
Your genre probably won’t be the same as ours (Science Fiction and Fantasy written by female authors), but this is still the most important decision when starting your book club. What are you going to read? The more focused your topic, the easier it will be to attract members who will want to discuss the same books. For long term success, it’s better to start with a subject you love and then find readers than to start with a group and then figure out what interest they share. If you already have a friend on board, the next steps will be even easier.
You Do You
There’s no rule stating you have to read fiction. Or even that it has to be a novel. If you’re interested in marketing, focus on business strategy or read memoirs of entrepreneurs. If current trends are important, you could pick books that are on the New York Times Best Sellers list, regardless of genre. For a budget-friendly group, you could choose Kindle Unlimited or require each book be free.
2. Create a Closed or Secret Facebook Group
This step is pretty simple, but there are a couple important decisions to make.
- Closed Group vs Secret Group
- Closed group – Membership is visible to anyone on Facebook, and the group will display in search results. Anyone can then request to join. However, they won’t be able to read any content without being approved as a member. If you want to let anyone find your group, this is the option for you. You might get more members, but you might also end up with members you don’t know anything about.
- Secret group – Only members can read content, see membership, and see the group in their search results. You won’t get membership requests from people who stumble upon the group, but you also don’t have to sort through requests and can better protect the privacy of your readers.
- Learn more information about groups on Facebook.
- Name the Group
- Pick a name! If you’re making a closed group, consider choosing something descriptive so potential members can easily tell what type of club it is. If it’s a secret group, you have more leeway to pick something fun or witty.
Any Private Platform Will Do
You don’t have to use Facebook! I chose Facebook because it’s such a widely-used platform. I can start by seeing if friends are interested and then expand to friends of friends. Another good choice is Goodreads since dedicated users are already interested in reading. If you have another method of finding members, then you might try using Slack for organization and discussion.
No Need to Do It All
It’s okay to ask for help! Did you start the group with a friend? If so, ask if they’re willing to be a group administrator. Taking the entire burden off of yourself increases the likelihood you’ll still be enjoying the club a few months down the road. If you’re starting the group by yourself, revisit this in a couple months after you figure out which members are both responsible and enthusiastic.
3. Choose the First Book the Group Will Read
This might seem premature, but it lets you figure out exactly what you want before asking others to join you. Using a specific book as an example of what to expect also allows you to capture interest while setting expectations. This is particularly important if the book club has a wide genre, like literary fiction. You could also list a few authors you want to include. The benefit of choosing the first book, instead of just examples, is that new members can start locating the book as soon as they join.
4. Advertise for 8 – 12 Members
My research into successful book clubs, both online and in person, returned a recurring theme: The ideal number of members is eight to twelve. This number is large enough to allow you to have meaningful discussions even when a few people can’t make it. And it’s small enough to be easy to manage and allow everyone to participate.
So you’ve got a genre, a group, and a membership goal. Now it’s time to get some readers! My preferred method is to make a Facebook friend list of the people you’d enjoy having in the club. Make a quick post asking if anyone would be interested in joining an online book club, and mention your book selection criteria (e.g. genre) and first month’s book. Set “Who should see this?” to “Custom” and select your new friend list. When you publish your post, only the people you’d like to have in the club will be able to see it. If you don’t get enough response, ask the same group to mention the book club to their friends. You could also post about it on Goodreads or another bookish forum.
Don’t Miss Out
Keep your ears open in your everyday life. You might encounter people who would be a good fit for the group. Offer to send them an invite. Once it’s been sent, it’s up to them to make the next move. When my friend and I were toying around with the idea of starting a book club, our waitress overheard our conversation and mentioned how much she’d like to join one. Now I can see that she was probably fishing for an invite, but I was oblivious at the time. I still wonder if she would have been an amazing addition to the club.
5. Choose When and How to Meet (and Schedule It!)
Pick a day and time the club will meet each month. Or every other month. Setting a regular schedule allows members to plan around it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to find out that this weekend’s meetup is the same time as the vet appointment I scheduled two months ago. You may want to use a poll to determine the day/time that fits most people’s schedules, but be clear that this is for every meeting, not just the first one.
You might also want to use a poll to decide on your conferencing software. I suggest letting people choose between applications you’re willing to use so you don’t have to veto any of them. My favorites are Skype and Google Hangouts. Every member is be able to contribute using voice and chat, as opposed to Facebook group chat which doesn’t include voice or Facebook live video which doesn’t allow everyone to use voice. Also, if you end up switching from Facebook to another platform, you don’t have to choose a new conferencing application. You could even use Youtube if you want to make your discussions public. Just make sure everyone’s on board with being recorded.
The Nitty Gritty
Make an event for your upcoming meeting or at least pin its post so everyone notices it. In general, you don’t want to reschedule since this usually ends up penalizing people who planned well in favor of those who didn’t. But emergencies and immovable events crop up for everyone at some point, so it doesn’t hurt to be flexible and understanding.
6. Choose Your Next Book
By this point, your book club be ready for its first discussion. As soon as you schedule it, decide on the book for the following meeting. Here’s where I’m going with this. Ideally, you want to give members a minimum of two weeks to obtain a book before they need to begin reading it. So if you meet once a month, people need to know the book one month and two weeks in advance. If you’re going to put up a poll to decide on the next book, let it run for three or four days. And then give people two weeks to get the book. If you want to give people a few days to post suggestions for the poll . . . You see where I’m going with this. If there’s only a month in between meetings, be considerate and don’t wait to announce July’s book during June’s meeting.
There you have it! Start your club, and let me know how it went. Did you go a step further by posting thought-provoking questions for discussion? Do you always have a backup book for those who might already have read or not be able to obtain the current choice? Share the fun name of your book club, and let us know if you’re looking for members!