by Martha Artyomenko

Growing up, I dreamed of being a part of a club where everyone enjoyed reading as much as I did. But I didn’t know how to find a book club to join. And I certainly never dreamed of starting one. Until I realized how easy it might be to start my own. I gathered a few acquaintances, my sister and so we began.

Have you ever been part of a book club? Or wanted to be part of a book club? Then I have some ideas for you on how to start!

You can choose from a wide variety of book clubs, but here are just a few choices you could explore:

  • Online Book Clubs
  • Genre-Specific Book Clubs
  • In-Person Book Clubs

Let’s look at each in turn.

Online Book Clubs: Pros and Cons

Online book clubs may be a bit harder to feel a connection with since meetings are solely virtual, but these can be a good choice for people who live in rural areas, with busy schedules, or small children. They also provide a more comfortable setting for introverts or those who struggle with social anxiety.

I have helped run the ACFW Book Club (American Christian Fiction Writers) for several years now and love how simple it is. Authors enter their books in a reader’s-choice award contest, and 12 books a year are chosen by popular vote. Every four months, book club members can vote on what books they want to read as a club. Since the club is owned by ACFW, authors are required to give away 5 print copies of their books in order to enter. Every month we choose four members of the book club to receive those copies, as well as one ACFW member that volunteers to be the discussion leader. A member of the group offers to lead the discussion, which I facilitate over email. I collect names and addresses and send them on to the author. Then the book club begins reading! During the last week of the month, an email thread holds discussion between members, with emails flying back and forth all across the USA. It’s simple, no one is obligated to participate and read every single book, and often the author joins in and comments, offering a unique, insider perspective, which is a ton of fun.

Another option for finding/hosting online book clubs is on social media. I run a large Facebook group called Avid Readers of Christian Fiction. Once a month, an author leads a book club discussion in the group, which readers can watch live or catch later. The author offers giveaways and a lively discussion usually occurs. During this short, monthly meeting time, everyone can connect on social media and video. Again, it’s easy, offers a bit more connection than the email book club discussion, and costs are limited to the expense of the book (unless you can find it at the library, but we do discuss more recent releases so this is often impossible). These live events are more time-sensitive, since you only have one hour a month for the more personal interaction with the author. But since the group is a huge book discussion group, so you can always talk books, even outside of monthly club selection.

Those are your more non-typical book club settings.

In-Person Book Clubs: Pros and Cons

Your more typical book club settings are in-person book clubs and are held in a variety of places. They are generally either genre-driven or club-driven (meaning either the club members or the leader decides the variety of books that are read).

If you’re interested in joining an in-person book club but can’t find one in your area dedicated to a genre you enjoy, why not consider creating your own?

Have you ever been part of a book club? Or wanted to be part of a book club? Then I have some ideas for you on how to start!

How to Start a Book Club

1. Find Members

This step doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds, promise! When I met some other local people who also enjoyed reading, I suggested that we start a book club. I believe there were about 3 or 4 of us at the time. Later, after a couple of meetings, we mentioned it at a scrapbooking get-together and immediately we had two more members who wanted to join. We have had members come and go, but the core group has been pretty stable.

Our group has shifted from the beginning, when we read mostly classics and hard-topic books, to varying the topics of discussion to new genres. What your book club looks like depends on your members. We have members who read constantly and others for whom reading is something they enjoy, but they struggle to get through a book. Our book club offers them a bit of accountability that encourages them not only to read books they would not pick up, but to actually get them read by a deadline.

Ask your friends and family, get the word out at your church, school, library, anywhere and everywhere you interact with people–if you know they enjoy reading. We found that for group size, 8-10 was a good size. When we had 12 members, it was hard to be able to discuss the book well so everyone could hear.

Note: Don’t specifically choose only people you agree with. Our best book club has some people that are so different from one another, but we have bonded over our love for books. The discussions can be all the livelier for it.

2. Decide on Location

Location will depend on your group dynamics. For my first in-person book club, we found that the best option was to meet at either a quiet coffee shop that stayed open late, a person’s home, or a quiet restaurant. You will want to check that Tuesday night is not live music night or that the coffee shop did not change their hours to close at 8pm. Libraries, museums, and even bookstores occasionally love to host book clubs.

One of my clubs alternated going out to a restaurant or bringing food items to share to a home. We liked to look at the theme of the book and see if we could match our snacks to the theme. We didn’t go crazy with it, but it was fun to see what everyone came up with. When we read a book with pie as a theme, everyone brought pies. Some were savory, and some were sweet. We have a variety of dietary needs in our club as well, and it stretches us to think creatively so we provide something everyone can eat. We have explored new places in our local area as well, trying new foods. If money is an issue, try to stick to coffee shops and affordable restaurants; I have found that at most places you can get a drink with a tip included for under $5. Another idea is to approach an established group like a women’s Bible study, MOPS group, or church group to see if they are interested in hosting.

3. Plan Your Discussion

Discussion questions are going to be your new best friend. If the author did not provide them in the back of the book or on their website, I recommend you send a note to them by email or social media message and ask. They are generally flattered their book was chosen as your book club’s choice, and they will help you provide some discussion ideas that you may not have thought of on your own.

We do not always stick to the questions provided, but we love them as a springboard. Allow outside discussion to occur. This is part of the joy of book club. We discuss the book, but fiction especially will bring up real-life circumstances and experiences which can bond a club in friendship. It can help you learn about one another and grow. Sometimes, even when half of us have not read the book, we realized we still just needed that social outlet of support and spent the evening eating pie together or drinking tea and talking.

If you are strict about your discussion and staying on topic, it can drive people away.

4. Choose Book Titles

All book clubs choose books a little differently, so I will share how I have successfully done it.

Voting:

For one club, we brought suggestions to each book club meeting. Everyone looked over them and voted. The book with the most votes wins! This usually works only if at least one person has read the book before it is picked. Otherwise, you may end up with a book that no one in the club could get through, and we end up at the book club feeling ignorant and ashamed, only to find out you were not alone. This can take the enjoyment out of it. No, not everyone will love the same books. But voting gives variety, as well as forces us out of our comfort zone.

Leader-Led Poll:

Another easy way to choose is, as the leader of the book club, you make a list of three or four options. The club votes, and the book is chosen. Sometimes there is no clear winner, so now you have chosen the books for the next three or four months! It simplifies things when you have a leader make the first choices and limit options to a few contenders.

5. Choose a Leader

If you are an avid reader, familiar with many styles of writing and books, and can choose books that are readily available (not only to purchase, but at the library or on ebook or audio), you will make an excellent book club leader. But don’t be discouraged if you don’t fit that bill; you can always find other members whose strengths are your weaknesses and co-lead together. You can start a book club even if you do not want to be the leader. But, generally you need to have someone that runs it, but doesn’t mean you run every meeting, just because you started the group. In our book club, we all basically make the decisions together. My sister does the scheduling and emails, one of the other group members decide where we meet and a theme, and I offer book suggestions.

A book club can be a tremendously fun way for readers to connect, even if they normally read totally different books and only come together over one particular book.

There’s nothing quite like a good book to bring together what could become lifelong friends.

Martha ArtyomenkoMartha Artyomenko is the mother of four sons, ages 21-14, and resides in beautiful Northwest Montana. Reading is the one hobby she allows herself and actually requires it to survive her busy life. Property Management company owner, Labor Doula and homeschool teacher are only a few of her daily jobs. Follow her blog at https://homeschooling4boyz.wordpress.com

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Monica Whitney says:

    I love this! Tried to start a book club at one point, but have always wanted to give it a try again. Maybe I will try again after I graduate!

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