How to Run a Book Club Discussion: 10 Top Tips

Updated on

| by

As the host of a book club, you have both the honor and responsibility for facilitating a discussion that’s thought-provoking, inclusive, on-topic and courteous. This can be challenging because group dynamics can get unruly, and not everyone is a natural facilitator.

So, we’ve developed this guide on how to run a book club discussion to help you develop those facilitation skills and host the best book club possible. The guide offers 10 tips that will help you lead a book club discussion that’s robust enough to keep everyone engaged…and coming back.

How to lead a book club discussion.

Why Is Book Club Moderation Even Necessary?

We don’t advocate for an iron-fisted approach to running your book club discussion, it’s meant to be fun after all. However, if you let the conversation flow too organically, you’ll run several risks. The first is that you’ll somehow drift too far from the topic of the book– especially if it wasn’t beloved– and into social conversation. And that’s not a bad thing, but if you spend very little time discussing the actual book, what then, is the purpose of your book club?

Another risk of unfacilitated discussion is that your group may be overwhelmed by the more opinionated members (I’m guilty of this), leaving no air in the room for your more shy or introverted members. Gentle moderation will go a long way toward mitigating this issue.

And the third benefit of hosting a well-run book discussion is that the varied opinions arising from the discussion will expose your friends to aspects of the book that they may not have considered. They will come away with a deeper understanding of the book than if they had simply read it solo. Ultimately, this is one of the greatest benefits of a book club and as a host, you carry the responsibility to prime that pump.

We’ve broken up this advice into two categories. The first is some advance prep that you can do (or assign to your members), which will get everyone primed for a good discussion. The second involves some facilitation techniques for how to lead a book club discussion with broad participation and a wide range of thoughts and opinions.

How to Run a Book Club Discussion: Advance Prep

1. Send Out Meeting Reminders

We recommend that you send out a meeting reminder at least a week in advance of your book club date. The obvious benefit is to remind people to attend, along with the when and where. But it also serves as a gentle nudge to members who haven’t quite finished the book. And it gives people who aren’t planning to attend a graceful way to bow out.

2. Come Prepared

Don’t assume that the book club conversation will simply flow freely. It’s a good idea to come prepared with some discussion prompts which can get the conversation going, or revive one that’s flagging.

You can do this by bringing at least 5 discussion prompts which get at some interesting (confusing, confounding, or heart-breaking) aspect of the book. We’ve got a whole list of generic book club questions that you can use. We also publish multiple book club guides per month and each of them has 10 discussion prompts and thought provoking reviews. Check out our archives to see if we have a discussion guide for you book. Or you can source them from the publisher or other book bloggers.

3. Ask Your Book Clubbers to Come Prepared

Even better, ask your fellow book club friends to do some of the heavy lifting. You can assign each of them to bring one or two questions. Alternatively, you can send a link to an author interview or thought-provoking review of the book to read as homework in advance of your meeting.

4. Occasionally Remind Everyone of the Rules

It’s easier to keep everyone on track than to right the ship after its already started veering toward the iceberg. Occasionally reminding everyone of your club’s rules and guidance around etiquette will help keep everyone on track. This can include reminders about common courtesy, rules about reading the book, RSVP etiquette, etc.

If your club doesn’t have any guidelines, you may want to create some using our book club rules.

A word after a word after a word is power, Margaret Atwood quote.

How to Lead a Book Club Discussion That Gets Everyone Talking

5. Get Beyond “Liked It”

Running a good book club discussion means getting everyone beyond a simple “liked it” or “didn’t like it”. But if you ask “did you like it”, you are begging for just that sort of binary response. It’s nice to start a book club conversation by taking the liked/disliked temperature, but try to ask the question in a non-binary way. Examples:

  • Did you like or dislike it? Give one example why.
  • If you disliked it, name one thing that you did like about it.
  • Rate on a scale where 1 is throw it out the window, and 10 is to recommend it to everyone you know. Give an example of why it earned that rating from you.

6. Make Sure Everyone Has Their Say

In every book club group, there’s always someone who talks too much and someone who doesn’t talk enough. Starting the conversation with a round-robin (or inserting one somewhere in the discussion), will help to even out the contributions. Examples:

  • Do are aforementioned variation on the like/dislike.
  • Ask everyone to share who was their favorite (character, setting, scene, twist).
  • What emoji would you give this book?
  • How would you describe this book in a short sentence?
  • What kind of feels did this book give you? Name one emotion.
  • How many stars would you rate this book? Why?

7. Practice Active Listening

There’s a book by Kate Murphy called You’re Not Listening. In it she talks about how, despite constant digital communication, we’ve lost the art of listening to each other.

(At least that’s what I think the book is about. I was trying to listen to it as an audiobook and kept getting distracted. I guess I wasn’t “listening”.)

Some good listening practices include: being fully present and undistracted, being empathetic and non-judgmental, quieting your own agenda, using active forward-leaning body language, paying attention to non-verbal clues, and asking questions.

You can model this behavior for your fellow book clubbers.

8. Stay On Topic (Or Not)

If your book club is anything like mine, the discussions can be wide-ranging. Discussing an aspect of the book can lead to a member sharing a personal experience, which turns into a mini-therapy session. Or you get caught up with each other’s lives while you’re waiting for your food to arrive and forget to start talking about the book.

You can let the conversation be organic, as long as you are doing so mindfully. Sometimes it’s appropriate to gently remind everyone that you’ve strayed from the topic of the book and throw down a new prompt to get things back on track. Or perhaps you sense that the book is talked out. In that case, ask your members if they are done talking about the book, or if anyone has anything else to share.

9. Using “Yes, And” to Build Conversation

In improv theater, there is a technique called “yes, and”. The actor takes a line or action thrown at them from another actor, and then they build upon it. Conversely “no, but” closes the conversation with disagreement or finality. Using “yes, and” rather than “no, but” can also be useful for facilitating a book club conversation that builds and grows, rather than one that dies in a cul-de-sac. Here’s how it could work:

Example of “no, but”

Jane: “The plot went back and forth in time so much, I found it confusing”
You: “I didn’t find it confusing at all”

Example of “yes, and”

Jane: “The plot went back and forth in time so much, I found it confusing”
You: “I also found it confusing at first, but then I realized that the chapter headings indicated the time frame. So, I paid attention at the beginning of each chapter and I was able to keep better track of what was going on.”

Example of “no, but”

Jane: “I kept wondering why his wife put up with so much grief from him”
You: “Yea, me too.”

Example of “yes, and”

Jane: “I kept wondering why his wife put up with so much grief from him”
You: “Linda, you were talking earlier about the book’s setting and cultural expectations. Do you think that there was cultural pressure on the wife to accept her husband’s bad behavior?”

Mind the Time

I love hanging with my book club, but at some point, dinner ends and we all need to go home. If you’re hosting your book club discussion, it’s on you to keep track of time and make sure that the group has time for everything. This includes some time for chitchat, discussing this month’s book and selecting the next book.

You could be direct and say up front at what time you’re to close down the chitchat and get to the book discussion, followed by the selection of the next book. Or you could play it by ear and try to insert a graceful transition if the conversation seems to be going on really long.

According to Stephen King “books are a uniquely portable magic.” We hope that these suggestions for how to run a book club discussion will help you and your fellow clubbers find that magic. Happy reading!


Use our guide to find dozens of book ideas for your group.

Find Your Next Book Club Book

Our Latest Book Club Guides

Our Latest Book Lists

Share these tips on how to lead a book club discussion with your friends:

Share on Social Media

Meet our Writers:

Leave a Comment