Congratulations! Starting a book club is a great way to expand your friend group and give yourself an opportunity to not only read more books, but to read more diversely. But starting a book club isn’t just a matter of hanging a shingle and hoping people show up. A lot of book clubs fail because there wasn’t a clear intent for the club and/or insufficient rules for guiding the club’s interactions.
Never fear, we’ve got you covered, because we have decades of experience in book clubs (both good and bad). So, use these ideas for how to start a book club and create a group with lasting power.
How to Start a Book Club
Each book club is a snowflake and there are no hard and fast rules for starting a discussion group— so these tips aren’t meant to be overly prescriptive. But rather, consider them prompts that will help you decide upon your basic group structure, and advice on framing up some rules to guide how the club works.
1. Consider Who Will Be Allowed into the Group
If you are starting a book club, your first order of business is to consider who you want in it. There are basically three different types of groups and each has its advantages and disadvantages
Fully Open: This sort of group is typically operated at a library, bookstore or other community settings. There is usually a moderator who chooses the books, and who guides the conversation. Anyone from within that community is allowed to join
- Pros: Usually has a firm structure and very predictable schedule.
- Cons: Since anyone can join, the group size an become unwieldy and dealing with unruly or impolite members can be difficult
Semi Open: These types of groups are usually formed by a sub-population, such as a work book club or people from a particular neighborhood. Rules about how books are chosen and how the conversation is moderated can vary (more on that below).
- Pros: Provides opportunities for the members to become new & true friends with one another. You share some things in common, but you are not a monolithic group, so you can expect a range of ideas.
- Cons: There will often be an outer fringe of less than committed group members who are inconsistent in their participation.
Closed: These groups are typically comprised of people who are already friends or people from a tight community such as a Mom group, or college buddies.
- Pros: People tend to be more committed if they are already friends with others in the group. The group can strengthen existing relationships.
- Cons: The group runs the risk of becoming too insular.
3. Determine Where You’ll Meet
Fully open groups will usually meet in a public place such as a library or bookstore. And some don’t meet in person at all, favoring video meetings. Semi-open and closed groups can meet anywhere. My group appreciates the social aspects of book club so we usually meet at a restaurant, and occasionally meet at someone’s house.
Some groups rotate around the member’s homes, taking turns hosting and preparing some refreshments. This method helps to share the responsibility for hosting. And yet, others have settled on one consistent location. This may help people remember to come, but it places a higher burden on one member.
3. Decide How to Handle Food & Drink
The fully open book clubs in community settings typically don’t offer refreshment. But most other book clubs have at least snacks and drinks, and many do a full dinner. Consider who you want to invite into the club. Can they afford a restaurant dinner? Do you think that they’d want to host? Do they like cooking? Is alcohol OK, or no?
If you do decide to offer home hosting, there are a few different ways to handle the food. You can distribute the load by asking everyone to bring a dish. Some book clubs even do this according to some theme from the book. Alternatively, the host can provide all of the food. But if you go this route, try to set some guidance around how extravagant it will be because some bookclubbers get competitive about hosting duties.
4. Decide How Books Get Chosen
One of the biggest benefits of a book club is that it’ll give you the opportunity to expand your reading horizons. But choosing book club books can also become contentious if you don’t agree upon a few rules ahead of time.
For our purposes, we define “diverse reading” as reading a wide range of books from different genres, cultures, political viewpoints, and/or by or about people who have a very different lived experience than us. So, if you want to do the same, you’ll want people in your group to be open to that.
Alternatively, you could decide that you are the sci-fi book club and just read in that genre. Or that you only want to do works in translation, or read books from the Jenna’s Today Show book club list, or by female authors, or whatever. That’s OK too, but make sure everyone joining the club is bought in.
You’ll also want to consider who does the choosing. You can have a benevolent dictator whose chooses the books— this is common for the more open groups. You can have everyone bring a selection and then you vote. Or you can take turns.
Once you’ve sorted that out, use our article on how to choose book club books to get ideas for how to source books. And be sure to check out our ongoing list of popular book club books. We update it monthly with fresh reads.
5. Agree Upon Participation Rules
Now that you’ve figured out how to start a book club, it’s time to establish some rules to keep it running smoothly.
Book clubs that don’t make it are usually tanked for one of two reasons: dead weight in the group which drives inconsistent attendance, or one or more members are overbearing or rude. If not dealt with, either of those two things will slowly erode the group.
We have a whole article with suggested book club rules to will help you with that. But the nut is to set expectations up front about attendance and cultivate an atmosphere of openness and respect. We’ve also got some tips for how to run a book club discussion, which will help keep things engaging and orderly.
6. How to Keep Your Book Club Organized
You need some way to stay in touch and make sure everyone remembers the date of book club and which book you’re reading.
Common methods include: a group text thread, monthly email thread, Facebook group, Meet-up group or the Book Movement platform.
My group uses a private Facebook group to log the event, gather RSVPs and to share fun book news and memes. And we also have a group text thread for on-the-fly reminders. Facebook works well for the administrative elements and texting works better than email for pushing more urgent into to the top of the queue.
More Book Club Resources
- Peruse our book lists for ideas. Some of our popular lists include books featuring magical schools, and books about librarians. We’ve also got some esoteric lists like books about elephants, about walking and books that celebrate a bookish life.
- If your club has a world-view, then check out our book lists set in various destinations like Australia, Paris, Spain, and Ireland.
- If you like to go deep on particular authors, you can work on the backlist for Jodi Picoult, Taylor Jenkins Reid or Colleen Hoover.
- We have lots of discussion guides for fiction and non-fiction titles, but we’ve also got a resource with 101 book club questions that will work for any book.
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