How to Start a Book Club (and Keep It Going Strong)

how to start a book club tips

Set the Tone

People like to know what they’re getting into before they commit to something, so it’s important to take a second and think about the vision you have for your book club – even if you’ve never been in one before! Are you picturing something easygoing and social or more academic? This doesn’t mean you need to approach people with a 10-point list of rules from the get-go, but setting the tone for your book club is important.

Cast Your Net

If you have a bookish friend or two that you think might be interested in taking part, start there and let it spread! Social media (Facebook, Twitter) is a great way to let your friends know that your thinking of putting together a group and are looking for people to join in. Again, remember to let everyone know your general thoughts on the tone of the club, which can be detailed as you communicate further.

Establish Communication

This ties directly into casting your net, because you want to establish an effective form of communication from the start. Whether you set up a Facebook or Goodreads group or talk through e-mail, you want some way to communicate easily with everyone in the club.

Get Choosy

Probably the most wide-ranging difference between book clubs is how they go about choosing books, meeting dates and locations. Obviously, these are going to depend on your personal preference, but you’ll want to establish some kind of system early on. The difficult thing with dates and locations is finding a way to accommodate as many people as possible, but when it comes to choosing books you can really get creative. Some clubs assign each member a month when they can pick, while others choose all of their books for the year in January. You can decide as a group at the end of each meeting or put ideas into a jar and draw randomly. The possibilities are endless.

Do Your Own Thing

The possibilities are endless, so you don’t have to be like every other book club! Just because a friend has a group that meets the same Thursday every month with an assigned discussion leader doesn’t mean that’s the “right” way to run a book club. Remember: you set your tone, so you can choose to do your own thing. Read non-fiction! Bring a food or drink that pairs with your book to each meeting! Read a book before its movie comes out and see the film together! Be different instead of being concerned with doing things the right way.

What Has Worked for Me

About a year and a half ago, I reached out to a friend on Facebook and we posted about the possibility of starting a book club (very laid back, so laid back that our name is Books, Beer and Baked Goods). We created a Facebook group for those who were interested, where we discussed some possible books and made plans for our first meeting. Since then, the numbers of people participating have ebbed and flowed. We’re okay with it because we have a solid core of us that are there each time. To pick our books, we created a Goodreads group where we track what we’re interested in reading and make a choice at the end of each gathering. The meetings rotate randomly between our houses depending on who wants to host that month. Like I said, very laid back…which works – for us!

Keep It Going Strong

I think it’s important to remember that the whole point of a book club is sharing a fun love of reading. If it becomes a chore or something that’s creating stress, then part of the group is not functioning properly (size, overall tone, etc.). It might be time for an overhaul. I see just as many complaints about book clubs as I do expressions of love for them, so I wonder if sometimes we forget what the purpose is: books and friends and all that cheesy stuff (and probably some cheese).

If you’re part of a book club, what has worked for you?

  • Isi

    My book club is organized by the public library of my hometown and I like it very much, but you can imagine it’s absolutely different from your club, which is more like a group of friends talking about books.
    The advantages of the library book club are mainly that we have a place to do the meetings (in a room at the library), where we can also watch films on a big screen (basically fims based on the books we have read), and also that the library itself provide the books for all the people, which is super.
    It’s my only experience regarding book clubs (without taking into account other book clubs in internet) and for the moment I’m happy with it. By the way, we are 18 women and 2 men; I think book clubs reflects those surveys that say women read more than men :)

    • The nice thing about yours, too, is I bet you met a bunch of people you wouldn’t have known otherwise through your group.

      It’s nice to see that there are some men in your group. I bet more men would join/create groups if they didn’t have this “female” stigma attached to them.

      • Tanya M

        It is a great idea to join a library book club, you know you’ll get serious readers.. I started a IRL book club with a friend. Because we are all moms and my friend wasn’t coming b/c she couldn’t get away without the kids, I told her to bring them. The two older ones have read the Harry Potter series and I bring my oldest son who has read it too. Its fun having the kids there to hear their take on the HP book vs. Movie and discuss the questions I get off Lit Lovers. We talk about the monthly book for 15 minutes and the rest of the time we talk about other books and life in general. I’m not good at leading discussions, I don’t want to make it too deep like an English class but I do wish i was better at keeping convo going. In any case, its fun and a good excuse to meet with some of my best friends each month! Thanks for the tips!

  • Jenny @ Reading the End

    Love this post! My book club back in New York had a method of choosing books that I really liked — whoever disliked the last book the most got to choose for the next book club. That person would nominate three books, and everybody would vote (privately), so the book with the most votes won. It was nice because if you picked a book nobody much liked, on your turn, you didn’t have to feel too guilty about it. :p

  • Great post! I tried a book club with a few close friends about two years ago, but made the mistake of assuming they would be as into it as I was. The month that I organized went off without a hitch, but then when others took over, life and other distractions got in the way. Six months later, after having read just one book during that time, we decided it wasn’t going to work.

    I just joined another one that is run by a different group of friends, and so far so good. The leader was definitely up-front about the tone and timeline, and she is great at communicating about what books we’re considering, and when/where the next meeting will be. Not everyone will be able to make every meeting, but I think consistency is most important (at least during the first few months) to get it off the ground.

    • I think that’s the great thing about my group right now is that we all understand that we have lives and the world won’t end if we can’t make it one time or finish a book that month, but we really look forward to it so we do as much as we can to work around it.

  • What a great post :) I’ve been wanting to start a book club forEVER. I need to just DO it!

  • Great post! I miss being in a book club. Though, the only one I’ve ever actually been in was a music teachers book club. Fun, though. :)

  • Suey

    Perfect suggestions! The book club I started will be celebrating 10 years in May! I’m so blown away by this. We are hoping to have a party of some sort. I think the thing that has helped us last so long is consistency (always the third Thursday, always at my house) and that we use book club sets from the library so people don’t stress about finding the book.

  • Lisa Munley

    Great post. I love my book club. We’ll be together 7 yrs in March. My best advice for anybody just starting out is this – don’t invite your friends. What I mean by that is it’s way more important to invite people who love to read. My best friend isn’t into reading, so I didn’t invite her. It’s nice to have a diverse group so that there aren’t too many side conversations and there isn’t a clique-y feel (for instance, if you have three co-workers there and they’re all chatting about work, your neighbor is going to feel bored and left out). Suggest the 1st book (ours was Snowflower and the Secret Fan) and pick a date to discuss. Let that 1st meeting be your organizational meeting and have some clear ideas of what you’re hoping to accomplish. Have a few rules! Ours are – paperbacks only (due to expense) and nothing over 400 pages (we’ve broken that rule only once). We have 11 members, and we each host 1 meeting a yr (1 month we go out). We think that’s perfect! We always meet on the 2nd Sunday of the month. Our meetings are structured like this – dinner and socializing, about an hour – talk about the book for about an hour – dessert (very important). The hostess makes a main dish and other people bring sides. Wine is important. We vote 4 times/yr on 3 new titles (everyone brings suggestions and we vote anonymously). Does this sound super organized? It is, but it’s not rigid or boring. It’s great, and has added so much to my life! Have fun!!

    • Such a good call on not picking people just because they’re your friends, regardless of whether they like books or not. I’m sure that’s why so many clubs die out or just end up being gossip/hang out sessions instead of actually talking about the book.

  • Lisa Munley

    Oh! And be sure to enter the monthly contests at TLC Book Tours for a chance for your book club to win sets of books! Here’s January’s contest: http://tlcbooktours.com/2014/01/book-club-of-the-month-contest-for-january-2014/

  • Kelly Massry

    The book club in my community is part of an organization so you have to pay for admission – $25 – which I don’t like so I’ve stopped going. Plus, I find being a blogger it’s hard to balance the books I want and need to read with their book-of-the-month. I’d love to start my own book club but it seems I’m out here on an oasis – I don’t really have friends who read! That’s why I’m so grateful for the blogging community.

    • That’s strange that they make you pay – I hope you at least get a book! It can get hard to balance book club and blogging books at times…blogging is a bit of a book club itself :)

      • Kelly Massry

        Nope, you have to buy the book on your own too. They have a really intelligent and witty literary type lead the discussion so I guess that’s what you’re paying for. She’s since moved, so that she’s not as local, as has tried to hand the book club moderation to me (apparently she gets paid well to do it!) but I chickened out. I don’t really have presence in front of a group and would be too intimidated!

  • This is an EXCELLENT guide! I am in a wonderful book club (meeting tonight, in fact). I didn’t start it, but when our local indie closed, we managed to sustain it at a slightly smaller, but devoted, size.

  • The Book Wheel

    Great list! I will definitely be following it as Rebecca and I move forward with next month’s book club!

  • Tara Gantz Newman

    Hi Shannon – these are great tips. I have been thinking about doing a virtual book club and you definitely planted some idea seeds. Stopping by from SITS.

  • Tif

    I love book club posts!! Thank you for sharing this one!

    I have started a number of book clubs, the latest one being an online group that began as a core of friends from previous IRL groups. It’s still in the early stages, but I am loving it so far. Definitely bookmarking this post for future reference as we progress!

  • I’ve never belonged to a book club, but these are great tips for if I try to start one! (I only have one close bookish friend offline, but she’s attending grad school in a different state! I’m desperately hoping she ends up back here so we can form a book group.)

  • This is an amazing post because once I get back to Florida (sooooon!!!) I want to start a real-life book club!

  • Realize I’m “late to the game,” so to speak, but just found your blog! Nice post. I totally agree about friends, however, I have a good story about that. I probably should create a blog post about my experience in establishing a book club. You have provided some motivation for me to do just that. You make some very good points and it is great to see the variety of clubs, book selection processes, etc., expressed in the comments section!

  • kwonluver

    This is actually really good to follow because my friends and I created a book club and then after time it just sort of died with everyone moving off to do their own thing. I would love to start another one so I think I’ll bring it up to my friends and make some suggestions on how to keep it going.