09 April, 2020
Now is a great time to launch that online book club you’ve always wanted, but how do you start? Follow these simple guidelines to be up and running in no time.
Step 1: Determine what kind of book club you want
Starting a physical book club is fairly straightforward. The number of people will be determined by the size of the meeting room and you’ll be restricted to nearby connections. An online book club, however, is a completely different matter. Before you come up with a clever group name, you need to decide where to host your online meetings, how many people you ideally want in the group, what types of books you want to read and how frequently you want to meet.
For example, if you want to meet monthly with a specific group of invited members, you may choose one of the video chat platforms, such as Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom. Alternatively, if you want to create a community space where readers can chat throughout the week, Facebook or Goodreads Community Groups are a better option. If you choose the Groups option, you can further determine whether you want a public group which anyone can join or a private group which requires members to be authorised.
Write out your book club description and membership rules once you are clear on your plans.
Step 2: Set-up your online group meeting space
If you’ve chosen to host a monthly video conference for your online book club, your set-up will be as simple as issuing a calendar invite. If you’ve opted for an online community group, you’ll have a few more steps involved.
First, you’ll need to create a group on the platform of your choice. This may require you to come up with group name, rules, and even a cover image, along with determining which permissions to grant to members. Do you want to have total control over approving member requests, reviewing posts and creating events or do you want to let your members loose to act as they see fit?
Next, you should consider adding additional group moderators. These should be individuals you know and trust, as they will have admin rights to your group. Having an additional moderator is particularly useful if you want to retain control over approving members and posts within the group, as they can help pick up some of the work. Plus, if you have an extra moderator, the group can meet even if you are not available to participate.
Step 3: Invite members to join
Selecting people to invite to your group will depend heavily on the type of books you plan to read. If you want to focus on a specific genre, such as literary fiction, mysteries or historical fiction, you will want to reach out to friends who you know are fans of the genre. Alternatively, if you are happy to read any book the group selects, you may want to invite in people who you can depend upon to participate in a discussion.
As you invite members in, be clear with them upfront about your plans for the group, frequency of meetings (or informal chats) and whether or not you want them to invite others to join.
Step 4: Picking your first book
As a starting point for you first meeting, you should get everyone together (virtually) to pick which book you want to read, and to agree how quickly you will meet back up to discuss. We recommend coming to the meeting with a shortlist of ideas. You want a book which will generate discussion. After all, what fun is a book club if everyone simply nods and says they liked it? You may want to choose something controversial or highly topical or one which is left open to the reader to interpret. You could include a classic as well as a new release. Make sure you have enough options in case you find a majority has already read some of your suggestions.
Step 5: Hosting your first meeting
As the group owner, it is your responsibility to encourage and facilitate the discussion. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for a book club discussion guide. Many publishers and authors now offer discussion guides on their websites or even in the back matter of the book itself. These questions can act as a starting point for discussion, or to get the group back on track if they fall down a rabbit hole.
You may also consider inviting a special guest to attend, including the writer themselves. Many writers can be reached via their website and social media accounts. However, especially famous writers are likely inundated with requests and may not be available. Another idea could be to invite a book reviewer or a less-famous writer who took inspiration from the book you are reviewing.
Step 6: Review your meeting and plan for your next
Your first book club meeting will be an excellent litmus test for your future plans. Before you end the virtual meeting, take a moment to gather feedback from your participants. Ask them which aspects they enjoyed and which elements worked less well. If discussion became too heated or fell flat, you may need to reconsider your membership mix. You can crowdsource ideas for your next title and either agree on the spot, or post a poll later to let everyone vote.
Need ideas for great book club reads? Check out the titles below or browse our Monthly Picks.