Starting Your Own Book Club

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Starting your own book club is easier than you think, but it can still be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider. What are you going to read? How are you going to meet? If you’re meeting in person, who’s hosting? If you’re meeting virtually (and most people are, given the pandemic), what meeting software are you going to use? What are you even supposed to talk about?

Take Advantage of Existing Structures

Luckily, a lot of the work that goes into starting a book club has already been done for you. Here are two very different options for taking advantage of existing book club formats and ideas.

Small Press Distribution

Around 80% of the book market is controlled by just five publishing companies—Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan. Small Press Distribution, or SPD, is great you’re interested in supporting independent publishers. They focus on artistic and activist visions, offer a comprehensive book club starting guide, and a 45% discount on books ordered for book clubs. Also, they offer free shipping.

Goodreads

For more mainstream literature, consider having your prospective club join any of the numerous public groups on Goodreads. Goodreads groups are fairly unstructured. They offer you the freedom to read, meet, and interact with your friends within or outside the platform, but they still provide ideas on what to read and discuss. There are several potential downsides to using Goodreads. For one, it’s owned by Amazon and many of us are attempting to avoid using Amazon’s products or services for ethical reasons. For another, public groups are still essentially online discussion forums. That means they’re reliant on a moderator to police potentially offensive or inappropriate content, and standards will differ across groups.

Design Your Own

Designing your own book club from scratch is a daunting experience, but it can be rewarding. This is likely the best option for groups interested in reading genre fiction, as most existing groups tend to focus on literary fiction. Here’s some advice for starting your own book club:

  • I’ve found that Discord makes an excellent meeting platform for book clubs.
  • You can easily create a Google form that your prospective members can use to recommend books.
  • Taking a vote on the recommended books can help you democratically determine what to read.
  • Unsure what to talk about? If it’s a common book you’ll probably be able to Google potential discussion questions specific to the book. Otherwise, search for general questions to ask like these:
    • Did you like the book? Why or why not?
    • How did you feel about the characters? Were any of them relatable? Did you have a favorite? Why?
    • Was there romance? Did you like it? Were there any problematic aspects?
    • If you could change one thing about the book, what would it be?
    • Was there a plot twist? If so, what did you think about it?
    • Did you like the ending?
  • Bottom line: if something isn’t working for you, don’t do it. You have complete control over the situation and don’t have to conform to any ideas you don’t like, so don’t feel obligated to drink wine and discuss Tolstoy unless that’s what everyone wants to do.

Whatever you decide to do, a book club is a great way to stay busy and connected during uncertain and stressful times and I hope you have fun! Feel free to comment and tell me about what you’re reading right now, either alone or with a club.

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