How to Start a Book Club
By Maddie DayDecember 18, 2018
Maddie Day, author of the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, tells us everything we need to know to start a book club!
We’re partnering with Kensington Books to supply you with enough copies of Murder on Cape Cod for your entire book club! Don’t have a book club? Don’t worry, Maddie Day’s got you covered…
If you like the idea of reading the same book as a group of friends and talking about it over refreshments, a book club is for you. But if there isn’t one already running in your area, or if the ones that are in operation aren’t taking new members, you might as well start your own. But how?
First, you need to decide if you’ll read all genres or only one – say, mysteries. In my new series, the Cozy Capers book group reads only cozy mysteries – and they live on Cape Cod, thus the name. Some groups read everything but mysteries, others read anything in print, and some only read non-fiction.
You’ll want to consider if you’ll audition members or let anyone join. This is going to be a group you plan to hang out with one evening a month and you’ll want to get along. Another consideration is where to meet. If you snag a room in the public library, the meetings likely will have to be open to the public. If you host every month, you can have final say in who joins. And if the members host on a rotating basis, the decisions will be made by the group.
Then you have to find some book lovers. Local libraries are a good place for that. See if you can post a notice on their bulletin board, Facebook page, or newsletter. Similarly, if you belong to a church, a garden club, or a gym, new members might be found there. Be clear about how often you plan to meet and the genre (or lack thereof) of the books. In my series, the members are all residents of fictional Westham, Massachusetts. The head librarian belongs, and the town clerk, the woman who owns the fudge shop, the distiller, the Lobstah Shack owner, and of course, our protagonist, Mackenzie (Mac) Almeida, owner, and proprietor of Mac’s Bikes.
Having a minimum number of members is a good idea, and so is setting a maximum. If you have only five join and two or more can’t come each month, it’ll be a small discussion. On the other hand, if members are going to host in their homes, even twenty might be too big of a group.
Once you have accumulated the right number of people, call the first meeting to plan out the year’s books and the meeting scheme. Will you eat dinner beforehand? Will it be potluck? Will you keep comestibles to wine, cheese, and dessert? Many groups rotate the hosts, and the host provides the food, but your group gets to make up its own rules from the start. In the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, members take turn making a dish from the book the group is discussing.
Do you want to meet all year or take the summers off? What day or night of the week or month will you meet? If you’re all retirees, a daytime meeting time might work best. People coming straight from jobs will want a later start and some hefty appetizers. Whatever the group chooses, it needs to be a time when everyone is agrees they are available. The Cozy Capers meet weekly all year round, but that’s unusual. Even more unusual is that they get involved in solving the murder of the man Mac stumbles over (quite literally) on the bike trail on a foggy night.
How to communicate is another thing you want to nail down at the first meeting. A Google or Facebook group? A group email? A group text thread? It’s up to you, but you need to be sure everyone is comfortable using that method. Get a sign-up sheet of emails and telephone numbers and then circulate it to everyone.
Also be sure to hash out expectations for the discussion. Some groups get deep into literary analysis. Others want to talk casually about what they liked and didn’t like in the story, and some members might never finish the book but want a social get-together.
Decide how to select the books. Does the host get to pick? Maybe the choice of who picks goes alphabetically through the list of members and then starts over. Or do you throw titles in a hat and pick twelve? In Murder on Cape Cod, which takes place in early June, the group decides that each book for the summer meetings will take place in a different month, so by fall they’ll have read through the calendar year.
Also, discuss where you’ll get the books. Some libraries have book club kits, with fifteen (or however many) copies of the same book provided in a bag, so members don’t have to buy the read. Such kits would be one reason to limit the group to fifteen, as a friend’s group does. Sometimes the kits come with discussion questions, too.
Finally, be clear from the start that this is a commitment. Sure, you want to have a good time, but members need to stick to the schedule and be serious about showing up.
And then have fun. If you read a book by a local author, contact them to come and visit the meeting where you discuss the book. Most authors are delighted to chat with fans, especially if some tasty food and a glass of wine are included. I know I am! With any luck, your group won’t need to solve a real murder in town instead of discussing the one in the book.
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