Book Club Rules: Essential Guidelines for a Successful Group

If you’re looking for guidance on how to run a book club, don’t miss these tips on book club rules and expectations to consider for your group.

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If you’re looking for guidance on how to run a book club, don’t miss these tips on book club rules and expectations to consider for your group. While your book club may not need strict rules, clear expectations can help book club leaders ensure that meetings are respectful and welcoming for all members.

What’s one thing none of us want in book club? TENSION.

We all have different reasons for joining a book club, but if Donna shows up every month wearing her boxing gloves while Shayna wants to swoon about her favorite book boyfriend…there’s bound to be a disconnect.

If you’re thinking about starting a book club, or even if you’re already part of one, you may want to establish some expectations and ground rules. These guidelines can keep the club running smoothly and ensure all members feel respected and enjoy the experience.

Even if you’re planning a fun, laid-back club with friends (books-and-wine club, anyone?) setting a few expectations from the outset can help prevent problems later.

Book Club spelled out in blocks and placed in a book.

You’ll create an environment where everyone can openly share their thoughts and opinions on the books the club discusses. If you don’t want to be overly structured, you can always start simple and revisit the rules if problems arise later.

Then, if you find that members have different expectations–like Donna and Shayna–you can try to build in room for both (in this case, healthy debate and book boyfriend dreaming).

Your book club guidelines may cover things such as book selection, roles and responsibilities, attendance, punctuality, and participation in discussions, among other important details.

Your book club rules should be flexible enough to accommodate individual preferences while maintaining the overall integrity of the group.

As your club evolves, you may want to revisit and revise the rules as necessary.

If you’re the club’s leader, check in occasionally to see how everyone is feeling–you can do this as a group or one-on-one. In fact, any member should also feel free to suggest rule check-ins at any time.

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Book club rules to consider for a successful group

Establishing Book Club Rules and Expectations

Setting Ground Rules

To form a successful book club, set some simple and clear rules and expectations from the beginning. You may want to start with some basic ground rules for your meetings, which could include guidelines like:

  • Committing to reading the selected book
  • Respecting others’ opinions during discussions
  • Allowing everyone a chance to speak.

Be transparent about the club’s goals and expectations, and encourage open communication among members.

Creating Consistent Schedules and Agendas

Consistent meeting schedules–an overall schedule and a general agenda for each meeting–help members know what to expect and help with effective time management during discussions. Consider the following tips when setting schedules and agendas:

  • Determine the frequency of meetings (i.e., monthly, bi-monthly)
  • Choose a consistent day and time
  • Allow ample time to read the book and prepare for discussions
  • Rotate the discussion leader, so everyone has a chance to lead (and no one has to take on too much responsibility)
  • Consider rotating locations for in-person meetings or hosting virtual sessions
  • Finalize plans for the next meeting at the end of each book club meeting.

Make sure to establish a process for selecting books that accounts for members’ preferences, interests, and varying genre tastes. Read more about how to choose your next book for book club.

A group of women in a book club sitting at a table

Defining Acceptable Behavior

To ensure a pleasant and productive experience for all members, outline the acceptable behavior during book club meetings. Some examples include:

  • Encouraging punctuality and being respectful of others’ time
  • Setting clear expectations for attendance and participation. Life happens, but if someone doesn’t show up for a year, you may want to find a new member for that spot!
  • Acknowledging and respecting different opinions and points of view–and how the club will handle heated discussion
  • Discouraging the use of phones or tablets during discussions (unless necessary to reference the book or enhance the discussion)

By establishing these rules and expectations, you’ll create an environment where members feel valued, respected, and encouraged to continue participating in the book club.

Holding a Successful Book Club Meeting

The most important rule for everyone is respect: respect for other members, their opinions, their contributions, and their time. Book clubs only last when people feel comfortable and heard, and when they get something out of it.

Rules spelled out in blocks sitting beside a book

Role of the Leader or Moderator

Your club may also want to set expectations for the leader or moderator of a book club. In general, the discussion leader should come ready to get the discussion started, engage all members, and facilitate a respectful exchange of opinions and ideas.

Leaders may want to prepare a set of discussion questions in advance and be ready to ask open-ended questions that encourage thoughtful responses.

It’s also the leader’s role to be aware of the tenor of the discussion and try to mediate conflict. Healthy disagreement is fine and can make for interesting discussion, but leaders (and all club members) can be aware of anyone who may feel uncomfortable and try to steer the discussion in a more respectful direction.

Leaders may be responsible for creating a book club discussion guide or list of questions to establish a structure for the meetings. If the assigned leader can send the guide before the next book club meeting, it can help ensure that all the members come prepared with valuable insights to contribute.

Here are some things discussion leaders could include in a book club planning guide:

  • Discussion Questions: Thought-provoking questions and topics focused on the book’s themes, characters, and plot will help spark conversation and create a dynamic exchange of opinions between members.
  • Schedule: Leaders may want to create a rough schedule for moving through the discussion questions, with a time limit for each. The schedule doesn’t have to be strict, especially if the group takes an interesting detour in the discussion, but having it ready can keep things moving.
  • Activity: Leaders could add some variety by allowing time for a game, activity, or snack or meal related to the book. Occasionally mixing up the format can add some interest and fun, especially if book club members get burned out on discussion questions.

Leaders should keep the atmosphere welcoming and supportive, allowing everyone to share their thoughts on the book and its themes.

Participation and Listening

You may want to set a few general guidelines for general book club etiquette, member participation, and respect. Some ideas include:

  • RSVP for meetings: As a sign of commitment and politeness, ensure that members RSVP for each meeting. This also helps hosts plan for space and refreshments.
  • Be on time: Organizers often create an agenda for the meetings, so being punctual ensures that members don’t miss out on important items, such as book selection and scheduling updates (not to mention snacks!).
  • Read the book: Members should always aim to read the book, and the club should decide whether it’s okay for a member to attend if they haven’t read the book. Anyone who hasn’t finished the book should understand that there may be spoilers during the discussion.
  • Speak up: Everyone should try to be an active participant. Share opinions and ask others questions about their thoughts.
  • Listen to others: Give everyone a chance to express their thoughts and opinions. Show genuine interest in other members’ viewpoints and respect their contributions.
  • Clean up: If refreshments have been served or furniture moved for seating, everyone should take a few minutes to help clean up at the end of the meeting.

Also keep in mind that some books can bring up very personal issues and emotions. Ensure that everyone is on the same page about meetings being a safe place to share, without fear of personal information being shared with others outside of the club.

Resolving Conflicts

If necessary, consider creating a set of “fair fighting rules” for your book club to establish a respectful and open environment.

Encourage each member to adhere to certain rules within these guidelines, which may include listening actively, speaking respectfully, and avoiding personal attacks or blame.

Not every group will need rules like this, but it’s something to consider if your meetings get contentious.

Managing Spoilers

You may want to discuss how you manage potential spoilers, especially if you are reading a book over time or connecting with one another between meetings.

Encourage members to be honest about their reading progress, but also to be respectful and sensitive when discussing critical events, major twists, or characters’ fates.

This will prevent disappointed readers and preserve the suspense and excitement of the reading experience for everyone. (At the very least, check with one another on feelings about spoilers–some people don’t mind them!)

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How to make book club rules that keep your club running smoothly

Virtual Book Club Rules

Adapting Rules for Online Settings

If you have a virtual book club, you may need to adapt traditional book club rules to suit the online environment.

Just like with an in-person book club, set clear expectations for your members regarding meeting attendance, reading schedules, and respectful discussion.

It can be more difficult to get to know one another in online book clubs (especially if your club is online-only), so you may want to build in some time for socializing, activities, or games that can help everyone get acquainted.

  • Whenever possible, refer to the text or another authority to ground the conversation in facts or details from the book.
  • Encourage each member to share their point of view or interpretation.
  • When a conflict arises, focus on understanding the root of the disagreement and finding a resolution.
  • Remind members to stay open to differing opinions and interpretations.

Not every book club will feel the need to set rules, but many will find that establishing a few guidelines can keep things running smoothly–and give you something to guide you if conflict arises. Overall, the goal is to share the book love with fellow readers!

I’d love to know what rules have worked to keep your book club on track. What guidelines do you recommend for new book clubs?


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