How to Start a Successful Book Club: A Comprehensive Guide

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So you’re ready to start a book club—that’s great! Book clubs are an excellent way to celebrate your love of books and add new dimensions to your reading.

A book club can turn your solitary hobby into something a little bit social and give you a chance to discuss and understand books in new ways.

Starting and running your book club isn’t difficult, but some important considerations, best practices, and planning steps will ensure it goes smoothly.

Book written in magnet letters on a stack of books.

This guide to starting a book club will help you plan, find engaged book club members, and keep your book club running smoothly.

DECIDE ON THE TYPE OF BOOK CLUB

The first step in starting a book club is deciding what kind of club you want to create. What kind of books will you be reading?

Is this group for pensive literary fiction or rollicking fantasy adventure novels?

Three women sitting on a sofa in book club

Do you want to read classic literature, nonfiction, popular authors, only female writers, only African-American novelists—the possibilities are endless!

Also, decide if you want your club to be serious and entirely focused on books, more social with a side of books, or a mix of social and literary.

FIND MEMBERS

Once you have a good idea of what kind of book club you want to run, it’s time to invite members. Start by simply asking your reader friends and acquaintances if they’re interested in a book club.

There’s no magic number of members for a successful book club–your club might be 2 or 20 (or more!) people. However, most book clubs–especially if you’ll be meeting in homes–will have up to 12 people.

A book club discussing a book

After checking with friends, consider posting an announcement about your new club on neighborhood websites, Facebook groups. or other social media if you still need members.

You can even try making a flyer and posting it around town–especially at libraries, bookstores, or even coffee shops. Advertising outside your circle can be a great way to attract book lovers who have different perspectives.

Once you have your members, set up an email list or group chat for everyone in the club to stay updated on meeting details.

You also might consider using these channels to keep the book discussions going outside of your meetings.

HOLD YOUR FIRST BOOK CLUB MEETING

You’ll want to work out some logistics the first time your book club meets, but there is room for some bookish bonding! Here is a suggested agenda for your first meeting:

GET TO KNOW THE MEMBERS.

Have everyone introduce themselves and tell a little about their reading life (this may be new information, even if you’re all close friends or family members!).

Consider playing an icebreaker game or giving everyone a few prompts to cover in their introductions.

A book club playing an icebreaker game

A few ideas:

  • What book are you reading now?
  • Who is your favorite character in literature, and why?
  • Tell us about the last book you loved and the last book you hated.

DISCUSS HOW THE CLUB WILL RUN.

Decide what type of books you’ll read, how often you’ll meet, and the “style” of the book club (is it formal? social? completely focused on the book?). What is the purpose of your book club?

Make sure members understand these things before they commit; those looking for a social group will not be happy with a formal reading group, and vice versa.

The hand of a person writing down a plan for book club

Also, discuss meeting times and days and the meeting location. If you have a big group of people, you may not want to cram into someone’s living room every week.

Discuss a public space like a library meeting room, local bookstores with a private room, or community centers that might be good meeting places.

If you’re planning a virtual book club, this will look very different from an in-person club–look into options for an online forum or Facebook group. (You may even want to use these if you do meet in person!)

Set Expectations.

Discuss expectations for active members. For example, what happens if someone misses several meetings in a row?

When and how can new members be added? Are visitors allowed at book club meetings?

A piece of paper titled Rules with a cup of coffee sitting beside it

Establish some basic ground rules members need to follow, assign responsibilities, and discuss meeting format and communication logistics. This way, everyone knows what to expect–and you won’t have any surprises.

Consider whether you’ll trade-off responsibilities, such as leading and hosting. I recommend rotating–even someone who enjoys leading or hosting may appreciate a break.

Plus, it gives everyone a chance to lead–a great way to encourage non-readers or quiet members to participate!

You might want to discuss now how you’ll deal with differing opinions, dominating personalities, or what happens if one member causes problems.

Hopefully, this won’t be an issue, but having a plan can ease tension and head off problems before they start.

The overarching goal should be to create a respectful space for everyone to enjoy books together.

Decide How You’ll Choose Books.

Most importantly, discuss how the group will choose books each month.

Will you vote, take member suggestions, or choose from a list? Will you follow the same process every time? You may want to switch it up and get creative!

A group of five women in a book club

Your club may want to follow a theme or focus on a topic for a few meetings, read several books by a specific author, or jump around to different types of books. The options are endless.

In addition, you may want to establish a few guidelines and things to avoid when suggesting and choosing books. For example, you might avoid:

  • Brand new books, or the latest pick from a celebrity book club (they can be more expensive and harder to get)
  • The favorite book of any one member (that member might be too attached; you want lively conversation, not offended readers)
  • Longer books (the sweet spot is usually less than 400 pages–you want to ensure everyone has enough time to read it!)

You won’t always get this right, and that’s okay! Some books will be duds for your particular club.

It’s okay to choose one or two books to start and continue discussing the process in later meetings; choosing books is one thing that can get contentious among book club members, so keep the discussion open and try a few things to see what works.

CHOOSE BOOKS TO READ.

Choosing books is when it finally gets a little more fun! You discussed the process for choosing earlier, and now you get to talk books!

If you and your book club need some ideas for your first book choice, check out some of our book lists and read-alikes.

A close-up of a book in someone's lap

Your local library is also a great resource. Find out if they have any book club kits or discussion guides. These kits often include several copies of the book so all members can read it without purchasing their own copy.

At this point in the night, everyone should be excited for the *real* first book club meeting–the one where you’ll get to discuss the book!

SCHEDULE YOUR NEXT BOOK CLUB MEETING.

Wrap up the meeting and finalize details for the next meeting:

  • Who is hosting (and/or bringing snacks, if applicable)
  • Where it will be 
  • What book you’re reading
  • Who will be leading the discussion.

Decide who will send out a reminder to all of the book club members before the next meeting.

If you haven’t already, you may want to set a meeting schedule for the next few months to get it on the calendar and encourage members to prioritize the meetings.

PREPARE FOR BOOK CLUB

You’ll need to prepare for each meeting, and that preparation can vary depending on your responsibilities.

IF YOU’RE HOSTING:

Clean your meeting space and make any necessary food/drink arrangements. Try to keep it simple–that will alleviate pressure from future hosts and make the hosting duty enjoyable for everyone. Don’t get competitive with hosting! It will quickly become tiresome if fancy spreads are expected every time.

You’ll want to have enough drinks and snacks on hand for everyone who might show up (and maybe a few extra in case someone brings friends, if that’s allowed). If others are helping with snacks, make space for them and have things like plates, napkins, and serving utensils ready.

Arrange seating for discussion; set out extra chairs if needed.

You may want to put out some pens and index cards for notes, questions, or thoughts that come up during the discussion time.

IF YOU’RE LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Read the book

It should go without saying that if you’re leading the book discussion, you need to read the book! Try to finish it well before the meeting, so you have some time to prepare talking points and discussion questions.

Plan your meeting–and time yourself.

You might think, “Oh, I can just wing it!” but that’s not a good idea.

If note cards or sticky notes are available, you may want to give people a minute to jot down thoughts after you first raise the discussion topic, then spend a few minutes talking about the subject.

A woman leading a book discussion

Try to allot time for each discussion point or question. Then, set a timer for that topic.

On the flip side of this: if the group is in the middle of a lively discussion on a fascinating point, let them continue to talk! Try to read the room and know when to move on and when to let a good conversation continue. Don’t be afraid to ask the group what they want to do if you’re not sure.

If you feel like there’s a natural break when moving from one question to another, take it–but don’t get too comfortable. The key is to keep the conversation moving.

Prepare any materials you need (if applicable).

If your book club reads nonfiction, consider doing research ahead of time and bring relevant information to the meeting. Photos, video clips, and other information related to the topic can add a lot to a nonfiction read (think about how often you Google when you’re reading about a topic that interests you. Share those findings!).

Consider using a book club worksheet or reading guide. Sometimes the publisher or author websites will have these available for book clubs.

When in doubt, try using some book club questions that will work for almost any book! Look for questions that help the conversation flow.

PRintable Book Club Discussion Questions

Get a free printable list of book club questions that work for any book…

Printable book club discussion questions

PLUS 40+ more genre-specific questions when you subscribe to email updates.

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Wrap up the meeting

Keep an eye on the clock and make sure to wind things down on time.

As the discussion comes to a close, don’t forget to thank everyone for coming. You might also want to ask if anyone has any more thoughts or concerns about the book club itself before closing out of discussion time.

At the end of every meeting, remind everyone about the next meeting–including the book, location, date, and time. If these details aren’t final yet, wrap up the book discussion early enough so there’s time for these logistics.

IF YOU’RE NOT LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

Read the book

Like the leader, you need to read the book!

If you haven’t read the book but choose to attend, first make sure it’s okay with your fellow book club members—you should have discussed this in the first meeting.

Book club participants deep in discussion

You don’t have to pretend that you read the whole book (in fact, please don’t do this–you’re more likely to annoy others!), but you should be able to contribute to the conversation.

Take notes

You’ll likely have a lot of valuable insights and ideas, so take good notes on your copy of the book or in a separate notebook or journal.

Your notes don’t have to be fancy, but you may find that a reading journal helps you remember the characters, plot, and your thoughts and questions about the book.

Don’t worry about writing formal book reviews, but consider jotting down questions, favorite quotes, things you disagree with, things you love, or things you wish had happened differently.

Be a good listener

If someone mentions something you hadn’t thought of, don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify or elaborate–you’ll get more out of the conversation if you lean in, rather than sit back and remain silent.

Asking questions can also be helpful if the leader is trying to manage differing opinions and dominating personalities–everyone can play a role in creating a respectful atmosphere.

Take the discussion seriously.

It is an honor to be invited into someone’s home, share time with the group, and discuss books. So many books can bring up deep feelings or touch on closely held beliefs–respect when others feel passionate about a topic, even if you disagree.

Similarly, you might not love every book that gets picked, but it’s important to respect everyone in your group enough to give their book–and their opinions on it–the same weight you give your own.

Bring ideas for what to read next.

If your club is choosing a new book for the next meeting, know the process and come prepared with your suggestion or vote.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR BOOK CLUB GOING

One key to keeping your book club going is making it fun. Consider mixing up the regular meetings with some special events.

Variety can be essential for more social members who get a little tired of the standard book discussion meeting format (but events can be a fun way to keep it fresh for everyone!).

Book club members laughing

Here are a few ideas:

  • Go on a literary scavenger hunt.
  • Hold book club at a unique location such as the zoo or museum.
  • Watch a film or television adaptation of the book.
  • Play a game related to the book. Choose your ideal movie cast! Change the ending! Plot out the sequel!
  • Invite an outside facilitator or guest to join your club. Consider an English teacher, librarian, bookseller, or even an author (find one local to participate in person, or reach out online and invite them to join by video. You may be able to do this through the author’s website or the book’s publisher.).

Also, make sure everyone feels heard. If you notice that some members are not joining the discussion, find time to ask them privately if anything would help improve the book club. Not everyone will always be happy, but if something needs to change, you may want to raise a larger discussion with the rest of the group. Stay flexible, and don’t be afraid to allow the club to evolve to meet the needs of its members.

START YOUR BOOK CLUB

A book club can be an excellent addition to your reading life. I hope you’re inspired to join one or start your own and that the book club tips above are helpful.

There is no perfect formula for a successful book club–you can mix it up in a way that works for you and your club.

An overhead view of book club members sitting around a table

Staying organized, setting expectations, and keeping things fun and fresh will help ensure that your club lasts and members love it. I wish you all the best on your journey towards creating a fantastic group of readers (and friends)!

If you’ve started or joined a successful book club, please share your best tips in the comments! How does your club keep things running smoothly? What do you love about it? What don’t you like?

What’s worked for your book club? Share your tips!

How to Start a Book Club - The Complete Guide

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