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It’s time, y’all!!! Time to start the book club we keep saying we’re going to start. 😆 This is your sign!
But really, knowing how to start a book club really depends on what type of book club you are envisioning. For me, starting a virtual book club was something I’d wanted to do for years, but I was so intimidated by the logistics.
- How do you know who to invite? How do you structure a book club?
- What kind of books do you want to read, and how frequently do you read and meet?
- How do you start a book club that won’t fizzle out? How do you keep people engaged?
Starting the book club of your dreams really begins by answering these questions. Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to start a book club in 2024, virtual or in person.
How to Start a Book Club: Step-by-Step Guide
1. Answer the Big Questions First
2. Work Backward
3. Book Club Brainstorm
4. Online Book Club
5. Member Engagement
6. Virtual Meetups and the Bookclubs App
7. In-Person Book Club
8. Manage Expectations
9. Group Guidelines for Book Club
10. Map Out Logistics
11. Book Club Structure
12. How to Choose Books for Book Club
13. How to Find Members and Keep Them Engaged
14. Finding Members
15. Contacting New Members
16. Member Growth
17. Book Access
18. Add Value to Your Book Club
19. Build in Reflection Time
20. Join an Awesome Book Club Already
Answer the Big Questions First
Before you meet as a group or invite anyone to an adult book club, answer the big questions first.
- What type of book club do you want to start?
- Do you want to read and discuss or mainly socialize?
- Do you want to read a specific genre or category together?
- What kinds of great books do you want to read and discuss? New releases? Backlist books? A combination of the two?
- How big of a group are you wanting to start?
Get the ball rolling by imagining the “vibe” of your book club.
Are you interested in learning to how to start a book club at work with your new coworkers, or with close friends? What about an online book club? Or do you prefer a close, intimate in-person gathering? Are you wanting to host and facilitate? If yes, do you have the capacity for both?
If you don’t know how to begin to answer these big questions, work backward. When you imagine the feel of your adult book club, what stands out? Intimate, in-depth conversation? Dinner and drinks?
A room full of laughter, drinks, and lots of side conversations? Do you imagine all of your best friends, or just a group of readers who have mutual respect and love for reading?
By painting a picture, you can follow the breadcrumbs. Maybe in-depth, intimate conversation means you want a cozy, smaller group. Maybe a big dinner means you want a larger group where everyone can bring food, potluck-style.
A room full of laughter and drinks might mean you’re really interested in the social part of the club and may not need to curate really detailed book club discussion questions.
✨ Book Club Tip: My biggest tip and game-changer to starting and running a book club is the free web and mobile app, Bookclubs. Since launching my own virtual book club on Bookclubs, I’ve been able to easily manage, facilitate, and encourage engagement in between book club meetings. If you’re trying to start a book club in 2024, you will *hands down* want to check out Bookclubs.
Book Club Brainstorm
Have a book club brainstorm by yourself, and then later when your members join, you can have a book club brainstorm all together to make sure everyone’s expectations are clear.
The more you are clear on what type of book club you want to run, the better you’ll be able to attract the right members who are committed and likeminded in your reading plans.
Maybe you just want to stick with certain genres or categories (mostly historical fiction, graphic novels, etc.).
Successful groups don’t limit themselves too much, but it’s nice if you can attract book club members that like to read the same books you do. That said, reading diversely might be the purpose of your book club.
Online Book Club
If you’re wondering how to start a book club online, I think the first thing you need to consider is group engagement and participation. Meeting virtually on Zoom or another platform can be tricky, especially if book club members don’t know each other well.
Consider how you can boost engagement throughout the month. Maybe you have a group text thread to discuss the book (spoiler-free!) when you aren’t meeting, or maybe you follow a reading schedule to really dive in chapter by chapter.
Perhaps you have an icebreaker activity you do or question you ask every meeting. Maybe you schedule a brunch virtual hang or a happy hour before diving into book discussion . . . something to help people get to know one another and feel comfortable engaging in the group.
For my virtual book club, our rhythm is mid-month cozy reading nights, virtually hosted by me! This is a fun, super casual way to “hang out” with other readers, in the comfort of your own home.
We meet, chat about what we’re currently reading, have some “reading sprints,” and generally just hang out. Let’s be real, the perk of drinking wine in your jammies, talking books?! Can’t be beat, in my opinion.
Virtual Meetups and the Bookclubs App
For my virtual book club, we use Bookclubs, a web and mobile app that makes communication so easy. To be honest, I’m kind of obsessed. I schedule all of our virtual meetings there, and I’m able to throw up polls and chats in between our virtual meetups!
It’s by far the best communication tool I’ve found to keep everyone connected between virtual meetups.
Bookclubs is currently serving more than 65,000 book clubs worldwide, and they are all so different!
- Invite members with a single click. This is so nice for social media!
- Automate meeting reminders and calendar invites. Love this for my #MomBrain.
- Create interactive member polls to vote on books, meeting times, or other fun questions. This is a game-changer with the book selection process (more on that to come!).
- Track your group reading history, collective to-be-read list, and host discussions.
I love that you can share documents, photos, and messages all in one place (hello, Spotify playlists to match the book! And hello, recipes that pair well with the book!).
You can get creative here, and I think it’s important to have those fun add-ons for a virtual book club since you don’t get to meet in person and have food, snacks, drinks, music, etc.
In-Person Book Club
For in-person book clubs, you want to consider your hosting rhythms and decide how you want to handle drinks, snacks, desserts, etc.
Do you want to change up the environment or keep the same location?
Maybe you rotate houses and whoever hosts provides the snacks and drinks for that month. Maybe you want to meet at a bar, park, café, etc., instead of people’s houses.
Some friends and I like to meet up at our local bookshop for author events, and we roam the bookshelves and gab about books for a while before walking to the nearby taco bar for margaritas and book talk. It’s a simple format, but it works well for us.
Before your first official book club meeting, it’s important to manage expectations and share book club rules of engagement or guidelines.
Group Guidelines for Book Club
You don’t have to be a “serious” book club to have ground rules or guidelines. In my experience, having these guidelines written down in clear language—even if some of the rules might be common sense—is really helpful.
You want to cover everything from sharing ideas, bringing questions, and participating in a mutually respectful way to whether you want to share spoilers in your meetings (if others haven’t read the book), and whether you have an open-door policy for new people or guests.
I like to use these book club guidelines as a reminder not to steamroll conversation and that disagreeing is okay, as long as there’s no book bashing without critical thought or nuance.
Consider what is most important to your book club members so you can create a safe, respectful, fun space. Find out if there are any limitations to books you can choose.
This is really something to hash out with your group before your first book discussion. How many people do you want in your book club?
Other expectations to talk through when starting a group include:
- Meeting length and frequency
- Scheduled check-ins to make sure everyone can evaluate what’s working and what’s not as the book club evolves
- How RSVPs will work
- What preparation will look like
Map Out Logistics
Managing expectations and mapping out logistics go hand in hand. You’ll naturally figure out the logistics as you communicate expectations, but here are some more pieces other than those listed above to the book club puzzle you’ll want to put into place quickly.
- Food and drinks (in-person groups)
- Hosting structure (in-person groups)
- Membership size, and open- or closed-door policy for visitors or new people
- Number of books to choose at one time (one every month, quarter, etc.)
Book Club Structure
What’s the format of your book club? Do you want to meet every month? Every quarter? Do you want to follow a discussion guide through a group facilitator? Or have members ask one another questions?
Figure out if you want structure to your discussion time. You could ask questions chapter by chapter.
You could divide your in-person group up into smaller groups if needed, or you could categorize your questions by characters, plot, worldbuilding, etc. Maybe your group flourishes in a free environment without structure.
Perhaps you have a time of general chit chat or happy hour and then you get into the nitty gritty of the book.
Talking out these logistics will help ensure your book club, virtual or in-person, flows smoothly.
How to Choose Books for Book Club
There are so many ways to select books for book club! Some clubs prefer to pick books one at a time while others pick several at a time—even up to a quarter or a whole year.
While one club may prefer to read only buzzy new releases and anticipated books of 2024, others may prefer to stick with the backlist titles. My virtual book club follows a “buzzy/backlist” format, meaning we read one new release one month and a backlist book the next.
Some book clubs run on the facilitator’s reading list. The same person selects the book each time, sometimes taking everyone’s reading preferences in mind.
Other book clubs operate on a rotating system, where members take turns picking the book of the month. A lot of book clubs have various voting systems—sometimes anonymous.
In some cases, all members can recommend books to vote on, and sometimes it’s one person who offers up several books to choose from.
I once heard of a book club that had a rule that you couldn’t suggest a book for the book club to read together unless you attended at least two book club meetings in a row—and read and discussed the book.
This is a simple way to do it if you have a really large group where attendance may be a little inconsistent.
For in-person book clubs, you could write a title on a piece of paper and have everyone through them in a bowl and pick one randomly. Or, you could have a tally system.
For in-person or virtual book clubs, you could use an app like Bookclubs to throw polls out to the group throughout the month. This is, personally, my favorite method. It keeps everything so organized!
How to Find Members and Keep Them Engaged
If you want to attract the right members for your book club, the most important thing to keep in mind is expectations.
Being as clear as you can be about the book club “vibe,” the type of books you want to read and how often you want to read them, the commitment level—and so much more—will naturally weed out the people that aren’t right for your group.
Most popular book clubs thrive at a number of eight to fifteen members, but you may want a club smaller or bigger than that, depending on your vision for the group. Start by thinking of three or so fellow book lovers, friends, or acquaintances who you think will align with your reading goals for book club.
Ask those friends to ask a few other friends—or put out a call on social media. You can look in online communities specific to the type of books you want to read.
Here are a few ways you can find book members:
- Put out a call on social media (Instagram, Facebook groups, etc.), especially if you don’t mind meeting new people in other places, virtually.
- Ask friends of friends. Have your close bookish buds bring a friend with them.
- Ask coworkers, neighborhood associations, the moms at preschool drop-off, your local coffee shop, church friends—look at the people you regularly see in your daily life.
- Look to your local library, author and publisher events in your area, etc.
- Social groups like Meetup.com, Peanuts app, etc.
- Other book clubs, especially ones that have gotten really big and might be ready to break off into a smaller group.
If you start a book club online through Bookclubs and want to continue to grow it, you can open up the club to the public via the Join a Book Club page. If you want to start off as a closed club or change at any point, you can do that and always add it to the public page later on.
Contacting New Members
Maybe you’re more interested in a discussion thread/messaging forum to discuss your books for book club. You’d like to start a Voxer group or create a Discord server to maintain communication. Maybe you keep it old school and communicate via email in between virtual or in-person live meetups.
However you decide to do it, find out from your book club members if everyone would like to contact one another, how they will receive information about the book or reminders, and whether you want to follow a reading schedule or something similar.
Maybe you want your first meeting to be at someone’s house, but you want to take little “field trips” together to author events, bookshops, or just grab coffee in between book club meetings.
Is everyone comfortable sharing their email address? Being in a group text? These are the small but important logistics to hash out early on in your book club.
Find out if you want to create an open- or closed-door policy for new people. Is there a max size you want for your book club? If you keep your book club small, there’s an intimacy and general flexibility around scheduling.
Larger groups can offer more diverse discussion, especially if you’re starting a book club online and you have a wide variety of ages, perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences from strangers or new friends. It can be harder to schedule time to meet, but it can be rewarding, too.
Another thing to consider when you find book club members is how members will access books. If you have a local group, you can find book club kits organized by your local library.
You may want to pick backlist books so they’re easier for members to find. You can also encourage members to use the Libby app and place holds right away when a new book comes out, planning ahead a few months, if it makes sense for your book club.
Add Value to Your Book Club
If you really want to start the book club of your dreams, you have to add value beyond a typical book club. For an in-person book club, maybe the “wow factor” is in the hosting. Themed snacks, drinks . . . the whole shebang. Maybe to add value you tap into a way of communicating that just works really well with your group.
Reading schedules to discuss the book throughout the month, creating playlists of songs that remind you of the book so book club members can enjoy it while they read.
Maybe you love to annotate your books and the value is in the thoughtfully crafted discussion questions. Perhaps an added layer of meeting together for happy hour, author events, you name it.
How do you want your book club to stand out?
Build in Reflection Time
When I think about starting a book club in 2024 and beyond, I like to imagine the book club in one year, five years, or even longer. How will it change and grow?
Adapting to change is an important part of managing a successful book club, because readers change, grow, and discover new books, too.
Building in a time of reflection is a great way to make sure everyone in the group can decide if the current rhythms, routines, and systems are working.
I talked to a reader once who said it took her five years to realize that her book club functions much better if they merge November and December reading into one month—because she’s realized over the years that her book club members need the wiggle room.
I can’t wait to discover what little tweaks we make to our book club to keep things moving.
If you’re trying to start a book club in 2024, go ahead and set aside—whether that’s quarterly, monthly, annually—to reflect on what’s working and what needs adjusting.
✨ Book Club Tip: Reflection is key for any reader. Bookclubs includes personalized book recommendations, a reading goal function, and a Bookend feature, which is kind of like Spotify Wrapped, but with books! I also like that Bookclubs has digital shelving to record past reads and keep tabs on what your club wants to read next, which is perfect for reflection time and planning!
Join an Awesome Book Club Already
If you don’t feel like you have the capacity to create the book club of your dreams right now, join one that’s already awesome!
I’m biased, but I think my virtual book club has the best format/structure, book-selecting process, add-on perks (hello, cozy reading nights!!), and variety for diverse discussion.
Seriously, join us! We’d love to have you.
This post has been all about how to start a book club as a beginner, and what kind of questions to ask before you dive headfirst into planning a book club of your dreams.