For years, I organized and ran a book club in my neighborhood. It used to be one of the highlites of my life. After six years or so, people's schedules changed, friends moved, life happened, and the club dissolved. I tried to get it going again a number of times and failed. It wasn't until I changed my expectations and hosted periodic online book club meetings that I found success.
With the pandemic keeping most of us at home, this is a good time for book lovers to start their own online book club. Here are ten easy steps to help you get started:
Choose a platform. Google Meet, Zoom, and Facebook are the best platforms for hosting an online meeting. All three allow the screen to be split into a grid so that members can see and interact with one another. Google Meet and Zoom can accommodate up to 100 people, while Facebook rooms can host 50. All three platforms allow the host to record the meeting, so that it can later be viewed by those unable to attend. The privacy settings are good, too. You might want to set up a meeting for just you on each platform to determine which of the three you like the best. Whichever platform you choose, you might also want to create a Facebook group where members can communicate in between meetings.
Establish parameters. Before you invite potential members to join your online book club, determine whether you will be reading a particular genre, such as literary fiction, historical romance, urban fantasy, mysteries, young adult, or a mix. You should also set up guidelines for the group, letting them know how often you'll meet and for how long, and whether those meeting times will be fixed or voted on each month. Decide whether you will always select the book, or if you'll invite members to give recommendations that will be organized into a poll. Also choose whether your book club meetings will be private to members only or open and visible to anyone.
Select an accessible book. Some online book clubs have a poll each month to choose their book of the month. When you're first getting started, you should choose the book you want to read, so you can draw readers with similar tastes as yours into the group and set the tone of the genre. Choose a book that's inclusive and accessible and available in a number of different formats, such as print, ebook, and audiobook.
Don't cap your membership. In my experience, only half of the members of a book club make it to any given meeting, so it's better to have a large group. As the host, you may feel nervous about having too large a group, but having too few members will put your club at risk of dissolving. Once you've established the parameters for your group, use social media to invite your friends, and ask them to spread the word. You'll lilkely have turnover among members, so leave the club open to new membership.
Record the meeting. Let the members of your group know that the meeting will be recorded. I recommend that you record it so that those members unable to attend live have the option of watching the replay. The recording can be made private to members only via a private link, or by uploading the video to the private Facebook group. If you'd like to make the meeting accessible to anyone, you can upload it to a number of social media platforms, including Youtube; just make sure that all members are aware of this plan.
Ask members to prepare. In addition to asking all members to read the book, ask them to come up with at least one open-ended question. By open-ended, I mean something other than a yes-no question, because yes-no questions will kill discussion. You can provide members with this example: Instead of asking if readers liked the main character, you can ask them to list what they liked and didn't like about the character.
Prepare discussion questions but be flexible. As the host, you should prepare at least ten open-ended questions. You may not get to them all, but it's better to have too many than not enough. In my book club meetings, our conversations have often ventured away from discussion of the book to other things. That's okay. The main pupose of having an online book club is to establish a sense of community among book lovers. You should consider yourself a facilitator of discussion, not a teacher or preacher who does all the talking or who controls the topics.
Moderate the discussion. Although you aren't meant to dominate and control the flow of conversation, you do need to step in if someone else is dominating it. This is one of the hardest jobs of a book club host--knowing when to interrupt a Chatty Cathy. If you remind people at the beginning of each meeting that we want to make sure everyone has a chance to talk and that we should be courteous by not dominating the discussion, that can sometimes be enough; however, you may need to step in and say, "Thank you, Cathy. That was really interesting. Does anyone else want to add anything to that?" Then silently count to ten before you give up and return the floor to Chatty Cathy. Some people like to figure out what they want to say before they say it, and so they need more time to reply.
Consider a theme. You can add to the fun of book club by organizing it around a theme. For example, if you're reading a book set in England, you could ask everyone to drink their favorite tea and to be prepared to share what it is with the group. If the book is focused around knitting or baking, have the club members share photos of some of their creations. Or, if the book is a fantasy or paranormal story, everyone could wear costumes--dressed as vampires or wolves or fairies, or what have you.
Invite the author. Not every author will be available to attend, but you might be surprised by how many will. Before you choose a book, you could reach out to the author to see if he or she would be available for an online book club meeting. Give the author the option of attending for a brief Q and A for fifteen or twenty minutes. Also offer the author the opportunity to promote his or her newest release.
In my Facebook group, The Pohler Bear Lounge, I offer tips to book lovers every week during Tuesday Tea with Eva Pohler at 2 p.m. CST. Literary analysis and book club meetings will also take place there. If you're interested, ask to join here.
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