Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How to organize a book club

Book clubs have been around forever, and I like them because, as an avid reader, I sometimes need a reason to break out of my usual genres and stretch myself to read something new, and potentially amazing.

Image from Evite.
I'm a member of two book clubs. One I've been a part of for about three years, the other I started this year as a way for members of NAPO-LA to get together and discuss business development books. The two clubs function very differently, but they are both organized to a point where making the book club happen takes very little effort on any one person's part.

If you'd like to start a book club or are in one that isn't functioning very well, here's my advice:
  • Clarify the purpose or theme of the club. For instance, is your club more of a social occasion or a networking opportunity? The tone that you want the meetings to have will also dictate the book choices. For instance, one of my clubs is more social, and we have a fun theme: we read books that have been made into movies, read the book and watch the movie and then use the similarities and differences between the two as a basis for discussion. The NAPO-LA book club isn't dry and boring, but we read business development books and the conversation does focus more on our businesses and our business goals.
  • Take a poll of members to get a sense of how often they want to meet. Once a month is standard, but you might find that every six weeks is more doable for your crowd. The NAPO-LA group meets every other month.
  • Invite lots of people. You can have a good discussion with just two or three people, but if you want a variety of opinions and a good turnout for each meeting, you either need a small group of really dedicated people who never miss meetings (unlikely) or a larger pool of people who are interested in the group, but might not make it every time. 
  • Make the meetings effortless by either rotating hosting duties among the members, so one member might host every year at the most, and then make it a pot-luck or wine and cheese kind of event. Alternatively, find a venue that can accommodate your average group size and hold it there every time. Consistency takes the work out of finding appropriate locations and minimizes confusion. 
  • If you can, make one person in charge of invites and scheduling. If that job is too big for one person, rotate so the host is in charge of getting the word out about the book and the meeting details. In my social club, we use Google Docs to keep track of group member's emails, all the books we've read, and ideas we have for future book choices and then use Evite to spread the word about upcoming meetings and to get a sense of how large the turnout will be.
  • If you've been in a club for a while, but attendance is dropping off, create a free survey using SurveyMonkey and send it to the group, asking questions about meeting frequency, book choice, etc. to see if you can figure out how to make the group work for more people.
  • One of the best innovations of the social book club I'm in that I brought over to the NAPO-LA club was choosing the books two meetings ahead of time. For instance, at the September meeting (Misery), the group decided that in November we'd read The Cider House Rules, and we were reminded that the October choice was Interview with the Vampire, which we'd decided back in August (The Help). Planning ahead gives people more time to track down and read the book, which is helpful if you get the books from the library, as I usually do.
Above all, book clubs are supposed to be fun, so don't stress and enjoy your book-loving friends and acquaintances.

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