How to Start a Book Club With BAM! – Part 1
Books-A-Million (BAM) has been around a very long time. From a corner newsstand in Florence, Alabama to nearly 300 stores across the eastern United States, BAM has become the second largest book company. And one program we offer supports our longevity because of our devoted customers. The Books-A-Million Book Club offers expert picked book that have been supporting book clubs across the country month after month, year after year.
If you have thought about starting a book club in your city, we want to help you make it a reality. Below are suggested steps to begin assembling your own club, then we’ll follow up with how to keep it growing over time.
How to Start a Book Club
A story is best when shared with others. A story, liked or not, is worthy of discussion on its merits like character development, plot, point of view, theme, irony, symbols, and more. Starting your own book club is an endeavor we want to help you launch. Tips and resources have been compiled to ease the process as you walk through each step of the process.
Reflect on your reasons for wanting to create a book club. Before your search for prospective members, take some time to consider the following questions that are pertinent to a successful startup book club.
- Why are you starting a book club? What do you hope to get out of it?
- What type of people will make up the club? Are you hoping that all of you will have something in common (beside your love of books), or are you looking to form a diverse group?
- What types of books will your club primarily read? Fiction? Non-fiction? One particular genre, such as romance, bestsellers or biographies? Will you rotate through themes each month, like classical literature, new age, or historical fiction?
- Do you want to lead the club? If so, for how long, and how much time can you devote to organizing meetings, refreshments and discussions? If not, will other members be willing to take on these responsibilities?
- What are the minimum and maximum number of members your club can accommodate? Consider the meeting location when pondering this question.
- When will your first meeting take place? How often will your club meet afterward? What about the summer months, and during the winter holidays?
Now that you have a clearer vision of what you want for your book club, it will be easier to find others who want the same experience.
Book Club Start Up Checklist
Whether you’re looking for like-minded book lovers of the classics or just an excuse to chat over coffee or cocktails, assembling a group can be done in just a few steps.
- How often you want to meet
You are likely someone who has been in or is a member of other small groups and you the importance of scheduling regular meeting days and times. If spaced too far apart, the group will lose momentum and interest. Books-A-Million has monthly book club picks, so that should help keep up the traction of the club.
- Decide on the purpose and theme of the book club.
Are you a die-hard mystery buff? A shameless Anglophile? Or an equal-opportunity bookworm? Decide whether you would prefer to focus on one genre or have a Booksamillion.com free-for-all each month and set the tone early.
Answer this question honestly together and know that there’s no “wrong” answer. There are probably three basic categories your book club could fall into:
- The Social Book Club: Some groups I know use “book club” more as an excuse to get together, or have a night out, or drink wine, or impress one another with their culinary creations. This may mean that a few of the club members will actually read the book and will want to talk about it for a few minutes before socializing with the other members. If the point of your club is socializing and not book-focused, just be sure and set a clear expectation for that before you begin.
- The Serious Book Club: Other groups want only to talk about the books. This can be especially true of groups whose members don’t know one another well to begin with, or members that genuinely long to discuss all things literary. For them, extra chit-chat or small talk is frustrating. So if this is the type of group you want to create, again, set that expectation.
- The Social and Serious Book Club: Divide the meeting time so half is spent in serious book discussion followed by talk about the next book coming up. Afterwards, everyone can hang around for more chatting, eating, drinking, and catching up.
It is most important to establish the meeting purpose and set expectations. If expectations are clearly laid out beforehand about how time together will be spent, members may become frustrated and quit. Instead, talk about this openly and find people who want a similar focus and experience.
- Will the club be “open” or “closed” to new members?
This decision may change during different seasons of your book club’s tenure. If people move or become too busy or just need to drop out for a while, or if for any reason you have room for more group members, then by all means — open your group up to new people who might be interested.
Conversely, don’t feel badly if you choose to “close” your group to new members for a while. Many groups seem to feel guilt over this, but it’s a natural part of the process for keeping your attendance at a healthy level where everyone can participate and feel known and comfortable. Just be sure that everyone is on board with the decision either way.
- Choose a “Point Person” for the Book Club.
Book clubs don’t necessarily need a “leader.” But they do need a point person to get things moving and to organize a few things. There may end up being one person who just naturally fills that role. Or your group may need to appoint someone, or rotate that responsibility between different people.
Job responsibilities of a “point person” might include:
- Send email or text reminders about upcoming meeting details: when, where, book, and more.
- Help kick off the book discussion during a meeting. Books-A-Million makes this easy by providing discussion questions along with the monthly book club book picks.
- Set plans for the next book club meeting
- Bring up any book club “business” that the group might need to discuss.
- Keep up with important traditions by your book club. For example, who will be the point person for the next meeting? Will it be the hostess? Who will be responsible for writing down quotes in the club’s Quote Book? Etcetera.
Again, your book club may tend to be self-led, but it may be helpful to have someone take the initiative on some things, especially when the group is new or becomes large.
- What kinds of books you want to read
It may seem like an obvious question, but it’s worth clarifying with your group beforehand.
Do you want your group to primarily discuss fiction? If so, do you prefer lighter “beach reads” or deeper “literary” books? Classical or modern? Long or short? Novels or mysteries or sci-fi or historical or humor or short stories…or a mix of themes?
You can always mix things up once you get your group rolling. But it’s probably best to have at least a general idea going in.
Honestly, the people in a group will either make or break your book club. So find truly interested and invested member candidates.
You may want to start with friends you already know. Even better, invite friends who you respect and trust and can be open with because talking about books — and the personal things that good books stir up — can be a fairly vulnerable experience at times. So it’s important to have friends in your circle who will encourage you to be honest and open and to share your thoughts.
That said, many book clubs begin with sign-ups from complete strangers, and often those strangers turn into good friends. So if that’s the route you take, it can definitely work. Most importantly, be open and hopefully the trust and friendships will build over time.
Assemble people who are different and can bring different perspectives to the group. Your time together will be all the better-off for it. Diversity to the club will expose members to different political, social, theological, moral, artistic, and even culinary views. After all, it is our differences — even those that may cause disagreements or make us squirm — that enhance our thinking, teach and challenge us to become more thoughtful readers and people, and create a more livelier book club meeting.
So, give some thought to the people you invite to be a part of your book club because you might be together for a very long time.
- Figure out the best time for everyone to meet.
Coordinating busy schedules can be the toughest part of this process, but finding a good slot will boost attendance down the line. After dinner, when younger kids have gone to bed, is a popular choice. Something to consider: Will the time of the gathering warrant a meal (hello, potluck!), snack, or refreshments?
- Pick a convenient location.
Many clubs take turns at one another’s homes, but if you want to remove the pressure to entertain, then Books-A-Million bookstores, quiet cafes and restaurants are an easy option. If you want to get really creative, you can vary the meeting place and cuisine based on the setting of the book.
Some book clubs meet in coffee shops, in bars, workplaces or even churches. But most seem to meet in the homes of club members, which provides a glimpse into members’ homes and gives a context for their lives. Homes provide a cozy and comfortable gathering space. So, consider home as meeting venues.
Wherever you decide to meet, I would recommend keeping a few priorities in mind:
- Find a place that will accommodate your membership. If you meet in a restaurant or coffee shop, be sure that someone calls ahead and makes reservations or arrives early to reserve a table. If you meet in a person’s home, be ready with whatever is needed to host your size of group.
- Find a place that’s relatively free of distractions. The whole point of a book club is being able to talk. If a restaurant is too loud, or if there are roommates or family members poking their heads in every few minutes, it can be a distracting. So wherever you meet, try and carve out an uninterrupted space for at least a couple of hours for the group to focus on their time together.
- Find a place that is convenient. One of the reasons to rotate homes is to make the location more convenient for different people each month. There may be members who live further out, and some who live next door to one another, switch it up to best accommodate everyone.
If you are just starting out, not that the location of your book club meetings — a restaurant, library, or your living room — very well may influence the number of members in the club and vice versa.
No one should feel obligated to host a meeting in their home. Aside from hosting, there are other ways members can get involved when the club gets together. If you’re hosting in someone’s home, decide if refreshments will be served or try an appetizer or dessert and rotate the responsibility for preparing and bringing food items among all members.
- Establish the basics with your book club members.
You’ll want to give people an idea of what to expect: how often you’ll meet — once a month is typical; how long the meetings will be — two hours is typical, and any other need-to-knows.
- Finalize how books and moderators will be chosen.
For the first meeting, it makes sense for you to coordinate the first book chosen and to ensure that copies of discussion questions are provided. Again, Books-A-Million makes this easy and may even give a discount on bulk book orders each month when ordered through firstname.lastname@example.org. Moving forward, every member should have a voice, and the group reserves veto power in case too many have already read the book or don’t consider it appropriate. It’s a nice courtesy for the moderator of each meeting sends everyone a reminder e-mail a few days beforehand.
- Spread the word.
Alert friends, family, and coworkers that you’re starting a club; be sure to mention your expectations. Start collecting e-mail addresses. Your goal should be between 5 and 15 people, so everyone gets a chance to speak. New to the area? Post a flyer on the community board at your local bookstore or library, or check out Craigslist.org and ReadersCircle.org.
- Consider starting a blog or an online forum to keep track of the club.
Websites like bigtent.com are free to join, easy to use, and allow all the members of your club to post on a communal site. You’ll save time by eliminating the need for group e-mails, and it will come in handy when you’re recruiting new members.
>> Watch for Part 2, your meetings and how to ‘run’ them<<