Updated: Sep 18, 2022
This is the first post in my new 'Incredibly Awesome Book Club Series'! I'm excited to introduce this series which will not only include informative discussion and creative ideas for expanding your enjoyment of books and sharing that joy with others, including your friends, family and even your teenagers (gasp!), it will also include links to some cool organizational tools that can help you manage your book club and make it incredibly awesome!
So now let's get onto the first topic! Here are 10 steps for structuring and organizing your book club so that it runs like buttah, is easy to manage, and doesn't take up too much of your time, and also so that all of your book club members love it (and think you are incredibly awesome)!!
Step 1. Determine the type of book club you are looking for (and consider whether one already exists) – you’ll want to focus first and foremost on these three foundational decisions:
Decide on Format:
Do you want your book club to be virtual or in-person?
This really is a key decision and will impact much of the other decisions you make about your book club.
Decide on General Size/Type of Membership:
Do you want your book club to be large and inclusive (open to a wide array of members with minimal admission requirements)?
Or do you want your book club to be small and intimate (facilitates in-person book club meetings)?
Decide on the Primary Purpose:
Do you want your book club to have an Academic Purpose? What I mean by that, is do you want to hold serious, in-depth discussions and analysis of books primarily for learning purposes or expanding your understanding?
Or do you want your book club to be be more focused on a Social Purpose? That is, are you primarily looking to discuss books with people that you enjoy hanging out with in order to have fun?
Selecting one of these doesn't mean you aren't also interested in the other one. But it is important to identify what's most important to you.
Step 2: Identify your core “leadership” or “administrators” for purposes of firming up and making additional initial decisions/deciding structure (your "Leadership Group"):
If you are planning an intimate, in-person club: This may be 2-4 people that you are already close to and think you would enjoy reading books with, and that you trust with administrative decisions and/or tasks.
If you want a larger on-line club: This may be you and one or two others that you want to serve as administrators of your online forum (i.e., Facebook page or other format). See this handy article on good online book club tools: https://www.makeuseof.com/digital-tools-to-organize-a-virtual-book-club/
Step 3. Work with your Leadership Group to come up with your core book club structure – this is a deeper dive into the decisions you preliminarily made in #1 above.
Confirm your first two decisions:
Format: Virtual or in-person
Primary Purpose: Academic or socialization
Decide what size group you want and how you want to administer the group size:
For on-line groups: You will want to establish an approval process for admitting people to the group and complete your on-line questions/requirements (Facebook has handy tools for doing that when you set up a private group).
For small and intimate in-person groups: Decide your ideal number of members attending and the maximum number of members you would like (understanding that usually not everyone can attend every meeting). You will also want to decide who is allowed to invite new members and will the addition of new members require approval, and what that approval process would be.
Let's say your Leadership Team creates the initial invite list of 10 people, and you’ve agreed you could have as many as 20. Here's an example process for recommending additional members:
Initial members may nominate additional new members if they meet the following criteria:
The nominated member must be a personal friend/family member to an existing member.
The nominated member must agree to enter the hosting/refreshment responsibility rotation (and will work to swap with other group members if they are unavailable to fulfill their assigned responsibility for a designated meeting).
The nominated member must agree to provide the Discussion Guide according to our requirements, in advance via email, when it is their turn to be the Discussion Leader.
The nominated member must abide by our Charter and Meeting Rules of Conduct (see more on these two items below).
Note: The remainder of this post is focused on small and intimate in-person groups. Not that I don't love big on-line book clubs, but that is a completely different ball of wax! So read on below for a deeper dive into next steps and for links to some cool tools.
Step 4. Work with your Leadership Team to make preliminary decisions regarding general guidelines around the following:
How books will be selected
Will you have nominations at the end of each meeting that you'll vote on for the next selection?
Can everyone nominate, or just the next designated Discussion Leader? And if the latter, do you want them to propose 2-3 potential books for vote?
There are some book club on-line tools that allow people to evaluate books and could assist in a nomination process. See this article for more information: https://www.makeuseof.com/digital-tools-to-organize-a-virtual-book-club/
Will you expect the designated Discussion Leader to make the selection?
What are your preferred genres for purposes of the Book Club?
Are there any genres that you want to explicitly exclude?
Do you want to allow exceptions (with approval)?
Do you want to set minimums or maximums?
Do you want to allow exceptions (with approval)?
Themes - Do you want to allow for themes for certain meetings? I’ll have a blog post coming on this, but themes could include:
Famous tropes (enemies-to-lovers, chosen one quest, etc.)
Novels that made you cry
Novels about oppression from the oppressed perspective
Whether you have a designated Discussion Leader that will prepare a discussion guide - I highly recommend this, and more on this in Step 8 below.
Step 5. Create a preliminary charter which includes details about the following:
Where would you like the book club to meet?
In someone’s home, on a rotating basis?
In public places? Coffee houses, clubhouses, restaurants, outdoor venues?
What is the maximum membership size? This will be based on your initial discussions amongst your Leadership Group, but should also include consideration for whether you intend to host your periodic meetings in homes or in public places.
Who is allowed to invite new members and do they require approval? And what is the approval process? Refer back to Step 3 above.
How often do you want to meet?
Monthly? Semi-monthly? Quarterly? Totally up to you!
Do you want it to make it a uniform day of the week/time? For example, on the third Thursday of every month at 6:30pm.
Include the proposed or final general guidelines that you developed in Step 4, including how books will be selected, genres, book length, themes, and guidelines for discussions.
Determine which ones are conclusive and include those as hard rules.
Decide if there are any guidelines where you want to allow the group to have some input. For those, consider narrowing down a few options or thoughts for each and let the initial members vote. This may be a good opportunity to promote more inclusion without sacrificing any of your core requirements.
Also, you may want to build in some flexibility around your guidelines to allow for deviations with specified parameters and subject to approval.
Consider Utilizing an Automated Book Club Charter Template
I realize all this charter stuff is a lot to think about and keep track of!! To help with this process, I have created an Excel-based Book Club Charter Template as part of the Incredibly Awesome Book Club Toolkit. It looks like this, and if you click on the image, you can request your FREE copy!
Step 6. Come up with a standard meeting agenda/timing to keep your book club meetings on track.
Most book club resources recommend you limit your meetings to 2.5-3 hours max. Below is an example agenda, based on a 2.5 hour meeting.
6:30 - 7:00 – Catching up and cocktails!
7:00 – 8:30 – Discuss the book
8:30 – 9:00 – Select the book and confirm details for next month
Step 7. Come up with your Meeting Rules of Conduct. Here are some examples:
Everyone is invited to come even if they didn’t read the book.
Try to read the book! And also try to review the Discussion Guide (if provided ahead of time).
Always be respectful/no personal attacks.
Know when to respectfully agree to disagree.
Swearing is permitted! (or not permitted).
Drinking wine is encouraged! (or “this is a no-alcohol group”).
Step 8. Come up with a standard Discussion Guide format and decide when (and how) it should be sent out. Consider including components of the following:
Who/what was/were the protagonist, antagonist, setting, point-of-view
What were observations about those basic components?
Additional Penetrating Analysis Questions, for example:
What was something unexpected that affected you or that you learned from the book?
What was a quote or passage that really spoke to you and why?
These questions are very specific to the selected book itself, referencing its specific characters, plot points, themes, etc. To give you an idea of what they can look like, here are some example discussion questions from my latest upmarket women's fiction novel, MISSING PICTURES:
Do you think that Claire’s Depression is situational (that is, brought on by her crumbling, dysfunctional marriage), or due to a larger, chemical issue? Is that distinction important? Why or why not?
Do you think it’s legitimate that Claire considers herself to be temporarily disabled and unable to do her job? Do you think disability should include mental illness, or physical disabilities only? What obstacles does Claire face in her journey to return to her career?
These book-specific discussion questions can come from the back of the book or the author’s web-site, and you can also find other specific and generic reading guides here: https://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides
Consider Using an Automated Discussion Guide Template
I highly recommend creating a formal Discussion Guide and sending out ahead of time, and will be writing a separate blog post about this soon! In the meantime, I have created an Excel-based Incredibly Awesome Book Club Discussion Guide Template tool, which is part of my Incredibly Awesome Book Club Toolkit. It looks like this, and you can also click on the image to get your FREE copy!
Step 9. Do some advance planning for future meetings and responsibilities.
Set up a responsibility rotation schedule, and include the following:
Who will be the host?
Who will lead the discussion?
Who will bring food/drinks/desserts?
Consider Using an Automated Planning Tool: If you are hoping to make this fair and rotational and if you have more than just a few members, this can become really confusing and time consuming very quickly. That’s why I have created an auto-populating Incredibly Awesome Book Club Planner as part of my Excel-based tools in the Incredibly Awesome Book Club Toolkit. By completing some simple inputs, it will automatically assign responsibilities on a rotational basis and also will generate pre-populated, formatted Book Club announcements that you can send electronically to your book club members.
The 3-month Planner that it creates looks like this (and you can also click on the image to request your FREE copy!).
Step 10. And finally, come up with a standardized, consistent approach for announcing and communicating about Book Club meetings.
Use Digital Calendar Invites - For instance, you may want to set up a calendar invite system that has customized announcements attached with all the relevant details, including the book information, the host name and address and who is responsible for what refreshments.
Use an Automated Announcement Tool - An awesome feature of my Incredibly Awesome Book Club Planner is that it will create a pre-populated, beautifully formatted announcement for you each month, based on a few simple inputs. It looks like this (if you haven't by now, you can also click on the image below to get the Incredibly Awesome Book Club Toolkit, including the planner, for your own book club!):
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