Running a book club might sound like an easy, straightforward thing to do, but it's harder (and more rewarding) than you might think.
I started running a book club about a year ago now. It had already been going for nearly 5 years before I moved to Columbus, but the facilitators kept moving, so it had changed hands a few times. Having recently moved to town at the time, the book club figured I wasn't going anywhere and would be a great person to take it over.
A few months after that, I started the Columbus chapter of Silent Book Club. Book lovers from all over the city meet up at various locations to read in companionable silence. While it doesn't have an assigned book, I do the administrative type work it takes to run the club, like choosing venues that can house large groups and sharing the info on social media.
Meanwhile, I'm in two other book clubs that I don't run. However, I've been hosting the past few meetings for one of them at my house, so I sort of have a hand in running it.
All that to say, running book clubs isn't always easy. It's wildly rewarding when everything is going well, but it can be downright frustrating when things just aren't turning out how you imagined. Having been on both sides of the coin, I've learned what I think are the two most important tips for running a successful book club.
Find people who prioritize reading in their lives
This might sound like a no-brainer, but it's more nuanced than that. I've found that the people who show up consistently, read the book in its entirety, and have the most interesting discussion points are people who have prioritized reading in their lives and who read for themselves, outside the book club.
I'm talking about the people who don't need the book club to coax them to read, but who are reading on their own anyway and want to be more social about it. While I know book clubs do motivate some people to read, in my experience, the people who only read because they're in a book club are least likely to show up, least likely to finish a book, and most likely to complain about the book selection because they have a narrower view of what good books can be.
Find like-minded people who come together over a common goal
While it's wonderful to have lively discussion and an array of opinions, I've found that the best book clubs have people who gather around a common goal.
For example, one of my book clubs only reads social justice nonfiction titles, so you know that everyone there is committed to equality and is willing to put in the work to educate themselves on important subjects. For Silent Book Club, people come because they enjoy quiet reading time and want to meet other people who share that love. And since there's no assigned book for that book club, the people it attracts are interested in the social aspect of a book club, but don't necessarily want the homework of an assigned book.
Constrastingly, the only thing really uniting the people in the book club I inherited is that all the attendees are women. Femaleness is a pretty broad spectrum of experience, so some sticky situations have come up from book club members not having a shared social agreement. For example, one member made a comment about how some of the books chosen were "too feminist" and, during a discussion of Brown Girl Dreaming, insisted that being short garnered nearly the same level of day-to-day discrimination as being black.
As you can imagine, this was problematic. And considering that things like that don't happen in my other book clubs, which have a common goal, I'm led to believe that the lack of social agreement is the cause (since one can't control what another human says or does).
You have to call the shots and stand firm in the shots you've called
I've also learned that running a book club leaves no time for being a people-pleaser. At first, I wanted everyone to vote on the books and everyone to help decide what venue would house our next meeting so everyone would get a say and everyone would be happy.
But what I found was that people being pressured to make decisions actually stressed them out. Contrary to what I would've guessed, most people just seemed to want to be told what to do so they could enjoy the book club without the pressure to lead.
What I finally had to tell myself is that book clubs aren't democracies. Not everyone gets a say and that's okay. Libraries and bookstores have book clubs all the time and they choose the books without asking all their patrons and I doubt anyone complains. At the end of the day, if people don't like the way you run your book club, they can find another or start their own. If you're the leader, the participants need to trust your ability to lead and choose books that you think the group will like.
You can always let the group know you're open to feedback and suggestions, but when it's all said and done, you're in charge. And they need to be okay with that.
Have you ever run a book club before? What tips did you pick up doing it? Tell us in the comments below!