How to Start a Book Club: The Complete Guide

Create a thriving community of readers—and keep meeting attendance high—with these fun and easy tips for starting a book club

You’ve just turned the final page of your book. You’ve got all sorts of thoughts and emotions to process, and you’re dying to talk to someone about it. All book lovers know this feeling. And those who have experienced the magic of book clubs know how amazing it is to discuss your latest read (whether it was heart-wrenchingly good or emphatically bad) with other bookworms. Looking to spread the magic? We’ve got you covered, explaining how to start a book club and maintain it.

Reading groups have been around for hundreds of years, rooted in a radical history of women pursuing knowledge and freedom of expression in our own intellectual spaces when we were barred from entering traditional ones like universities. It’s safe to say that book clubs never lost their cool factor, and they continue to draw both women and men from all walks of life. They encourage us to not only read more but also read better by dissecting and examining a book from all angles through conversation. They help us gain new perspectives and a deeper understanding of life than reading solo does.

Plus, joining a book club is an organic way to meet and make new friends when—let’s face it—it gets harder to establish new and meaningful social connections as an adult. Sociologist Christy Craig, PhD, studied book clubs from 2013 to 2015 and found that they can be both introspective and social. “Talking about literature is not only about talking about literature, ” she told the Washington Post. “It is also examining one’s ideas, identities, thoughts, sense of self.” As an added bonus, in the spaces she studied, “women turned to book clubs to really construct important social networks, and that proved incredibly valuable.”

Whether you’re a seasoned member of online book clubs or you’re looking to create your own community of readers for the first time, take these steps to start your own book club and dive into the best books of all time, including historical fiction and mystery books. We’ve also compiled a list of book club books that are bound to get all your readers talking!

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How do you start a book club?

You can create a casual club for chit-chatting about books by announcing what you’re reading and inviting some friends to join in. Sure, it might peter out, but you may not be searching for something long-term.

That said, if you want to know how to start a book club that people will regularly participate in, check out the steps below. They’ll help you form a club that will last—and without a huge amount of effort.

1. Decide the type of book club

Many book clubs keep it general, with variety being the spice of life. You can flow from fiction books to memoirs and maybe even essays or compelling articles.

On the other hand, there are lots of creative book clubs out there, and the specificity can be what draws people to join and convinces them to stay. For example, there are book clubs that focus solely on classic books or even specific eras, like the literature of the Roaring ’20s. Some choose to highlight LGBTQ+ books, work by Black authors or stories centered on marginalized communities. Others buck the system by establishing themselves as banned book clubs.

If you love science fiction and fantasy novels or only want to read romance novels, go ahead and start that niche book club. You’ll be surprised by how many people want to join a club focused on a specific book genre!

Whatever you decide, make sure to set an intention for your book club, whether it’s having more light-hearted fun, making social connections and learning about different perspectives, or analyzing books from a more serious literary perspective. Communicating these intentions early on will set the tone and expectations for your book club members moving forward—and it’ll give your members motivation to keep coming.

2. Decide if you want an in-person or online book club

Now that you’ve got the concept of your book club down, let’s talk about the logistics of how to start a book club. That starts with determining where your book club will meet.

A local in-person book club often provides the allure of refreshments and socialization. On the other hand, online book clubs offer scheduling flexibility and less pressure, as people can attend video calls from the comfort of home. Online book clubs are also cheaper because you don’t need to worry about refreshments, a venue or travel. You can create an online community of people all over the world using social media, and you can use platforms like Google Meet or Zoom to schedule calls.

Of course, there’s always the hybrid model. Even if you want an in-person club, create a Facebook or Slack group so your book club members can communicate between meetups, and allow members to call in if they can’t make it to the physical event.

3. Find your book club members

Gathering book club members can admittedly feel a bit awkward and daunting at first, so if you can, try to team up with another bookworm. Your partner may have unique ideas for how to start a book club and may bring different skill sets to the table, such as the ability to organize events or rally a group of people. The planning process will be less stressful and more fun, and your partner can help you bring in book club members.

If you don’t have a partner in crime, no worries. There are a few ways to advertise your book club. You can reach out to friends and co-workers personally (just make sure they’re actually interested in reading books) or put up a social media post and encourage your followers to share. If these options aren’t available to you—say, if you just moved to a new town—you can also ask your local library, bookstore or coffee shop to put up a flyer.

Don’t be discouraged if you only get a few people at first. Book club member size tends to ebb and flow by nature, and even groups with 20 members often say that only five to 10 people consistently show up to meetings. Try to strike a healthy balance in both the diversity of voices (by inviting members from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds) and the number of voices, as you want to ensure all your members leave your meetings feeling heard and valued.

4. Plan the structure of your meetings

While structuring your book club meetings may sound a bit strict, this will ensure their success. Unstructured, conversations may unravel, drawing the focus away from the goal that attracted everyone to join the club in the first place—namely, to discuss the book.

First, decide the length of your meetings, and make sure it works for everyone in your club. For a smaller group, an hour or an hour and a half will often suffice. Set aside the first 10 to 15 minutes of the meeting for socialization, but then navigate to book discussion time.

5. Figure out a meeting schedule

Scheduling is one of the most challenging elements you’ll encounter when learning how to start a book club. With busy work schedules, kids, travel and big life events, it can be tricky to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. Additionally, you want to give your book club members enough time to actually acquire and read the book.

If you want to break the reading up into parts (or your group has a more flexible schedule), you can choose to create a weekly or biweekly book club. If this commitment feels like a bit too much, go for the safer and more common monthly book club meetings.

From there, decide on a regular date for get-togethers. Take a poll among members when you first get your group together to see what everyone prefers. Whether it’s the last Wednesday night of every month or every Sunday during brunch, the book club meeting date should work with most people’s schedules.

Doodle is a great platform for scheduling—just make sure to stick to the schedule and send out the calendar invite via email so everyone can add it to their online calendar in advance. It’s a good idea to send out a reminder the week before so you can get an accurate headcount.

6. Pick the book

Different book clubs take different approaches to the assigned reading. While some groups don’t mind the benign dictatorship route and will trust the book club leader’s judgment, most tend to be more democratic. Some allow each member to take a turn picking the book, while others have voting systems in place. If each book club member makes three book suggestions, for example, the group can then vote on their top pick. The benefit of a voting system is that everyone can feel like they have a say in their precious reading time.

If you’re struggling to make a selection, look to bestselling and award-winning books; they’re always a great choice. Want even more variety? Reader’s Digest has you covered with tons of trusty book recommendations.

As you consider your options, remind the group to pick a book with a realistic page length and reading level—there’s a reason James Joyce’s Ulysses requires an entire college course to read and unpack!

And as the book club leader, encourage your group to keep your authors and narratives diverse. Include books by Latinx authors, Native American authors and Asian authors, as well as books about race relations in America.

One final thing to keep in mind: The best book club discussions are ones in which people have varying opinions and healthy debates. So don’t stress if some members hated the selection; it’ll spice up the conversation.

7. Pick discussion questions to inspire your members

While winging your meetings is OK, interesting discussion questions are always preferable to help guide the conversation and ensure everyone walks away with a better understanding of the book. You can start by asking your members to go around and rate the book from 1 to 10 so that everyone has a chance to voice their opinion before delving into the deeper conversation.

Some books have suggested book club questions at the end, but you’ll never miss with these book club questions, which will get the conversation flowing and keep it lively. Feel free to suggest an interview with the writer or any relevant articles to supplement the discussion.

8. Lay down the guidelines

Finally, let’s discuss ground rules! Remember, when starting a book club, you want to set expectations so all members are, pun intended, on the same page.

Seasoned book club members all have a story about how their previous book club fell apart when members’ expectations clashed. The simplest and most obvious rule is to read the book—keep reading to learn how you can best approach this rule—so that the focus is indeed on the discussion.

But perhaps the most important rule is that everyone and their ideas must be treated with respect and compassion, as long as their ideas are not harming others. Book club meetings often get heated, especially since we each read books through the lens of our own life experiences and ideologies. If everyone has an open mind and remains kind, members’ different worldviews will keep the book club exciting.

Why do book clubs fail?

While learning how to start a book club is truly exhilarating, it’s important to have realistic expectations about maintaining a book club. One of the biggest reasons book clubs fail is that they don’t stick to both intention and schedule. Maybe members get more excited to hang out than discuss the material. Or maybe life gets busy, and they stop attending meetings.

Try to keep your meeting schedule consistent and the meetings structured, and encourage social time afterward (getting a meal or hitting up a bar, for example). If members start to drop out for one reason or another, remember that this is normal, and it’s not reflective of your book club leadership. Book club size ebbs and flows, so even if only a few people show up some weeks, that space is no less valuable.

If the club starts getting a little too small, invite new members to join. And if members can’t make it, encourage them to contribute their feedback in written form so that it can be read out loud and their voices are still valued. Or encourage them to phone in or join via Zoom.

Finally, if your book club members are struggling to keep up with the reading, remind them that audiobooks are a valid way to read. Listening to the latest book club selection while driving or cleaning can help someone stay entertained and involved in the group.

FAQ about starting a book club

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What is the first rule of a book club?

The first rule of a book club is to read the book! Book clubs can quickly lose their appeal if the whole group isn’t caught up on the book and you can’t fully discuss it for fear of revealing any spoilers.

Different book clubs have different approaches to this, with stricter book clubs barring members from attending a meeting if they haven’t done the assigned reading. Others encourage members who didn’t finish to still show up with thoughts regarding the parts they did read. At the end of the day, all book club members should be contributing to the conversation.

How do you structure a book club?

Many book clubs allow for 10 to 15 minutes of social time to get the temptation to chat out of the way before diving into guided discussions.

If you have a larger group, or you find you have a few introverts in your book club, you can have your members split up into groups of two or three to discuss some book club questions for 15 minutes. When time’s up, members can come back together with insight for the whole group. If you have an online book club, you can easily split the group into Zoom breakout rooms.

How often should a book club meet?

Book clubs can be anywhere from weekly or biweekly to monthly. When you start a book club, decide what ultimately makes the most sense for your own schedule, and take a poll with your group to figure out everyone’s preferences. Generally, meeting every four to six weeks is the sweet spot to allow everyone to acquire and finish reading the book.

Where should a book club meet?

If your book club is in person, the meeting location plays a role in its success. If your book club members enjoy hosting in their homes, that’s the more traditional option, and you can task everyone with bringing a snack or drink of choice so there’s less burden on the host.

Bookworms living in urban areas, who may have limited living space, can meet at cafes with a lot of seating. Wine bars and breweries (aim for earlier in the day) are fun alternatives as well. Just make sure the space isn’t too loud—after all, you want to be able to hear and focus on the amazing conversations at hand.

What are some ways to make a book club more fun?

Keep your book club meeting creative! You can plan themed cuisine and drinks that are related to the book’s setting, or make dishes referenced in the book. For example, you can order Korean takeout or get Korean snacks when reading Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H-Mart.

Organize a long walk or picnic if a book prominently features the outdoors, or put together a movie theater outing or an online streaming party of the book’s movie adaptation.

Can you make money starting a book club?

Now that you’ve learned how to start a book club and make it thrive, you may be wondering if you can monetize your book club. With time and effort, you can definitely become an entrepreneur doing what you love. You can start by charging a membership fee.

Of course, you have to provide services worth that membership, as there are many free book clubs out there. Maybe you play host for each meeting, providing delicious refreshments. Or maybe you order and ship the book to all your members for their convenience, making your club feel like a book subscription service. You can also research questions specific to the book and provide supplementary book material to help guide the reading experience.

Once you get a large book club following, another way to make money off a book club is to use an Amazon affiliate account so book club members can purchase books through your affiliate links. You can send out newsletters with those recommendation links in addition to the selected reading.

Kick it up a notch by arranging sponsored content on your book club social media page or website and hosting fun, live events with local breweries or wineries as the sponsor and charging an entrance fee. Curated social media accounts and a professional website are the keys to promoting your book club and establishing its validity.

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Sarah Jinee Park
Sarah Jinee Park is a Korean American writer and editor from Queens, NY. By day, she works at a tech start up, and by night, she's the Executive Editor of Mochi Magazine. In a past life, she led creative writing and graphic noveling workshops for children. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Truancy Magazine, Peach Velvet Magazine, and Polychrome Magazine. Read more of her work at sarahjineepark.com.