Why Book Clubs Matter to Authors
Book clubs provide an opportunity to forge a deep connection with readers and build a fan base.
More than twenty-five years ago, Oprah Winfrey launched Oprah’s Book Club and created a craze of must-read books many authors dream of being a part of someday. Since then, many others have popped up, the most famous being Reese’s Book Club, hosted by actor Reese Witherspoon. Even newspapers like the New York Times get in on the book recommendation action with their Now Read This Book Club. The phenomenon has crossed genres into the books themselves in The Jane Austen Book Club and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and movies like Book Club and Ladies Book Club.
The power of the book club can’t be denied. It seems they find all the best books. When Reese Witherspoon selected Where the Crawdads Sing for her book of the month, the book soared to bestseller status and is now a movie produced by Reese’s studio, Hello Sunshine. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid exploded in popularity after Jenna Bush Hager chose the novel for her Read with Jenna Book Club and it’s being adapted into a miniseries with Amazon.
The enduring popularity of book clubs can be attributed to their two primary benefits. First, they help readers discover new reads or new authors they might enjoy. Second, they provide a sense of community, where you can make new friends and discuss great books. They provide the opportunity to talk about a good book, including all its spoilers, with people who understand what you’re talking about. Both of these aspects make a book club an ideal location for you as an author to engage with new readers.
What is a book club?
It’s a simple concept, really. A core group of bookworms all agree to read one book at a time, usually over the course of a month. At the end of the allotted period, the group comes together and discusses their thoughts and feelings about the book’s themes, plot, and characters.
Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes. They can be specific to a genre, a time period, a location, or any other criteria. Some are social, while others serve an educational function, picking books to help aspiring authors study the craft of writing. The traditional image of a book club is a group of people, each with their own copies of hardcover books, meeting at one of the members’ homes with wine and cheese present. Today, the sessions take all kinds of formats, including in person, virtually over zoom, and even through social media platforms like Facebook.
Advantages of a book club
Aside from the initial book sales, there are a number of additional benefits to having your book featured in a book club.
New readers discover you and your writing
See your book from a reader’s perspective
Increase your book reviews
Word of mouth recommendations from the book club members
Feedback on your book
Opportunity to introduce your other books
Tips for Connecting with a Book Club
More than just a promotional opportunity, discovering book clubs and interacting with them opens the door to having your story selected as the book everyone will be discussing that month.
This sounds basic, but it never hurts to ask.
Think local: Consider local reading groups and virtual book club options. Grab your library card and visit your local library, speak to the librarian, and check out post boards for any in-person book clubs. Talk to bookstore owners. Contact your local chamber of commerce to see if they have any clubs on record. Chat up other local authors and discover their experiences.
Online book clubs: Search Goodreads, Instagram, Facebook and Discord for groups that discuss books. The Nextdoor app connects communities by neighborhoods and uses are required to be verified by other neighbors to join the platform. Meetup is another online community connecting people with similar interests by geographical location. Offering both in person and virtual meeting options, it’s a great place to discover new book clubs.
Advertise to your readers
Use your social media to let your readers know you are interested in discussing your book with a book club. Post your availability schedule on Instagram. Ask readers to recommend you to their book club. Create a “book me” page on your website where readers and book club organizers can see what you have to offer. Add a spot in your back matter to promote your willingness to chat about your books in a group setting. If you have your own podcast, mention there you’d be willing to attend book discussions about your work if your books are picked up by book clubs.
Give it time
If the book club you’re considering is established, most likely they have a long list of books already to choose from. Yet, most are limited to one book per month. That’s only twelve books a year. It can take time to get your book on the list and into the rotation. Understanding how a club selects their books can help you find the right opportunity to present your book as the pick of the month. For example, if you have a summer romance and the club chooses books based on the seasons, waiting until the middle of the year might be a good idea. Conversely, if the book club chooses all its selections for the coming year in December, make an effort to connect with the group well in advance of the holiday season.
Support Book Clubs
Share your love of book clubs on social media. Show the book clubs you are willing to support them before you ask for your book to be on the book of the month list. Give them a shoutout on Instagram, suggest a group on Facebook, add a list of book clubs to your website with links to find them online. If you attend a meeting, take pictures and tag the group on your socials.
Be a member
The easiest way to have an in with a book club is to be in one. By being a member of a book club, not only will you gain valuable insight as to how a book club works, you can gauge when is the best time to bring your book up as an option. Plus, you’ll also find lots of new books to read. That’s a win-win.
Know your audience
One of your goals in having your book be chosen for the book of the month is to find new readers. By taking the time to get to know the dynamics of the book club, you’ll be able to easily determine which, if any, of your books are a good fit. Is it a casual book club or are they serious readers? Does the group include already established authors? Do they bring their pets to the meetings? Are the meetings held during the week or on Sunday afternoons? See if you can talk to the host or one of the members to get a sense of the club’s make-up, likes and dislikes. If the club has their own site, check for a FAQs page (frequently asked questions) to learn more about them, and look at their past book selections to see if yours would fit in.
Offer more than just your book
Chances are you have some book swag (items like stickers, bookmarks, etc. branded to you) as part of your marketing strategy. Include these items as part of your pitch. Another valuable item: your time. Give the book club the option to have you in attendance at the book club meeting. You could even be the moderator of the session, guiding the group through the discussion.
Host a contest
Liven up a book club discussion and make a memorable impression by inserting a contest into the fun. Have members do something like answer a question to get an entry into a giveaway for another of your books. Promote your unpublished but up-and-coming work by holding a character naming contest where the winner gets to name a character in an upcoming book.
Create a discussion guide
Organizers love help in facilitating discussions when readers meet. Make their job easier by creating a list of discussion questions pertaining to the themes or key elements in your book. Many books today have a discussion guide or book club questions included as part of the back matter in their books. Or add the questions to your website as an additional bonus for readers.
If you don’t have swag to offer, find a theme in your book and bring something that relates to it. If the main character is a baker, bring homemade cupcakes. Come ready with a bottle of wine from the region your book is set in or a candle with your main character’s signature scent. Think of things that might make your book and the book club meeting memorable and have readers talking about the experience.
Give a discount
Everyone loves to be in on a bargain. Make your book that much more tantalizing by offering a bonus code for 10% of the book, a free ebook download if they buy the paperback, half off the next book in the series. Give the group member access to a bonus chapter, epilogue, or reader magnet they can keep. By providing the book club with additional content, you make your book stand out as show you care about them as readers and potential fans.
Confirm and reconfirm
If your book is selected and you are invited to the discussion, block your calendar for the day and time. If you’re attending in person, build in a cushion for travel time and ensure you have directions to the hosting location. The last thing you want is a tardy first impression. The day before the book club meeting, reconfirm with the organizers or hosts. Pack everything you’ll need the night before so it’s ready and you’re less likely to forget it or have to scramble to get ready at the last minute.
Confirm with the organizers if you will have time to speak before or after, if they want you to talk about your author journey, will there be a question-and-answer period, etc. Ensure you have water or tea to drink if you are talking. Ask for a small table to display copies of all your books, especially any that relate to the book read. Make sure you have an easy sign-up option for your newsletter for those that want to keep in touch.
Opinions differ and there is always a chance there might be those that don’t connect with your book at the same level as others. Take the time to let them share their views. Be open to criticism, arguments against a plot point and feedback. Be patient and gracious. Let others in the group come to your aid with their retaliations to the points. A healthy debate is a good thing. Avoid being argumentative or overly defensive if the group has someone particularly critical of the book.
Say thank you
Show your gratitude to the book club by following up a few days after the meeting where your book was discussed. Include links to your website and other books and format with the idea that the organizer may forward the email to the group. Offer a feedback opportunity. A short online survey or old-fashioned index cards where members can provide anonymous comments. Write a note to the host thanking them for their time and see if you get an invitation to come back.
Keep in touch
Before you leave, or as part of your follow-up interactions, make a promise to the group and its organizers to return at their request. Be available for follow-up questions from the book club members. Be sure to include the easiest way for the members to find you, like including your website or newsletter link at the bottom of an email. Keep in mind that the organizers may forward your email in its entirety to its members, so choose words carefully.
Make sure to like and comment on any social media posts the book club or its members make about your time with them or your book.
Start your own
You love reading and books, so why not create your own book club? Find a group of people to join. It could be made up of fellow book lovers like you in the same town, or your virtual friends on social media. Give your bookclub a theme that resonates with you and your circle of reading friends. Select a time and place to meet as well as frequency. Determine the rules on how books are selected. Are they voted on by the group or curated by you or the host of the month? Include a mix of books, from bestsellers to new Indie authors.
Once the group is established and a rhythm is set, take your book club up a notch and reach out to your authors in your circle to invite them to join the fun. This is an excellent networking opportunity, as you become known in the book club community. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.
Book clubs remain high in popularity because they are rewarding for both authors and readers. Lasting connections can be made with the readers who discover your book. With the added personal touch of attending the session, you can leap off the page and create fans of your work, who will want to share their experiences with their friends and family.