How to start and run a book club

Peter McPherson

While the goal of a book club is to read books, you'll keep members around longer if there is no punishment for not finishing.

Maybe you're an avid reader looking to widen your literary horizons, or maybe you're looking for a way to encourage yourself and a few friends to read more regularly. Either way, starting and sustaining a book club can be a tricky game of planning for a large group and keeping the discussion flowing.

1. Starting a book club

Before you gather for the first meeting, you should answer a few questions about what this book club will focus on and how it will work. What types of books will you read, and how will they be selected? Will anyone moderate the meetings? Is the group for a small circle of friends, or is it open to new members? Having a vision for your book club will not only help it get started, but also help it keep going for years.

Know your group

Maybe you're just starting to think about forming a book club, or maybe you already have a group of interested members. Either way, you should find out what everyone expects of the group and what sorts of books they enjoy.

If you happen to have a group with similar tastes or goals, you may be able to stick to one or two genres that please everyone. But everyone will be reading outside of their comfort zones from time to time as they discover new authors, ideas, and stories.

Identify reading goals

This is a good discussion to have before or during the first meeting. You should ask everyone what their preferred reading pace is and what they hope to get out of your book club. Compromise is often necessary, especially when it comes to pacing. But don't cater to the slowest reader in the group and agree to read one book over three months. You are best off finding a middle ground everyone can keep up with, even if it means reading a bit faster or slower than they're used to.

Reading one book or half of a book per month is a good rate, but this is all up to you and your group.

Picking books

For a diverse selection of books, having members take turns choosing the current book can work well. Consider having each member take a turn choosing two or three books, then allowing the rest of the group to vote on their pick. This gives everyone an equal say in what is read.

Another method is finding a reading list, like Book Riot's Read Harder challenge. A reading list may offer specific book choices, or it may offer general guidelines.

It's a good idea to set some soft rules on things like length, availability, and subject matter. However, you may find your book club doesn't need rules to run smoothly.

Finding a meeting place

A meeting place where everyone is comfortable and able to talk freely is crucial. You should also choose a place where you won't get looks for laughing or getting a bit loud.

Local cafes can be a great option, but you should talk to the owner or manager first. In some cases, the cafe may reserve seating for your group. Always make sure to support the cafe by encouraging everyone to buy food.

Meeting at someone's house or apartment can work as well, but you should plan well in advance and make sure all members are comfortable with the arrangement. Not everyone may be able to host depending on their situation, and hosting can be a burden. When it's not your turn to host, you can help out by bringing snacks and cleaning up afterward.

Another option is meeting online, using video chat or voice chat to conduct meetings. This can make planning and scheduling meeting times much easier.

Food and drinks

Whether you meet at a cafe or someone's house, you should determine food and drink preferences with the group and whether anyone has any dietary concerns to be taken into consideration. Good food and drink can go a long way in encouraging conversation.

Guiding the conversation

Some groups can get into great conversation without question prompts or a leader guiding the discussion. Other groups might need a bit more guidance.

One person can serve as discussion leader or moderator, helping to make sure that everyone has a chance to share their opinions and respond to others. It can help to have a few discussion questions ready as well. You may want to rotate discussion leaders from one meeting to the next.


2. Keeping your book club going

A book club can be a major obligation for people with busy schedules, and it's easy for a group to lose steam after a while. However, there are a few ways you can help to keep the club alive and thriving.

Pick books early

It's a good idea to know what book will be read next at the end of each meeting if possible. Having someone present the next book can be a good way to wrap up the meeting, and it gives everyone the most possible time to buy the book or get it from their local library.

Choosing the next meeting time

The sooner you establish the next meeting time, the more likely everyone is to start reading the next book. It's easiest to choose the next meeting time at the end of each meeting, as playing email tag to pick a date can be exhausting and take weeks.

Bending the rules

Having a set of rules about reading pace and book choices can keep a group on the rails, but in some cases, you may want to relax the rules a bit and let the group guide itself. Book clubs work best when they are casual and everyone is comfortable.


Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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