How to Start a Book Club: Choosing Meeting Times and Locations
Having already identified your niche (check) and to work on building up a member base (check), you are now ready to get into the nitty-gritty of leading a book club. Once you have a date for your first discussion in place, you can work with your existing members to set up dates for meeting times. It helps to come up with a predictable pattern of meeting times so that everyone is on the same page. It can be quite confusing to alternate days of the week or times of day for meetings—almost invariably someone will show up at the wrong time if you follow a convoluted schedule.
Make sure to get input from your group on how often the club should be holding discussions. Meet too rarely and it is easy for members to attrite due to a lack of engagement or by joining another more reliable club; meet too frequently and you will quickly find members getting burnt out and attendance waning. Finding the right frequency of meetings may take some time. Ultimately, not everyone will find the final schedule perfect for their needs. I think a good place to start is once per month.
Another aspect of scheduling besides frequency is time of day. The idea of a Sunday brunch book club may sound wonderful, but maybe it’s just too difficult for members to be up and in working order that early on a weekend. Thursday evenings seem great, but what happens once your kid’s sports season starts up and you find yourself cheering “Go Team” in the bleachers rather than quibbling over the deeper meaning of the camellia flower in “Love in the Time of Cholera” at book club? Try to find a day and time that can work for you (and as many of your members as possible) throughout the year. It does no good to start meeting at one time and then have to change it after a few months due to scheduling conflicts—this might also make some of your members pretty mad, if you are changing from a time that does work for them to a time that doesn’t.
If you and your members have your hearts set on a particular venue, be mindful of the ebb and flow of traffic at your desired location. Want to meet for lunch at a favorite restaurant? Arriving at 12 noon on a Sunday, when most restaurants are busy, noisy and sometimes have a wait to be seated, may not be the best plan. Going for coffee at 9 PM could seem ludicrous to some potential members, scaring them away from your club.
Many smaller, more intimate book groups choose to meet inside members’ homes. They often have rotating host-duty, where the hostess agrees to set everything up for the group or assigns tasks or dishes to each member in preparation for discussion day. When meeting inside the home, just remember, something could always come up last minute to pull Jane away from her hosting duties, leaving your book club location-less. While this format can certainly work for smaller groups, it presents some very obvious problems for larger, less exclusive groups.
I have found that the following criteria are very important when deciding upon a public venue: provides a location that is centrally located and convenient for members, offers free and convenient parking, is open at least two hours after the start of your discussion (in case things get heated), serves some form of food and beverage for members to nosh on and does not have an overwhelming amount of background noise. You also want to make sure to choose a place that will easily seat a group of your size even at busy times and that has a seating arrangement that is conducive to conversation.
Though it may be comfortable and convenient to meet at the same location time after time, you and your members may find it fun to choose some place unique that ties in with themes presented in your reading selection. Just read “A Suitable Boy”? Why not try meeting for dinner at Shalimar? “Memoirs of a Geisha” on your literary plate? Discuss it while filling up on the delicious cuisine offered at Ichiban.