How to Start a Book Club: Recruiting and Managing Members

So you have decided  you are going to start a book club, you have identified the niche that will make your group special, now what? Perhaps even more than good books to read, every book club needs enthusiastic participants—members. People are the impetus for any successful book group, not just finding the right people, but also developing a system for keeping everyone connected and on the same page.

There you stand, book in hand, eager to set up a discussion. How will you find people to join in and prevent you from being that crazy lady talking to herself in the coffee shop? Recruiting members is not dissimilar to finding a book club to join.

Networking is the best way to slowly start building your member base. Ask your friends if they are interested, ask them to ask their friends and your friend-once-removed can tell any interested parties he may know. Since many times we choose to associate with people who have interests similar to our own, chances are your friends will be excited about the idea, or, at least pretend to be to spare your feelings.

A word of warning, don’t expect a huge turnout from your network base. Even though your buddies may be enthused at inception, there are many factors that could get in the way between now and discussion day. Maybe they don’t really have enough free time to be in the group, the book you have chosen doesn’t hold their interest, something else comes up or they plain forget when and where the discussion is happening—anything can happen.

If you are OK with reaching out to unknown people for the sake of a broader member base, by all means, do so. You can make fliers advertising the nature of your group, the next discussion and how to join. For added ease on the behalf of your perspective members, you can even add easy tear off tabs with the most important information.

Post your fliers up at the local library, book shops, coffee houses, grocery stores, college campuses and pretty much anywhere that you believe your target demographic may frequent. Before posting flyers, make sure to ask the permission of the establishment—you don’t want to get into any trouble!

The absolute best way to both recruit and manage members is through social media on the internet. Sites like Meetup, Facebook, Yahoo Groups, BookBundlz and the like are excellent places to host your group. Many of the sites are free-of-charge, though ones offering more unique features may have a small monthly or one-time fee.

I began hosting Ann Arbor Classics Book Group on Facebook, but growing tired of the paltry turnout, I chose to move on to bigger and better things. Moving my group to Meetup, has so far increased my membership 10-fold and the meeting turn-outs 4-fold. The $15 per month I have to pay to use the site features was definitely worthwhile, given that Meetup made it easy to design my page and advertise my group for me. Meetup sends e-mail reminders to my members of upcoming discussions, provides message boards for further discussion and allows me to create customizable polls. It even asks members to rate and comment on each meeting.

The administrative fee has easily been recovered by charging members $1 to attend each meeting. The decision to distribute your maintenance costs across your members or to simply cut your losses is 100% your choice.

I definitely extol the wonders of social media for helping me to turn my book group into a momentous force, introducing me to many new friends and even setting me up with AnnArbor.com, allowing me to realize my dream of writing something and actually having someone read it!

Of course, there are other ways to manage your members, but they do take a good deal more work. You can appoint a group secretary to send e-mail reminders to members about fast-approaching book discussions. You can set up an e-mail thread where your members discourse with one another about past and future meetings and make important group decisions.

If the whole of your membership is your closest circle of girlfriends, you can give them personal reminders whenever you see them for other outings. However, without the use of social media, it is challenging to make sure you remember to plan and communicate the everyday minutiae that is required to make your group a success. If you are versed in the Internet (which you must be, because you are reading this article online), then there is no reason not to host your group online, especially when so many of the resources are absolutely free.

Mrs. Storm

Writing everything from Sweet Romance to Children's Books to Nonfiction, Melissa loves books, birds, and bonbons--in that order. She has an advanced degree that she never uses.