As an author, it’s a wonderful feeling to connect with readers who love our work. Book clubs are one of the most engaging ways to create deep meaningful relationships with readers. Today, we’ll cover ideas to create fun and memorable experiences as you engage book clubs!
Why Engage Book Clubs?
First, think of a book club meeting as a speaking engagement. What would make a successful event for the host? For the group? What would entice them to recommend you to others or invite you back?
As one example, I joined a local book club last month for an evening of laughter, food and book talk. The host welcomed me by introducing me to her friends and offering me a glass of pinot grigio. I felt right at home! Our chatter turned to school-age kids and shared interests. Right away, they shared how much they loved Goodbye, Orchid.
After enjoying appetizers, we migrated from the kitchen into the dining room with our dinner plates. Some members wanted to know if I’d known someone with an injury like the one my protagonist sustained. Others asked where I got the idea for the storyline.
These initial queries all circle around the top question…
The Top Question: Source of Inspiration?
The number one thing book clubs tend to ask comes down to this same line of questioning. Where did the story come from? What was the inspiration for the story?
In many ways, these questions are quite natural. Just like readers want to know the origin story behind our characters, they want to know why authors choose our subject matter. Reading creates an intimate connection between reader and writer, so it’s not unexpected for readers to want to know our personal inspiration.
I love to kick off book club meetings with introductions and describing how Goodbye, Orchid came about. I share that my book was inspired by combat-wounded veterans, then provide the behind-the-scenes explanation of why that was meaningful for me at that time in my life.
From there, questions usually arise organically. Readers ask about specific characters. They talk about how they felt during pivotal moments in the story. The discussion will often generate more discussion. I love the feeling of readers getting more and more excited to discuss their experience with the book!
In case there’s a lull in the conversation, I also keep a few fun facts ready to share. For instance, with Goodbye, Orchid, readers love to hear about the character names, book cover design, and what’s coming next. In fact, it was encouragement from readers that convinced me to launch a Goodbye, Orchid series!
A Little Prep Goes a Long Way
Feel free to ask the host about expectations in advance. Some book clubs haven’t hosted an author before and will ask for your advice. I always reassure hosts that I’d be happy to lead the conversation and can facilitate the discussion to make sure everyone has an enjoyable time.
To prep, think about topics that may interest the group—what research did you do on the topic? Did you learn anything unexpected as you wrote your book? What’s your writing process like? I also stay flexible in the moment, always striving to help the book club have a fun, engaging experience.
For in-person book clubs, consider what materials you might like to bring. For instance:
- A clipboard and sign-up sheet for your email list
- A favorite pen for autographing
- Bookmarks or other giveaways
- Copies of your books for purchase as gifts
Virtual vs In-person Gatherings
Most of the above can be tweaked for virtual book club meetings (members can even bring a glass of their favorite beverage to their online book club!) Here are a few considerations for virtual gatherings:
1. It can be helpful to ask about book club norms. Do they like to put questions in the chat or to unmute and ask verbally? If they don’t have a preference, you can suggest ground rules so people know what to expect. You may choose an approach based on the size of the group. If the group is small enough, hearing from individuals can make the event more conversational and fun! If it’s a big group, you might ask them to use the chatbox or the “hand raise” function to keep questions organized
2. If the book club would like the author to lead the discussion, consider having an overall plan for the time together in mind. For example:
- You can kick off by introducing yourself and the book’s origin story, and then ask members to introduce themselves along with any of their questions
- If the member asks a quick question, you can choose to answer right during the introductions. Otherwise, jot notes about open questions and synthesize them into themes to address later. In either case, the answers and ensuing conversation often generate even more discussion, which makes for a fun gathering!
3. At the end, share your genuine gratitude for the time together and wrap up with any last thoughts or requests (more ideas on this below)
Consider offering downloadable book club kits. Readers can use these for their own book club parties, even if the author is not visiting. Book club kits can include discussion questions, a music playlist, sample menus and fun games.
I’m a member of Novel Network, a group that connects authors and book clubs, so I let book clubs know they can join for free and invite more authors to come speak at their future meetings.
Building a Long-Term Relationship
Readers who enjoy meeting an author may like to know how to support your work or keep in contact. Be prepared to offer suggestions such as:
- Explain the importance of reviews and ratings and ask readers to follow you and leave reviews on Goodreads, Bookbub, and/or Amazon. People can mistakenly think of a review as a book report, so I like to reassure them that even a simple sentence or two is fine.
- Provide info on how to sign up for your email list
- Feel free to request that they recommend you to other book clubs or to look for your next releases
Lastly, ask for a photo and check if the book club members are comfortable having the picture shared on social media. If they agree, it’s a fun memory for everyone, and can encourage more book clubs to schedule time with you. My January book club posted this wonderful sentiment after they met me:
Feeling a little star- struck this morning.
Nearly fifteen years of book clubs and by far, our favorite meeting was last night, when Carol Van Den Hende, author of Goodbye, Orchid, visited our group. What an absolute honor it was to get to know Carol and her characters. She was delightful and answered our many questions! We can’t wait to read more from her. I highly recommend that you read Goodbye, Orchid and invite Carol to your next book club!
If you’d like to learn more about how to engage book clubs or to share your own experiences, please comment below!
Carol Van Den Hende is the award-winning author of Goodbye, Orchid, a public speaker, and MBA with 20+ years’ experience in marketing, strategy, and insights. Carol is passionate about simplifying marketing concepts into actionable steps that authors need for publishing success. Please sign up for Carol’s newsletter at https://carolvandenhende.com/contact or linktr.ee/cvdh