Here at Off the Shelf, we love book club. We love gathering in someone’s home or in a coffeeshop, and talking with our friends about books, drinking wine, eating good food, and laughing about life. But we also realize sometimes it’s not always possible to meet in person. Sometimes we want to do these things with friends who live far away. Our solution? Remote book club! Whether you want to continue your in-person book club during social distancing, or if you’ve been considering starting a club from your couch for some time, here are our best tips for launching and running a virtual book club.
1. Find a communication and coordination website or platform
First, we recommend finding a digital space where you and your group can communicate, vote on picks, and coordinate discussion dates. There are several options for doing this, such as a Facebook group, or through dedicated book club organizational websites, like Bookclubz or Book Movement. Or, if you prefer, email works just fine as well. Here at Simon & Schuster, we use a Facebook group for our virtual book club, Book Club Favorites. Using a Facebook group allows participants to designate privacy settings, invite members to join, discuss all month long in the feed, and use voting to pick dates and titles for the group’s next read. Many book club organization websites, like the aforementioned, offer similar functions and permit club invites via email. These sites help to keep track of what titles you’ve read, allow future title suggestions, permit voting, and assist in meeting scheduling.
2. Pick a name for your book club
Once you’ve identified where you can coordinate and communicate, pick a name for your group! I was in a club called “Bibliobabes” for some time. Get creative! You can be thematic, straightforward, or punny.
3. Consider keeping it small
Before sending out the invites to your club, think about your ideal club size. One of our staff members has been in a remote book club for some time, and recommends keeping it small: she says it helps scheduling and rescheduling meetings easier to manage. With a small book club size, you’ll also find there is a greater chance that everyone has read the book by meeting time.
4. Decide on a video platform to use for your virtual meetings
Ask your fellow remote clubbers which platform they prefer to use for virtual meetings. There are a ton of options. A few we’ve used include: Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, and Facebook messenger. Each platform has its own positives and limitations, so you’ll need to discuss with your members which works best for everyone. We recommend determining this in advance of choosing a book, so the framework for your club is in place before the fun part begins.
5. Select a book and discussion date
Next, pick a book! If you plan to alternate which member chooses, set up a rotation and let the first member pick the book. Have them announce it on your discussion forum. If you vote as a group, ask for a few recommendations, and then set up the digital vote. Once you’ve decided on a book to read, pick the discussion date and time that you will all meet on your designated video chat platform.
6. Ask questions or share thoughts all month long
To stay connected with your club as you lead up to discussion date by posting your thoughts and questions. In Book Club Favorites, we ask our members throughout the month for their thoughts and opinions, and we also post several reminders about the discussion date. Our members also share bookish articles and the titles of other books they’re reading. While you’re reading your book club’s pick, find insightful quotes you come across, and share them with your fellow clubbers. Call for a “favorite character” vote mid-way through the book. Maybe set up a “read along” schedule so you stay roughly within the same section of the book throughout the month. We find that continual, digital conversation helps us stay connected even when we’re physically apart.
7. On your designated meeting day, get comfy, crack open a bottle of vino and cheers!
Find a comfy spot in your house to settle into; someplace you can talk for an hour or two without too much distraction. Ask what everyone is drinking and eating. Regardless of what you are sipping or nibbling on, take a moment at the beginning of the virtual meeting to cheers each other and check in, the same way you would at an in-person book club.
8. Use the provided discussion questions from the book’s publisher to generate conversation
Many publishers pull together reading group or discussion guides for their books. These are created specifically with clubs in mind, and they’re often available on the publishers’ websites or on ReadingGroupGuides. These are very helpful in sparking and guiding conversation, and often help you find different ways of thinking about the book and its characters.
9. Pick the next book before the meeting ends, or immediately after
We find it helpful to mention the next book (or possible options) and upcoming discussion dates before closing out the meeting. Discuss who will be choosing, or if it calls for a vote, remind members to cast their opinions before a certain date. Doing so before closing out your discussion will keep book club at the front of everyone’s minds while keeping the momentum going.
We know from experience that virtual book clubs are just as rewarding as in-person clubs. Even through digital discussions, we can build community and feel connected to other readers. We hope your virtual book club is a success and as thoroughly enjoyable as we know ours to be! If you’re looking for a few books to get started with, here are a few we highly recommend: