8th October 2020

How to run a successful online book club

Maisie Scott discusses online book clubs, getting involved, and how to set up your own
How to run a successful online book club
Promote your book club widely. Photo: Maisie Scott for The Mancunion

Lockdown has given the bog standard book club format a modern renaissance, with a digital makeover allowing them to be seen as cool again.

Online book clubs hosted over zoom or social media offer a new way for people to connect virtually over a shared pastime.

Ongoing uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions, and the increase in people isolating at home, makes it the perfect time to join, or start a book club. Alice Porter ran a lockdown book club via her Instagram page and blog. I asked Alice for her advice on how to set up a book club.

Alice’s six top tips for setting up a successful book club:

1. Be flexible. Book clubs can seem like quite a big commitment. To begin with you don’t have to set any rules, and I would encourage you to allow it to develop as a collaborative effort with everyone. You could focus on reading a book altogether or chatting about a range of different books.

2. Reach out on social media. Instagram stories are a useful way to connect, so you could start a poll to register people’s interest. Online book clubs provide a space for conversation with friends, as well as people you’ve never met before in person, so make the most of social media.

3. Keep an eye out for opportunities. Book clubs can be an expensive commitment. My book club were able to keep costs low because we got involved with the Reading Agency’s collaboration with the Women’s Prize . The #ReadingWomen initiative posted out three previous Women’s Prize winners to book clubs across the UK. It was a really cool collaboration to be involved with, and it meant no one had to worry about how they would pay for the books.

4. Democracy is key. The #ReadingWomen initiative saved us the stress of choosing the books ourselves. It can be difficult to make democratic decisions on books if everyone has different reading tastes. I think it’s important to allow everyone in the book club to be part of the decision making process. If you’re struggling to come up with that initial list, try to pick a theme like books by women, or previous Man Booker prize winners. Focus on something that unites the groups’ reading tastes.

5. Make sure there’s no pressure. I previously studied English Literature at university, so I know the stress that can come with being forced to read books. I never wanted my book club to feel like an obligation. It’s important to make sure people feel comfortable to attend the book club even if they haven’t read anything that week.

6. Be prepared but ready to move off course. I think it’s good to have a list of questions to ask the book club, especially in the first few meetings when everyone might be a bit shy. But don’t be afraid to ignore them when the discussion starts to find its feet. You can always come back to them if it falls flat again!

Online book clubs to check out:

Facebook groups including Gals Who Graduate founded book clubs in lockdown which still continue to thrive. Check out their Facebook page and join the private group for some reading inspiration.

The University of Manchester’s Feminist Collective set up a successful book club over Instagram in collaboration with the Literacy Peak Project. This month they are focusing on Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman. Click on their Instagram to see how you can get involved.

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