How to Organize and Host a Book Club
I’ve been organizing and hosting a local chapter of Silent Book Club for two and a half years. During this time, I’ve learned a lot about what works in attracting people to my club and keeping them coming—and what doesn’t work. I hope that this post about how to organize and host a book club will help you if you are curious about how to start a book club of your own. I also hope it will help you if you are a current Silent Book Club leader striving to keep the momentum going in your already existing club.
The more successful chapters there are out there, the better. Reading has so many benefits—and it’s so much fun when it’s silent and social at the same time!
Tip #1: Location, Location, Location
The first thing I did upon deciding to start a Silent Book Club was scout out a good venue. You can’t have a club without a place to meet! So what qualifies as a good venue? Here’s what I aimed for:
- A variety of drink and food options (alcoholic and nonalcoholic options; healthy and not-so-healthy options; meat and vegetarian options)
- A welcoming, cozy atmosphere, without too much noise
- Good lighting or proximity to windows
- Availability to seat 20-25 people if needed
- Close to my home, so I could commit to attending every meeting
- Easy access to parking and/or public transportation
- Friendly management and staff, willing to accommodate a large group with separate checks
I talked to the staff at a local wine bar / restaurant, and they connected me with management. Everyone I met there has been very gracious in meeting the needs of my club. Having met all of the above conditions, this is still the venue where we meet every other week.
For a time, I experimented with adding a different venue to my book club calendar; however, this location did not work as well. Though it had more comfortable seating (couches!), it was less accessible to public transportation. Also, the lighting and noise level were sometimes less than ideal, and the venue had limited drink and food options. I also suspect that the day and time of these alternative meetings had something to do with them not being as well attended—which brings me to my next tip.
Tip #2: Though You’re Busy, Will You Give Me the Time of Day?
People are busy. They have jobs, children, chores, aging parents, exercise routines, and hobbies. Half of them spend the majority of their time either stuck in traffic or spiraling into the vortex of social media and YouTube. And the other half are working two jobs while parenting six kids, starting up an Esty jewelry line, and learning how to code in five computer languages. However, their weeks are fairly consistent, and most people have downtime in there somewhere. Therefore, if you can schedule your meetups at a time when people are most likely to be available, this may increase your attendance rates.
My club meets every other Saturday afternoon. This seems to attract a large and varied group of people. Weekend afternoons are generally good for most people. Weekdays during the late morning or early afternoon may attract a nice crowd of retirees, stay-at-home parents, and people with flexible or atypical schedules. Weekday evenings may work for employees seeking a relaxing happy hour.
I experimented with meeting every other Wednesday evening, but this was less successful for me. People were often too tired after a long workday to attend . . . though the low turnout in this case may have been due to other factors, including the venue not being located near public transportation (see tip #1, above!).
If you start a book club, but turnout is low, try shifting the day/time to see if this brings in more people.
Tip #3: Greetings, Friends
What an honor it is when people show up to your event! By showing up, they are putting their trust in you as the organizer and host. They trust that you have chosen an appropriate venue. And they trust that you will be not only present for the entire duration of the event, but also running the show and guiding newcomers.
That means that you absolutely must pay attention to all of those things: venue, leadership, and guidance. Otherwise, the newcomers will be disappointed, and you will never see them again. I already gave tips on venue, and I’ll give tips for running the show in the following sections. This section will focus on guiding newcomers.
When someone shows up to your event for the first time, make a point of standing up, walking to wherever they are, shaking their hand, introducing yourself as the organizer, and learning how to pronounce their name. Tell them the true fact that you are glad they came! (If you don’t tell them this, they may not realize it.) Then ask them if they brought a book, and talk about their book for a moment. Finally, invite them to order something to drink or eat, and show them the menu or counter where they can view options.
When the event is over, or when the newcomer decides to leave, make a point again of standing up and going to wherever they are to say goodbye. Tell them the true fact that you hope they come again to a future book club event! (If you don’t tell them this, they may not realize it.) With luck, you have remembered their name; say it aloud as you wish them a good rest of their day.
Doing these things may seem scary if you are naturally quiet or shy; but once you get used to it, it’s easy. And it makes a huge difference in the percentage of people who return to your book club after an initial visit.
Also: don’t neglect to greet your old friends when they arrive and leave, to let them know they are still and always welcome and valued.
Tip #4: Shh!! We’re Reading
If it’s a Silent Book Club that you are hosting, you must, as the leader, somehow persuade people to, at some point, be silent and read. Don’t let the entire time pass without a silent reading period! People will be disappointed if you neglect the silent reading period; your book club is, after all, a Silent Book Club.
So how do you get people to zip it and start reading? I usually pick up my book, open it, and announce with a smile, “It’s time to read!” If necessary, I clear my throat and stare at talkers, always in the spirit of friendliness and humor. Often, other club members will help me by announcing to those around them that it’s time to read.
There’s a member of my club who, when I announce it’s time, loudly says “Everybody shut up!” as a joke, that’s also serious. That usually causes everyone to laugh, shut up, and open their book.
Tip #5: Honestly, We’re Pretty Loud for a Silent Book Club
In my book club, we often joke that we’re pretty noisy for a group that bills itself as “silent.” You can hear a pin drop when we’re reading; but when we’re not, things can get rowdy.
That being said, make no mistake—people who show up to Silent Book Club meetings tend to be bookish and introverted (surprise, surprise!). Once in a while, a true-blooded extrovert will appear and manage the entire table’s conversation with esprit and finesse. Much of the time, however, you, the host, must do this yourself.
It’s not hard; all you have to do is ask quiet folks about the book they are reading. While bookish introverts may not begin a conversation, they sure love to continue one—especially when the subject is the book in their hands.
Luckily, no one expects you to be the world’s best conversationalist. If you put in an effort to ask people about themselves, they will generally rise to the occasion and keep the conversation going. And the more you do it, the better conversationalist you will naturally become.
Tip #6: Calling All Book Lovers, Introverts, and New Friends!
So how do you get the word out to your community that your Silent Book Club exists? In my community, today in 2019, most people have never heard of Silent Book Club. I’m hoping this changes, as more and more people start and join chapters. But for now, I can’t assume that people are visiting this website and actively searching for their local chapter. (See where in the world Silent Book Club chapters are located on the Chapters page and the Calendar page.)
This means organizers need to advertise their book club in places where people are inclined to look for fun things to do. Word of mouth is great, and I have gotten new members that way—but not enough to sustain the club. To sustain it long term, I need a continuous and steady stream of new faces. That’s because, sadly, old faces are always leaving due to moving away or getting too busy.
I use Meetup to advertise my club and manage who’s coming. This has worked fabulously for me, since lots of people in my area use this site to seek out fun activities where they can meet new friends. Other good options are Facebook, Nextdoor, your local newspaper event listings, local event websites that cater to your area, and actual physical message boards in the community.
Some of these advertising options charge for their services. You may wish to ask members to chip in. If you fear that cost may scare newcomers away, invite them to attend the first time for free and pay only if they decide to return.
No matter what platform you use to advertise, be sure that your messaging is positive and welcoming. Explain what Silent Book Club is, and invite the person reading your message to visit your group. If and when a member or prospective member sends you a message, do your best to reply promptly and courteously.
Tip #7: A Leadership Story
Finally, never forget that, although you are just hanging out with friends at Silent Book Club events, you are also the leader of the group. This comes with certain rights and responsibilities that other club members do not have. It’s fun to be a leader because people look up to you and actually do what you say (i.e., they will actually shut up and read when you say it’s time!).
But you must also take the responsibility of making sure the book club is running smoothly. In addition to the responsibilities I have outlined above, sometimes unusual situations arise.
For example, I once had a newcomer tell me that the chairs at my chosen venue were uncomfortable and insist that I choose a new location. Since I had already thoroughly vetted the current location and decided that it was the best option for the group’s needs, despite any imperfections, I apologized for the chairs not being cushioned, but stated that we would continue to meet there anyway. The newcomer got angry and suggested that we meet at a venue across town that was distant from both my home and the principal public transportation hub in my city. I suggested that it would be awesome if he started his own Silent Book Club chapter at that venue, to expand the organization. He stated that he had no time to do this and stormed out.
This is the type of thing that can derail a book club if the organizer does not display leadership. Had I agreed to change venues, I would not have been able to commit to hosting as often, and other club members would not have been able to attend as often due to transportation issues. While I don’t like disappointing people, the truth is that it’s impossible to please everyone. I have had people offer all sorts of suggestions for how I should run the book club. I am always willing to listen to suggestions, but I can’t follow through on every idea. I have to do what’s best for the club as a whole, not for one outspoken individual.
Good luck in your endeavors to become an awesome Silent Book Club leader and start or grow a fun chapter in your city! I hope you enjoyed reading these tips on how to organize and host a book club.
And there’s more! Check out these great articles on this site, written by the founders of Silent Book Club, on how to start a book club:
Liza Achilles is a writer and Silent Book Club organizer in Rockville, Maryland. She blogs about seeking wisdom through books and elsewhere at lizaachilles.com.