Sponsored post and interview with Bookclubs founder Anna Ford, by SBC Online host, Abbey Lile-Taylor
Raise your hand if you’re still on Facebook or Instagram.
We’ve all pretty much got our hands up, right?
Now raise your hand if you’re still hanging on because it’s where your *cough* TWENTY *cough* different book clubs meet.
Yeah. Me, too.
There's gotta be a better way to manage your book club and have the same level of reachability, but in a user-friendly, non-evil, format!"
And there is! (said in my best early ‘90s infomercial voice)
I’ve been lucky enough to explore the app and website over the last couple months with a few of my fellow SBC Onliners. We were blown away by how beautifully organized it was and, even more importantly, how intuitive, too.
The magic is in its simplicity. There’s not a visual overload as you enter the app—the colors are calming and conducive to planning a meeting or fawning over the books your fellow members have been reading.
But, wait, before we get too far into these details, let’s get a little more history into Anna and Bookclubs.
SBC: Anna, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us here at Silent Book Club. First off, tell us your origin story. When did you become a reader?
Anna: I’ve been an avid reader since I was a child. I joined my first book club in 2005. My then-boyfriend’s older sister invited me, and I’m so grateful that she did. I adored her and her friends, many of whom worked in public health like me, and I looked up to them for their professional advice and inspiration.
No one ever missed book club—the nights went late and were full of wine, laughter, and tears. I learned quickly that the book club was a support system the women relied on, and the club continues to this day!
I went on to start a book club in a new city years later that became the basis for Bookclubs and incorporated many of the traditions from the first book club I joined. I had no idea at the time just how formative that book club experience would be!
Who was it that got you into reading?
I’m sure it was my mom. She was an avid reader and thanks to her impressive book collection, I was physically surrounded by shelves and shelves of books growing up. I marveled at my mother's bookshelf and still do, for its volume and variety. We really didn’t have much growing up; I’m so glad she valued books and having them in the house!
What was your favorite book growing up?
Isabelle Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez were my favorite authors as a teenager. After reading The House of the Spirits in class, I was hooked on magical realism.
Has there ever been a time where you saw your reading hit a slump? What did you do to bring it back?
Running Bookclubs full time with a baby who doesn't like to sleep through the night means I still don't read as much or as frequently as I used to. To help me get back on track for my book clubs, I've started listening to audiobooks while I drive, take the baby for walks, or exercise. But I've also become much more forgiving of myself if I attend a meeting without finishing the book - we all show up the best we can. And I make sure to sneak in a few books just for me that I can read start to finish without interruption.
What inspired you to create the Bookclubs app and website?
The small book club that I started in Philadelphia in 2011 had ballooned to over 30 members, and we were drowning in email chains. As the de-facto organizer, I was frustrated. More time started lapsing between meetings and attendance started waning. Then I met Ian. He was a computer programmer looking to practice a new programming language, and I pitched him on the idea of building a website to help my book club get better organized. This was back in 2015! We started the project together and the rest is history. My book club is still going strong, and Ian and I are now married with a 9 month old baby.
When did it go from a personal project to wanting to share it with the book-loving world?
We opened it up to the public in 2017 and hundreds of people found the site. I started corresponding closely with dozens of book club leaders early on and realized they were facing the same organizational challenges I had faced. They provided great ideas and feedback based on how their clubs operated, and, while still a side project, the site was growing quickly.
Before starting a graduate school program, I took a few months off to redesign Bookclubs (then Bookclubz), and make it a business. We relaunched in November 2017 and, although I was in grad school full time, I dedicated an hour a day to emailing or talking on the phone to book club users. In 2018 I realized there was enough growth and interest to focus on Bookclubs full time as a startup venture. We launched the app in 2019. Now we’re serving over 40,000+ clubs and thousands of individual readers looking for a book community.
During its creation, what was the most challenging part to “get right”?
The users were and continue to be a constant source of ideas for what new features would improve bookclubs.com. The challenge is prioritizing what to build next! With a small team, we have to prioritize a handful of tech updates at a time. Community book reviews is an example of a new feature we just released.
You are running what looks like a well-oiled machine. How do you do it?
Haha, thank you. It doesn’t always feel that way. But our focus on tech and customer service have been key to our success. We have a really dedicated team of developers and engineers, making sure that the site and app perform well for our users.
Bookclubs’ mission is to connect people through books, and that mission is our guiding principle. It makes the day-to-day decision making somewhat easier, and keeps the trains running!
And! It’s FREE for users! Again…HOW?
We want to make sure that the site and app remain accessible to all users and types of book club. The software is free for users, and we rely on partnerships with publishers and authors for book promotions as revenue. Many clubs make a monthly donation to Bookclubs through Patreon to support our operations or to ensure an ad free experience. We also make a small amount of money each month through affiliate partnerships with Amazon, Bookshop, and Libro.fm.
What is your favorite part of the app?
I love the club’s “Books We’ve Read” tab. Books are automatically added to this shelf after a scheduled book club meeting, and members can also add books or upload a club’s previous history. The library is so much more than a book tracking system. It’s amazing to see all of the books our club has read over the years, and each book holds its own memory of the meeting or discussion.
A good majority of our Silent Book Club community is female. Do you have any advice for fellow book-loving entrepreneurs?
The best advice I’ve ever received about entrepreneurship is to make sure your venture is solving a problem that you’re deeply passionate about, where you will care deeply about the customers, because without that passion the work is really grueling. I’d add that working to fix a problem that you’re personally experiencing is also a great place to start!
And, as I like to end all of my interviews, the Quick Lit Lightning Round!
Favorite Book Genre: Literary Fiction (I really love an epic multigenerational saga)
Favorite Author Growing Up: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Favorite Author Now: Elena Ferrante
Favorite Book Now: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Favorite Literary Novel: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Favorite Romance Novel: I’ve read some great romance novels recently that are on the literary and intellectual side including The Arc, by Tory Henwood Hoen. With its multiple laugh out loud moments, I enjoyed it tremendously.
What book do you always find yourself recommending? Asymmetry by Lisa Haliday
What was the last five-star book (for you) that you read? Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Top book club pick from 2021: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Predicted top pick for 2022: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Book release you are most looking forward to this year: To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
Now that we have the history, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what I, book nerd and SBC Chapter admin, love about this app…
When I initially started looking into switching over my Silent Book Club groups, I was nervous that it might not be as interactive as Facebook has been. In the time between monthly meetings, admin and members alike post memes, literary articles, and bookish treats that we love and want to share with our like-minded readers.
To recreate the “feed” feel and continue to have a space for all of this bonus material, I use different sections within the app: Photo Albums, Polls, Messages, and Books We Want to Read. These easy-to-access tabs make posting non-meeting related matters just as quick and easy. And Bonus! Anna and her hardworking team are always on the lookout for new ways the app can be more accessible to their readers and organizers. They, hopefully like your own book club, are good listeners!
While most activity can be done within the app, there’s still a bonus to going to the website, too. Bookclubs.com not only provides book club organizational tools to help you manage your book club, but it’s also an amazing source for monthly reading recommendations, book titles that are trending, and help finding even more book clubs to join. (Except for me, I’m already in 20. I’m not allowed to look anymore.)
Not only does Bookclubs help you organize your members and meetings and the many, many books you’re all reading, but it also shares this pièce de resistance: CONTENT. On both the app and website, these folks provide Discussion Guides & Discussion Questions for a multitude of popular titles—many you and your group will probably be reading in the near future.
And can I just reiterate that It. Is. FREE??
So clearly, I’m sold on Bookclubs. I’m in the middle of transitioning my online SBC chapter to the app and am working on starting a local chapter where I live which will be on there, as well.
Are you sold? If not, grab the app. Visit the website. Send them questions and concerns. The folks at Bookclubs.com are more than happy to help.