So you've started a Silent Book Club. Maybe you have a friend or two who join you at a bar to read and drink, or maybe you meet with a few strangers at a cafe once a month to share book recommendations and read together. Or perhaps you tried to organize a meetup and then found yourself reading alone—it's happened to the best of us. If you're thinking about expanding your group or looking for ways to build up your attendance, we've got some tips.
Event planning is hard, and it can be really stressful. That was the biggest surprise to us when we started Silent Book Club. We had no idea how many grey hairs we were about to add when we decided to open up the group and see where it would lead.
When planning a public event, you have to think about how you're going to promote it. Getting the word out in advance is key, and getting people to come can be a challenge. Whether you're using Facebook events, Meetup.com, email, or another means of communication, you can be certain that only a percentage of the people who RSVP will actually show up. It's incredibly frustrating.
Here in San Francisco, we generally assume that 50% of people who RSVP to Silent Book Club will show up. Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less. The only constant is that you never know. The most stressful SBC we ever planned had 2.4K RSVPs on Facebook. We scrambled to add venues and reserve extra seating, and flat-out panicked for the week leading up to the event. About 90 people showed up. Which, granted, was a huge flash mob of readers descending on a couple of hotel lobbies in San Francisco, but it was only 3.75% of the RSVPs. Never trust what people promise on Facebook.
The most successful chapters have formed over time with strong connections to their local communities. We always recommend that new hosts start out by inviting friends, family, and colleagues to kick off a new chapter. When we first started Silent Book Club, we kept it to a small group of acquaintances for several months before more people heard about it and wanted to join. Word of mouth is your best resource.
Here at SBC HQ, we host an online calendar and post weekly event updates on our Facebook page, but our members are spread out all over the world, so the majority of the people who see those posts probably don't live in your neighborhood. If you're on Facebook, you can create an event and invite your friends. Every time someone RSVPs or likes the post, it will share that information and extend your circle a little further.
But not everyone's on Facebook, and as we pointed out before, it's a highly unreliable platform. We experimented with Meetup.com and found that even though you had the benefit of setting an RSVP limit, it was still a crapshoot as to whether or not people would show up. It also costs money, which is a drag.
So there's no silver bullet. After years of trial and error, we can't say that we have a perfect solution. A lot depends on what you want your Silent Book Club to be. In between "official" SBC meetups here in the Bay Area, my cofounder Laura and I still get together on our own sometimes to brunch and read, just the two of us, like old times. We sometimes miss those early meetups with a small group of friends in our neighborhood wine bar. We might start those up again, who knows.
But we're committed to helping anyone who wants to start a Silent Book Club make it a success. So here is a checklist of things you can do to spread the word and grow your chapter. A combination of approaches will be most effective. Experiment to see what works for you and your group. And most important, have fun. Silent Book Club is about reading with friends. Don't forget to enjoy it.
- Submit your event details on our website (here) at least 2 weeks in advance so that we can add it to our online calendar.
- If you're inclined, you can also create your own Facebook group for your chapter. That has worked well for groups in Seattle, Jacksonville, Houston, and many others.
- If you're not opposed to the monthly fee ($14.99/month), you can create a Meetup.com account and the website will help you promote the event to people who have expressed similar interests in your area.
- Submit your event details to local newspaper event listings. Most town newspapers or weeklies have a website that will allow you to submit community events for free. Do a search in your area and see what comes up.
- Put up signs or flyers in the library or at local bookstores, libraries, and cafes. Here's a template you can use. Just select "Make a copy" from the File menu and you can create a draft that you can edit.
- Ask your local library if they'd like to partner with you and add it to their community calendar.
- Ask the venue or cafe where you meet if they would like to add the event to their calendar or website.
- Make sure that you give people enough time to plan around the date. We recommend at least two weeks notice. Some calendar and newspaper listings require more advance warning.
- Stick to a regular schedule and location. Some people like to move around to accommodate people in different areas of the city, but we've found that people return more frequently to a set location. There will always be people who'll ask if you can change the day/time/venue to suit their schedule, but speaking from experience we can tell you with utter certainty that you will never be able to please everyone. Do what works for you.