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6 Years of Building a Book Club and Lessons I learned!

My book club turned 6 years old last month! While I am proud of this community, it is frankly an uphill task to run a book club...

 

My book club — Broke Bibliophiles, turned 6 years old last month! While I am proud of this community, it is frankly an uphill task to run a book club (if you want to do it right and want to do it for more people beyond your friend circle).

People obviously love reading, despite all the claims that the practice of reading books are dead.

With zero budgets, we have achieved

  • 5300+ members
  • 100+ offline & online events
  • 15+ author meet-ups
  • Growing at 100+ new members a month

Broke Bibliophiles has been a big part of my life, it  started as a hobby but became a full-fledged side-gig, and then led to events that gave birth to my podcast, India Booked with Ayushi Mona. While on the journey of running the book club, I have discovered two important things.

  •  There are other book clubs.
  •  Corporates have approached me for setting up a book club.

To be honest— it has never been easy with a full-time job, one of our the founders moving cities, trying to divide admin duties among volunteers who took it up but never saw it through, leaving the group and rejoining, people’s personal preferences changing and a host of other things.

So, I thought why not institutionalize some of my learning here as an article, should you ever want to start one of your own! Here is my list.

Theme 

There are people who love specifically themed book clubs (Jane Austen, Historical fiction) and there are some who love generic ones like ours. Whatever the theme you choose— make sure it’s not too restrictive.

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For instance, Jane Austen might be one author, but there are dozens and dozens of adaptations, reworks, etc. Look for non-book themes, e.g.: location (there’s a Juhu Book Club), participation format (book swapping).

Format

There is no one-size-fits-all for this. You could be a global sensation like Oprah’s Book Club, a national one like Book Deals for Broke Bibliophiles, or just your friendly neighbourhood reading service.

Similarly, you could do a virtual format, Facebook has a gazillion of virtual book clubs; an offline-only, like Sunday brunch reads at a café club; or a hybrid book club like Broke Bibliophiles. 

The number of people 

There’s no diktat again. Smaller is better for conversations, larger is better for the churn and to keep things from become less cliquey. I once went to a book club meet that had a bunch of 30-year-olds who all knew each other, and it was exhausting because no one made an effort to be inclusive.

Channel for communication

You can use WhatsApp or an email list or even Telegram. Remember, if you don’t have too much time, WhatsApp doesn’t scale easily, so it’s only good enough to stay in touch and talk occasionally.

Structuring meets 

You always want to make people comfortable. That means planning, include ice-breakers like fun games. You could stick to probing about books, but that can be intimidating for newcomers who may just join book clubs to develop the habit of reading.

You should ideally keep the event to less than an hour if it is virtual, and about two if it is in-person.

Safe spaces

You would think that book clubs are safe spaces where people united by the love of reading join in. Yet, often reader’s views can get nasty and judgmental, and just like every part of life, people can take offence.

As someone who manages a book club, you ought to be impartial and help everyone have a good time. Conversely, if someone does not take an offence, it is a lot of fun to pull their leg, keeps the mood jovial and light!

Handling difficult situations

Disrespect of any member’s privacy, sexism, racism or classism can make way into a book club, much like anywhere else. If this happens, it’s okay to show some people the door. The community is a safer place for it!

Frequency

It definitely depends on logistics. If you are in a small town or have a school club with ample time, do it weekly. If you are setting up an in-house book club at an office, doing a meet-up more than once a month might be frowned upon.

Having said that, do not stretch your meetups too long, especially if you are all reading the same book together. Distance might make the heart grow fonder, but it also makes one forget all the fun details.

Location and Finances

Location is always a challenge. If you are lucky enough to have a workspace or someone willing to host at home, but be aware of security risks. Running a book club also requires some bit of financing— for knick-knacks or engagement activities, and perhaps even as a remuneration for the hosts’ efforts.

At Broke Bibliophiles, we have deliberately gone pro bono for the latter and hence are always on the lookout with kind venue partners such as cafés or co-working spaces!

 

Social Media and Public Relations 

Talk about your books, talk about your members and talk about your clubs. Shameless self-promotion is the way to meet like-minded people and help the community grow!

Calendar 

Make a calendar of your events and content. See how you can help more people discover the interesting things you do at your book club.

Events, publishers and tie-ups

Several people may reach out to you for paid and unpaid deals. Keep the end of your bargain while promoting authors and books, but also have a strict set of guidelines that guide the course for you. For instance, no pressure on members to buy books if they don’t want to.

Selling 

We allow members to sell and promote, provided they manage the logistics and do not sell anything that is pirated.

Promotion

 We also allow a bare minimum of promotion (especially from indie authors— we recently had a 7-year-old girl who wrote and a published book about her best friend!) from bloggers, booktubers, and bookstagrammers. Likewise, we were interviewed by the lovely Laxmi Krishnan for her podcast, Literary Chills at IVM Podcast

Podcast

Thank you for reading, thus far! I wish you lots of reading, writing, publishing, book-clubbing success whichever leg of the journey you are at.

To learn more about our events so far at Broke Bibliophiles 

Photograph Source: Ayushi Mona Image source: Canva Creative Studio.  

 

 

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About the Author

Lover of good books and great conversation. I run a podcast called India Booked. Personal finance enthusiast. Marketer & Poet. read more...

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