How to Start a Reading Group

Reading groups form for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of locations. A group may be made up of friends, co-workers, parents, neighbors, or people who were once strangers. A group may meet at a bookstore, home, cafe, church, or park. But, no matter the reason for creation, or the space that they are held, there is one common factor: book groups are filled with people who love reading and talking about books!

While it is hopefully easy for you to enjoy your book group, it is sometimes challenging to start one. Here are a few ideas and tips for starting a successful and enjoyable group:

THINK: Think about what you would like to find in a book group – are you looking for a specific type of group: A group focused on cookbooks and food books? A mother-daughter/father-son group? A group that enjoys research and a more analytic approach? Or are you looking for a more common version filled with neighbors and acquaintances?

INVITE: Once you have an idea of the group you would like to organize, you need to find people who are interested in joining. You can extend invitations to friends, neighbors, and co-workers via email, but if you are interested in meeting new people, you could post an ad at your local bookstores and in neighborhood newsletters. Whether you choose friends, acquaintances, or new people, it is important to find people who are as interested and excited as you are!

MEET: It is good for everyone to get together before the book group’s first book discussion in order to talk about the group’s goals or mission. What does everyone hope to get out of this group, and how will it be a welcoming, fun, and interesting experience? Do you want to establish any ground rules in order to make sure you keep your goals in mind?

Some groups will make a list of words that come to mind when they think of the kind of group they would like to have: welcoming, engaged, positive, energetic, organized. Some groups write down objectives they want to follow: Encourage positive discussion; respect others’ thoughts even when they are different from your own; participate in discussion by asking questions; provide positive feedback to other members’ ideas.

We find that groups that answer these questions together and come up with guidelines or a mission statement are the most successful in the long run. By answering these questions, you are creating a shared purpose and understanding for the group, which helps people make sure they are joining a group that matches their personal goals, and helps avoid future problems as well. Don’t worry if someone doesn’t end up joining! Remember – you want to be in a group with people who are just as excited as you are to be there! It can also be helpful to return to these guidelines as the group expands or changes.

PLAN: Once you have formed your group and established your bigger-picture goals, you need to plan:

Meeting Time and Place:
Where will you meet? Will you meet in the same location each time? How often? What time? How long will meetings last? What are the group members’ responsibilities? Will you designate a specific time for socializing? What will the social atmosphere be?

Some groups will meet in the same café each month, while others will rotate houses. It’s up to you to decide where you would like to meet, but it is important to understand how much time everyone can commit. If you meet in a communal location like a café or library, no one has the responsibility of hosting or providing snacks/beverages, but some members may enjoy hosting and entertaining. Gauge your group’s interests. Some groups even meet in different places depending on the book they are reading – they match the book to the meeting location! It’s always fun to think of unique ways to engage with the book.

Social Time:
It is important to think about how/if you want to include socializing in your book group. As you become friends, you may want to take time to catch up during book group. We recommend including that time at the end – maybe while enjoying a dessert!

Book Choice:
Decide what types of books you will read. Will you focus on a specific topic or genre? Are you open to a variety of writing forms? Will you consider themed months? Do you want to read new releases or wait for paperbacks?

Once you decide the types of books you’ll read, consider how you will choose books and when you will choose them. Some groups rotate so each member chooses one book. Larger groups may have a meeting where everyone brings a couple of books, and the group members vote on their favorites. Some groups receive a list of book recommendations from a facilitator. At Reading Group Choices we publish a guide filled with new recommendations each year! We also offer our Custom Club, and can build a list specifically for your group based on members’ interests.

Discussion:
How will each discussion be led? Will you designate a leader? Will you have a professional facilitator or guest speakers? Who is responsible for providing author information and giving an introduction to the group’s discussion? Do you want to set up any rules for discussion?

The discussion set-up can vary depending on the meeting and on the book, but it’s good to understand how you would like discussions to work. You want to make sure everyone feels comfortable, and that everyone who wants to speak is able.

We hope you found this information helpful on how to start a book group – some of these tips may also be helpful for people already in established groups! Please check out Reading Group Choices for more information, resources, and new book recommendations each month. You can order our annual book recommendation guide straight from the site, sign up for our free monthly eNewsletter, and apply to be one of our Spotlight Clubs to win books for your entire group!

Happy Reading!