Two Articles wrtten by Mayra Calvani
So… You Want to Start a Book Club?
Starting your own book club is a great way to share your love of books with other book lovers. Chances are many book lovers would love to start a club but simply don’t know how, or for some reason think it is difficult. Starting your own book club can be easy, inexpensive, fun, and rewarding. The main requirement? A passion for words!
Step One: Decide The Kind Of Club You Want
Book clubs come in all colors, shapes and sizes. The first thing you need to do to is decide what kind you want yours to be. So take out pen and paper, and start planning!
*Would you like a club where members discuss only fiction, or non-fiction as well? Would you like it to be specialized, handling a specific genre? Or you want your club to handle only classics? Or books written by a specific prolific author? Or perhaps only books which have been banned or won Nobel Prizes?
*Do you want your club to be big or small? Eight to twelve members is a good number, big enough for a variety of ideas and small enough to stay cozy.
*Do you want to keep the club between friends or recruit a diverse group of people? A diverse group may offer a more varied contribution to discussions, but do you really want strangers in your home?
*Do you want food to accompany book discussions, or only beverages? From my experience, food isn’t a good idea. People can’t concentrate well while chewing food. But it’s nice to have coffee or tea, especially if it’s a morning session. In fact, drinking hot beverages during discussion is an important part of the book club experience. Some hosts/hostesses serve wine if the discussions are held at night.
*Do you want to conduct the book discussions at your home, in a rotation basis at the other members’ homes, or outside at public places like libraries, bookshops, or restaurants? There are advantages and disadvantages either way. My favourite is a combination of both to keep the sessions fresh, lively and less routinely.
*How often do you want to meet? One month is a good idea. Less than this would be too often. People live hectic lives and members should have sufficient time to read the book comfortably. More than 6 weeks would make members too detached, and even prompt them to forget about the book until the last minute. Also, will you meet on weekends or weekdays?
*How long do you want each session to last? In general, two hours are enough time: The first 15 minutes for chatting, the next 1 ½ hours for the book discussion, and the last 15 minutes to wrap it up and chat some more.
Step Two: Name Your Club
I’m amazed at the number of book clubs out there that don’t have a name. Be original and inventive. Remember, this is your creation. A name gives it importance and legitimacy. Choose a name which suits the club. If your club will only handle vampire fiction, for example, The Transylvania Book Club would be a good name. Okay, maybe that’s not too original, but you get my drift.
Step Three: Recruit Members
Now that you know all about your book club and have given it a name, you can start recruiting members.
*If you want to keep it between friends, several emails or phone calls will do.
*If you want a diverse group with both friends and strangers, then put a few ads in several places where you know people would be interested to join, like local libraries, bookshops, your children’s school, or your church.
*Make your ad eye-catching, interesting, and professional. Include the name and some general info about your club.
Step Four: The First Meeting
Now that you have recruited the amount of members you wanted, you’re ready for the first meeting, which normally will take place at your home. Never take for granted the first meeting. It will set the standard for all subsequent ones.
Once the members have chatted a little, got their coffees and teas and settled comfortably in their chairs, you can begin discussing the rules with the members.
Remember to be flexible. A “dictator” attitude will turn members off instantly. Be enthusiastic. You want to strive for a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
*Discuss with the members all the points covered earlier in “Decide The Kind Of Book Club You Want,” so they can have a clear idea of your book club.
*As leader, you get to make the first book suggestion. Simply bring a list of several books you would like the club to read and let them decide by majority one title. Be wise! The future of your club may well depend on the first book selected. You can print out some reviews about these books and read them to the group to spark their interest and help them decide.
*Decide as a group how the books will be chosen and subsequent meetings held.
-Ideally, each member should have a turn at suggesting books, being leader and hosting meetings.
-Will you purchase hardbacks or paperbacks?
-Who will order books and keep record of books selected, as well as keep record of rotations?
-Will books be selected in advance for the whole semester, or a meeting at a time? Selecting books in advance is generally more convenient.
*Remind members to be punctual, and, ideally, to turn their cell phones off during discussions. Needless to say, it is each member’s responsibility to read the whole book before each discussion.
*Make sure the “rules” are understood by all members and be prepared for questions.
*Reading is great, but reading critically is even better and will heighten the book club experience and add insight and depth to discussions. Offer the following suggestions to keep in mind when reading:
-Keep a pencil or highlighter in hand
-Look below the surface at underlying themes or ideas
-Is there anything unusual which gets your attention? Recurring images? Symbolism? Metaphors?
-Unusual plot devices?
*At the end, suggest they take out their agendas or planners so they can write down the date and place of their next meeting. This should be done at the end of each meeting.
Step Five: The Subsequent Meetings, The Discussion Sessions
You’ve finished the first meeting. Congratulations! You deserve a big hug. The worst is over and the best is yet to come.
If the first meeting was a success, chances are the subsequent ones will be, too. As host or hostess of the first book discussion, you will set the standard. Remember to conduct yourself warmly and enthusiastically. Though you may use index cards, it is always better to express your thoughts in your own words and not read from your notes. Trust me, this will put people to sleep. Always try to keep eye contact with the group. Begin by talking a bit about the author and how this particular book fits into his other body of work, or if it’s somehow related to his life.
Next get some general reactions:
-Did you enjoy it? Hate it? Was it entertaining? Boring? Exasperating? Did it grab you until the end? Was it a challenging, difficult read?
Once you have got some first reactions and “warmed up” the group, you can start going deeper:
-Were the characters believable? Stereotypical?
-What about the plot and pace?
-Did the book evoke any particular feeling? Anger? Frustration? Terror? Indifference?
-What’s unique about the story?
-Any recurring themes, images, symbols or metaphors?
-Any quote or passage which got your attention?
-Any similar works by other authors?
-Do you agree with the reviews written about this book?
If the book is non-fiction, you may want to discuss the following:
-Was the book helpful? Controversial? Informative?
-Was it objective or biased?
-Was the book persuasive enough to change your mind or stand on an issue?
-What was the author’s intention? Did he accomplish it?
Some Last Tips
*Several days before each meeting, send a quick reminder to all members with either email or a phone call.
*If you have small children and will need a baby-sitter during meetings, plan ahead.
*In all groups there will always be a couple of shy people. Encourage but don’t insist in making them talk if they don’t feel like it.
*If you have trouble coming up with a list of book suggestions, check book reviews on newspapers and online and print publications, or simply check titles on Amazon. Try not to stick only to bestsellers. There are wonderful gems out there from small presses, just waiting to be discovered.
*If you’re very serious about your book club, why not make some T-shirts or sweatshirts, mugs and caps with your club’s name—and even logo!—on them. This can be easily done at a print shop and members would share the cost. For a mystery club, for example, you could purchase deer hunter’s caps and smoking pipes, and have them personalized with the club’s name and/or logo. It’s fun and your club will get even more attention—specially if your meetings are held in a restaurant! The only limit is your imagination.
Good luck. Above everything else, enjoy!
How to Get Celebrity Testimonials
Getting celebrity testimonials or endorsements is an effective way to boost sales, add publicity and credibility to your book, and attract attention from booksellers and libraries. As a small press author, I don’t think I would have any trouble getting reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal if printed on the front cover of my vampire novel were a testimonial by Anne Rice. Yeah, I know… dare to dream. Well, I actually checked on her website for her contact info, and although there’s a way to get in touch with her (that’s not to say she’ll answer my message), she makes it plainly clear that she won’t read other author’s manuscripts. With famous authors, this seems to be the rule.
Mid-level authors with big publishers have more luck because the publishers themselves (or at least their publicists) take care of this job. But how can small press authors get testimonials from celebrities when it’s so difficult to make contact, and when celebrities are too busy to read other’s works?
One way is through conferences and associations. By attending conferences in your book’s genre, you’re able to make connections and meet other authors, including famous ones. Even if you don’t meet famous ones, you might meet people who actually know them and could put a word for you. If you’re shy to socialize, just pretend you’re not yourself for the duration of the conference. This might sound silly, but the other day I read an interview where they asked the successful CEO of a famous company what her secret was, and she said, “I just pretend I’m Jennifer Lopez.”
Another way to get testimonials is by doing a search on the internet. Just type: “celebrity contacts.” Remember many celebrities have websites with their contact info.
You may also check www.ContactAnyCelebrity.com. This is a database with over 54,000 celebrities. Remember to choose people who are recognizable in your field.
Another resource is www.ParaPublishing.com (Doc. 609).
I’d recommend first querying before actually sending an ARC or draft of your book. Making contact by snail mail is more effective because of the problems with spam, though follow-up emails are fine.
When querying, remember the following:
* Make it easy for the celebrity to answer you. Always include a S.A.SE.
* Send a personal letter explaining what the book is about. Include all relevant information about the book–publisher, ISBN, publication date, etc.
* If you already have reviews or other endorsements (even by unknown authors), include them. Also mention any awards won.
* The more personal, the better. A handwritten post-it or note will get attention.
* Tell the celebrity how much you admire their work, and how honoured you’d feel if he or she gave you a testimonial. Many celebrities will feel flattered.
* Remind the celebrity how giving you a testimonial would actually give him or her free publicity.
If you haven’t heard from the person in two weeks, send a follow up letter. If he declines to read your book, thank him anyway. He might not read your book now, but he might do it next time. Once he agrees to look at your book, send him an ARC or draft. Some writers include an easy-to-fill out form to make it easy for the celebrity. Of course, never forget the S.A.S.E. If you don’t hear from him in three weeks, send a follow-up letter. The secret is to be persistent, but always polite.
And remember, you’ll never know the possibilities until you try!