The ultimate dream for many authors is to have their book chosen by book clubs. Those authors know that reading groups can supercharge book sales. Besides that, it’s very exciting to know that readers everywhere are discussing your book.
But the sad reality is that most books are never discussed by a single book club because authors rarely know how to write book-club-friendly books and promote them to book clubs.
How do you get book clubs to pick your book and recommend it to other clubs?
Whether you’re traditional or indie, fiction or nonfiction, you can get your books into book clubs if you know what you’re doing.
Step #1: Attend a Book Club While You Are Writing Your Book
Reading and discussing books in your genre will help you understand what readers are looking for in a book. Joining a book club will make every step of this process easier, and over time, you will become fluent in the language of book clubs.
Sometimes authors complain that they don’t know where to find their target reader, also known as their “Timothy.” But most of those same authors don’t participate in book clubs. Once an author joins a book club or reading group, they usually have more Timothys than they know what to do with.
If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. It’s just as true now as it was 50 years ago.
Organizing the club yourself is even more beneficial to you because you’ll start to understand how readers discuss books and how organizers choose books. Organizing a book club is hard work, but it’s rewarding.
People are spending less time interacting in real life and more time interacting with bots online. The shift is making us sad, miserable, and depressed. Fight against this trend by starting a real-life book club.
Step #2: Write a Book Club Friendly Book
While all books can be made to be book-club-friendly, few are. In fact, most books are ineligible for discussion because they have fallen prey to one of the book club disqualifiers.
Avoid Book Club Disqualifiers
The longer the book, the fewer members will finish it. If only a few members finish reading, the discussion will be weak. Some book clubs vote on which book to read next, and certain club members will always vote for the shortest book.
Having a long book doesn’t automatically disqualify you, but it is a strike against you.
A very preachy book leaves nothing for a club to discuss. The subtle author, who can show instead of tell, will reap the rewards of being chosen by a book club.
Your book on motorcycle maintenance probably won’t appeal to a book club unless you find a way to make it touch on a broader topic. If you use motorcycle maintenance to teach Zen Buddhism, the wider appeal will make it more likely to be chosen by a book club.
The definition of inappropriate will vary depending on who your target reader is. Different people are triggered by different content. For instance, many people in the middle of the country are triggered by bad language, whereas people in large cities tend to be less bothered by bad language.
Sadly, even your politics could cause certain readers to deem your book inappropriate. A book club comprised of Democrats won’t select a book written by a Republican author and vice versa. Even if you’re not particularly political, your apolitical leanings will be reflected in your writing and will influence who picks up your book.
Your book may be too similar to a more popular book the club has already discussed.
When writers use the “Fast Follower” technique, they watch for books that become popular and then quickly write and publish a similar book, hoping to ride the wave of the more popular book. It’s a financially profitable strategy for indie authors and can increase sales.
While that technique doesn’t disqualify your book, book clubs will likely discuss the more popular book simply because it’s more well-known.
Too Deep in a Series
Book clubs prefer standalone books. They may consider the first books in a series, but they rarely choose the seventh book in a series. A mid-series book means they’ll have to read the previous books in order to discuss the one, and that takes too much time and commitment. They’ll simply choose a different book.
How do you write the kind of book people want to discuss?
If you have a book that qualifies as a good book club choice, how do you make your book stand out from all the other qualifying books?
Write an Interesting Book that’s Easy to Discuss.
Incorporate Themes Worth Discussing
Purposefully and skillfully weave deeper themes into your book. Shallow books are less interesting to discuss.
Book club interest is a reward for excellent writing. We talk more about craft on my other podcast. Check out the following episodes:
- Beyond First Drafts: How to Master the Art of Revision With Angela HuntHow to Tighten Your Writing with Angela Hunt
- How to Create Compelling Secondary Characters for Your Novel with Angela Hunt
- How Jerry B. Jenkins Got His Start as a Writer
Perhaps the most important aspect of craft is good, strong characterization. Give the book club members someone to relate to and root for. This works best when you have multiple interesting characters in conflict. Remember the Twilight series, where readers rooted for Team Edward or Team Jacob?
Relatable characters lead to interesting book club discussions.
Add a Reading Group Resources Section to Your Book
If your book isn’t finished yet, you can add discussion questions at the end of each chapter (for nonfiction) or at the end of the book (for fiction).
Discussion questions make your book easy for book clubs to discuss, and they invite every reader to discuss the book with someone else. Someone may start a club just to discuss the questions you provided.
In your backmatter, let readers know that reading club resources are available on your website.
Add a Reading Group Resources Section to Your Website
If your book is already published and it’s too late to add resources to the book itself, you can still add them to your website.
The WordPress plugin I developed years ago, MyBookTable, has a reading group resources function built in. If you set it up properly, I can almost guarantee it will rank on Google for your book title.
Even if you already have discussion questions in your book, you can still add them to the “reading group resources section” of the plugin or somewhere on your website.
Record a Discussion Starter Video
You also might consider recording a short discussion starter video, which you can upload to YouTube and then embed on your website. Reading clubs and book clubs can watch your video and then discuss your prompt.
Again, don’t be too preachy. Don’t give away too many answers. The whole point of a discussion is for people to offer different perspectives. Let your video start the conversation. Let the book club participants finish the discussion.
Add a Bulk Ordering Function on Your Website.
Some book clubs buy the books themselves. If they have 50 members, they don’t want to pay the full retail price for 50 copies. Make sure you offer a discount for an order of 50.
Create a PowerPoint Slide Deck
Another resource you could offer on your website is a PowerPoint slide deck that introduces the themes of your book.
Create a PDF Leader’s Guide
If you really want to make your book reading-club-friendly, consider creating a leader’s guide PDF. I’d suggest including the following in your leader’s guide:
- Icebreaker questions related to the book.
- Food ideas for the snack/meal. Recipes from the story work well for period books.
- Discussion questions from the book.
- Bonus discussion questions that are only available in the leader’s guide.
- Meeting schedule outline with suggested time frame. Plan for one hour since it’s easier to go long than to cut a meeting short.
- Include prayer points/topics for inspirational books.
- Suggest or create group activities related to your book.
- List action steps the leader can suggest as the group concludes. This is especially powerful for nonfiction.
Step #3: Find Book Clubs
Local libraries often have a list of local book clubs, but most book clubs don’t meet at libraries. And different kinds of book clubs meet in different places.
Formal Reading Groups
On one end of the book-club continuum are the formal reading groups. These groups are governed by schedules, websites, votes, officers, and even some training for the leaders. MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) could be an example of a formal reading group.
Informal Reading Groups
On the other end of the spectrum, you have informal reading groups where a few friends gather over coffee to discuss the book they read. It’s usually free, except for the cost of the book and your coffee.
Bible Studies and Sunday Schools
The largest and most common type of free book club is a Bible study or Sunday school, which are offered at most churches. However, to get your book into these environments, your book must be recommended by an influential religious figure that particular religious community respects. Religious communities, denominations, and churches don’t typically trust books that aren’t recommended by their preferred influencers. They want to know their literature is not heretical according to their community standards.
Class or Workshop
I wrote a book on the sociology of dating amongst a certain community, and a sociology professor assigned my book to his class. The professor who read it saw the sociological perspective I presented and wanted his students to discuss it. I only found out when the university bookstore contacted me about making a bulk order to stock my book in their store.
If you want a university to pick up your book, you need to write a book that lines up with one of the academic schools.
Getting your book pulled into the academic world is a very good path to long-term profitability and sales because academic books are a mandatory purchase for students.
In-Person and Online Book Clubs
Step #4: Recruit Book Clubs
Understand The Life of a Book Club Organizer
Before you start contacting book clubs, you must understand the life of a book club organizer.
Organizing a book club is not usually a paid gig. It’s usually a labor of love. The book club organizer is a super busy person who reads a ton of books. She’s probably a Goodreads power user who gets frustrated when club members don’t read the book or when meeting attendance is sparse.
When the organizer chooses the book, she only picks books she has read and loved. If group members choose, they often nominate potential choices and then vote on the one they want to read next.
If a book club organizer reaches out to you, make her your number one priority. Respond to her quickly and make her life as easy as possible. The more you can take off her plate, the more likely she is to select your next book as well.
Promote Your Book to Clubs
Include a CTA in Your Backmatter
A book can create a book club if you include a call-to-action in the backmatter of your book. The people who are best equipped to promote your book are those who have finished and enjoyed it. Those people may be dying to discuss your book, and if you’ve included group resources, the group may take off.
Let Your Subscribers Know
If you have an older book, you can revive interest and sales by creating book club resources. After you’ve uploaded them to your website, email your subscribers to let them know you’ve recently created resources (like your discussion guide, leaders guide, or video prompts) to make your book more book-club-friendly.
As you get feedback from people who’ve featured your book, share their stories of participating in the book club and how it went. Ask the leader to take a photo of everyone holding your book so that you can share the photo with your newsletter subscribers.
Engage Your Launch Team
If your book hasn’t been launched yet, your launch team members will be a great resource for recommending your book to the book clubs they’re in.
When recruiting launch team members, you may want to ask whether they belong to a book club.
Your launch window would also be a great time to encourage launch team members to start a book club by reading and discussing your book.
Offer to Participate in Meetings
Beginning authors can out-compete the big-name authors by making themselves personally available to readers.
You might offer to attend the meeting in person or via Zoom. If that takes too much time, record a short video where you answer specific questions asked by the group.
You could share photos that inspired your book’s setting or story or offer a freebie to members who sign up for your newsletter.
After you participate in the meeting, send a thank you note to the organizer and ask if she knows of other book clubs that might be interested in your book. In that note, you could ask for a photo of the group to post on social media and remind folks you love participating in book clubs.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be stunned at how many clubs will choose your book:
- Attend book clubs while you’re writing your book.
- Make your book book-club-friendly.
- Find book clubs that would be a good fit for your book.
- Reach out to book clubs through your existing readers.
As more reading groups choose your book, other reading groups will want to read it too. It becomes a virtuous cycle. To paraphrase the Matthew 18 principle, we might say, “To him whose books are discussed by book clubs, more book clubs will want to discuss his book. But to him whose book is not appealing to book clubs, even the book clubs he thinks will discuss his book will change their minds at the last minute.”
How to Start a Local Writers Group (or book club!)
Most authors want to join someone else’s writers group. When everyone thinks someone else will do something, it doesn’t happen. The result? Most authors are not in writers groups, despite the fact that a writers group membership is one thing that separates bestselling authors from authors struggling to make it.
In this course, you will learn how to start a writers group (or book club) of your very own.
Thomas has started nearly half a dozen writers groups over the last ten years and has learned a thing or two in the process.
Patrons save 50% on the course, and students of the 5-Year Plan get this course for free!
Learn more at AuthorMedia.com.
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