This post was written by guest contributor, Lauren Maddox with Maddox Marketing
I didn’t know I needed a virtual book club in my life. So, I started one! And it turned out to be my favorite part of the week.
These last few months have required us to limit face-to-face interaction. At the same time, we’ve been overloaded with a sea of information. Honestly, a virtual book club seemed like ‘one more thing’ to do.
One more thing to think about.
One more reminder of social distancing.
One more zoom call. (Lord, help us all!)
The opportunity arose to host a virtual book club from a new author’s book launch. It fell in the midst of quarantine craziness, but the book seemed interesting to me. So, I said yes!
We planned to meet weekly to discuss different sections of the book. In full disclosure, the author’s team provided great resources (a discussion guide, social media items, a guide to recruitment, etc.)
But in navigating the role of a virtual book club host, I quickly saw the benefits and learned some best practices when it comes to taking a traditionally in-person gathering and making it virtual. I didn’t know I needed a virtual book club in my life, but it turned out to be my favorite part of the week.
Whether you’re trying to limit your in-person contact, using a virtual book club as a means to connect on a larger scale, or simply wanting to start a new group based on a common love for books and good conversation, a virtual book club might just be the next best thing for you.
Here’s some tips to get started and kick off your next virtual book club adventure!
Location, Location, Location: Address the Tech Needs First
Choose your preferred platform to meet virtually.
Facebook Groups (a new, free feature on the Facebook platform), Google Meet (also free!), or Zoom are all great options. Our meetings were through Zoom, as not everyone in my virtual book club was on Facebook. Note: I do have the paid version, which is required if you have more than three people and meet for more than 45 minutes. Whichever platform you choose, do an audio/video test run ahead of time! Also, be sure you’re acquainted with all the features (chat, screen display, etc.)
Head off the challenge of ‘one more virtual thing’ in our already Zoom’d out world.
People will accidentally talk at the same time. Sometimes people will glitch out or freeze. You, as the host, might need to let people in the meeting room again and again if they get dropped. Just be open about it, and gently remind everyone to be patient. (I think most participants will be already!)
Embrace the unconventional, techy side of a virtual book club.
Encourage your members to make it as pleasant as possible. Find a cozy spot, pour their favorite drink, light a candle, and put in the noise cancelling earphones, if they can. A virtual book club doesn’t have to be another stuffy office-like Zoom meeting!
Put Your Best Virtual Foot Forward
Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.
Don’t assume because it is a virtual event, everyone will know what to do and when to do it. Share the book club schedule as soon as you have it. That was the #1 question I was asked within days of kicking off. People want to know what to expect, put it on their calendar, and make plans accordingly.
I also suggest using a Facebook group and/or Messenger group to send reminders, ask questions, and keep your members engaged from meeting to meeting. (I used Canva to easily create colorful graphics that I posted throughout the week in our Facebook group!) This group also allowed other members to ask questions, make their own posts, and open up outside discussions, too.
Give your members a warm welcome.
A virtual book club was unchartered territory for a lot of my group. (It was for me, too!) Yet, I wanted them to feel comfortable, just like I would if I were welcoming them to my home. I also wanted them to be comfortable enough to share with the group. As we kicked off, I sent each member a handwritten card and a small welcome gift that went along with the book we chose. (And because I am a gift-giver at my core, I sent an end-of-book-club gift, too! I saw it as a fun way to remember our time together!)
The Anatomy of a Successful Virtual Book Club Meeting
Give your book club meeting a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Yep, just like your book! Of course, these flow naturally into one another, but any great writer will attest to the power of following a structure, and a book club meeting is no different.
Start off with a simple icebreaker or soft ball style question to get everyone feeling relaxed. “Would You Rather” style questions are perfect for this! Each person can answer by holding up one or two fingers depending on their selection. Share Your Favorite _______ is another great icebreaker option.
When everyone is at ease, move into the discussion. You can follow the discussion guide if your book already has one. Otherwise, have some questions ready to go. As the host, it is your job to lead the discussion. Some ideas are: What did you think about XXX? Why did XXX happen? What was your favorite quote from the chapter? What parts of the passage did you highlight or underline?
Once you ask a question, don’t be afraid of a little silence. A host doesn’t have to be the one who talks all the time. People need time to process, recall the text, and respond, so give them time to get there. Also, let the conversation organically flow. As in a traditional book club, this is where the gold is! You may not be able to get to every question, and that is OK.
Lastly, create a closing ritual. Whether that means a quick review of what was discussed, your own closing thoughts or final takeaways, or something else that makes sense for you, choose the same closing format each time. Also, use this as a time for housekeeping (next book or next chapter selection, plan any homework, if applicable, and reminder for the next meeting date.)
Last Pro Tip: Don’t Lead and Read
Read the book ahead of time if you’re able. (Or listen to it!) I also suggest that you make your own notes or highlights as you read and then skim those before each meeting. This way, you’re not stressing to lead and read. In fact, the more you can do in advance, the easier it is on you. (I used a board in Asana to schedule out my books clubs tasks, social media posts, and discussion questions. #AsanaAddict)