As everyone struggles to make sense of the COVID-19 outbreak and how to stay safe, a Toronto-based writing group, The 11th Floor Writers, held its March meeting using Google Hangouts. This allowed its members to still “meet” face-to-face and engage in a productive meeting without leaving home.
Virtual book club meetings with a “visiting” author might be one way for authors and book clubs to connect during these uncertain times. They allow book clubs to invite authors from across Canada. There is an abundance of technology that makes this possible. The key is to figure out which works best for individual book clubs and authors. With the exception of calling the author using a telephone, a virtual author visit requires an Internet connection, audio (speakers and microphones), a webcam, and a projector/computer so that the book club and the author can interact with each other.
To use Google Hangouts, one book club member (the host) needs to sign into a Gmail/Google account and go to Google Hangouts. There, hosts can invite members to be their contacts on Hangouts. They can only invite Gmail email addresses. Once the contacts are added, hosts can start a video chat and invite as many as 25 people to participate.
Tip: Hosts can also create a group of contacts to make inviting online book club members more efficient. While they can do all this through the web browser, they can also download the Google Hangouts app on any device and use the service that way, all of which is free. The drawback is that everyone involved in the chat must have a Google account, including the author.
Other options that most of our authors use include Skype, FaceTime, and conference calling.
Group Video Chat via Skype:
What you will need: The Skype app on a smartphone or computer.
Benefits: Easy for group chats; (up to 50 participants); free.
Cons: Video connection depends on your Internet connectivity (a slow or intermittent connection can lead to frozen screens or glitches).
Learn more: Visit Skype’s website.
What you will need: iPhone, iPad or Mac desktop or laptop.
Benefits: Picture-in-picture allows book clubs and authors to view each other (up to 32 participants); free.
Cons: FaceTime is incompatible with non-Apple devices.
Learn more: Visit Apple’s website.
What you will need: A phone with a speaker.
Benefits: No need for any other technology/tech set–up.
Cons: Book clubs and authors cannot view each other; long distance fees may apply.
Etiquette for virtual meetings:
- Test all technology before the meeting
- Introduce everyone at the book club meeting to the author
- Select a quiet area, free from distractions
- Ensure all cell phones are on silent
- Stick to your predetermined author visit time
Some final tips for book clubs:
Select one person to be the author’s key contact. Prepare for the virtual visit. Predetermine how long the visit will be (30-45 mins). Take into account any different time zones. Pick a format (e.g., do you want the author to read? Key talking points? Q&A?). Find out about any author fees or requests. Check the quality of your Internet connection, as well as the camera and sound. Have fun!
Some final tips for authors:
Check the quality of your Internet connection beforehand. Confirm your meeting times and the length of the online visit ahead of time. Discuss any author fees if applicable.
If this is your first virtual book club, practise! Look at the camera and not the screen. This will allow you to look out at the book club members. Ensure the space is quiet with minimal background distractions. Avoid interruptions. Turn off your cell phone and let others around you know that you are working. Have fun!
We’d love to hear from you!
Share your virtual book club meeting experiences! Tag us on social media using the hashtags #theauthorsbookclub and #inviteanauthor, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you and Happy Reading, everyone!