Guest post by Hannah Mary McKinnon
As an author, I’ve had the pleasure of being invited as a guest to a number of book clubs, in person and online. Each time has been an absolute pleasure, and what struck me the most was the camaraderie amongst the members, so much so that I decided to start my own book club earlier this year.
Enter the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures, which means in-person book club meetings must be postponed, and it might seem crazy to even think of starting a new club. Except we need human connections and something to look forward to more than ever right now, and a virtual book club could add to the comfort we so desperately need. The solution? A virtual book club. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Find members
You can’t have a book club without members but where to find them? I posted in a local Facebook mom’s group and was immediately inundated with replies. Expecting a handful of participants, I couldn’t believe it when over 60 women indicated their interest. That number settled at 17 members after people couldn’t make it because of family and/or scheduling conflicts. 17 is quite a large number for a virtual book club, and I’d suggest having around 10 members so it’s easier to chat with one another online.
- Have an introductory meeting online
Make it a “meet-and-greet” where you introduce yourselves, chat about the genre of books you enjoy (or don’t care for), and talk about the structure of the group. To do this, use a videoconferencing tool such as Zoom. A “pro” subscription for up to 100 participants per meeting costs $20/month, but maybe one of your members has already signed up, and they can set the meetings up and share the link with the members. Participants can mute their mic when not talking to minimize background noise.
- Figure out how to pick books
In my book club, we decided to have five rotating selections: Book Club Picks, Suspense/Thriller, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction and “Wild Card” where anything goes. We plan the books two months ahead, members make suggestions on which we vote afterwards, so people have the chance to look up the books first. Having themes means we read a variety of genres, and don’t have the same one multiple months in a row. Alternatively you could have the host pick the book for the next (online) gathering, or go in alphabetical order instead. Maybe you pluck books out of a (virtual) hat. There are many different ways that allow each member to give input.
- Create a Facebook Group
While I initially managed all communication via email, it was much easier to shift everything to a Facebook group. The group is hidden, meaning only members have access, and I scheduled all our events for the rest of the year. The group is also an easy place to share information about upcoming reads, where to find books, and to create the monthly book pick polls on which members can vote. information about upcoming reads, where to find books, and to create the monthly book pick polls on which members can vote.
- Invite authors
Admittedly, this is easier to do when you’re an author yourself and you’ve made connections with other writers, but you might be surprised by how many authors love to be a guest at a book club. The wonders of technology mean you can beam them straight into your chosen location, again by using Zoom. Whether they charge for their time depends on the author, but regardless, sharing photos and reviews of their novels on social media will no doubt be greatly appreciated. Still unsure about inviting an author? The Authors’ Book Club provides a list of Canadian writers who are happy to join your meeting—all you need to do is ask.
Creating a book club has been a wonderful experience and an excellent way to find like-minded friends with whom I can share my love of books. We’re living through an unprecedented crisis, and many of us in isolation, feeling disconnected from the world. A virtual book club might be another way for you to make new online connections, and have a ready-made new set of friends you can meet IRL once the pandemic is over.
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the U.K., grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. Sister Dear is Hannah Mary’s fourth novel. She lives in Oakville, ON, with her husband and three sons.