Creating a Sustainable Book Club with Annie McCann
Annie McCann is the founder of a network of readers called Read3r’z Re-Vu, a Sydney-based network that connects avid readers, writers and illustrators.
I created Read3r’z Re-Vu in 2008 then reached out to friends to come on board then officially launched it with friends in April 2009. From humble beginnings, Read3r’z Re-Vu evolved into a larger network connecting readers, writers, bloggers, booksellers and publishers. Over the years, many friendships were formed within and we have had the opportunity to contribute to the wider literary space through blogging, assisting at literary events, conventions and engaging in charity projects. At school, I was the student who did not enjoy reading prescribed texts so when I created Read3r’z Re-Vu, I wanted a level of freedom for members where a theme is assigned each month rather than a book of the month so all members are free to read/recommend/review books of their choosing that corresponds to the theme. When themes can be left open to interpretation, it is always interesting to see the list of books discussed at the sessions which creates an ever growing to read pile. Over the years, in person sessions went very well and we often had authors join as our special guests however Covid stopped the world, forcing everyone to transition to virtual communications. For Read3r’z Re-Vu though, moving to an online space opened more doors as we have had opportunities in connecting to a vast range of authors locally and internationally through virtual sessions and virtual festivals we created from the comfort and safety of our own homes.
My first piece of advice
So… if you are thinking of creating your own book club or network of readers, the first piece of advice I would give is to simply be yourself and stick to what you love. If you want to create a book club that has a book of the month, or several prescribed texts to choose from or a theme to leave it open – go ahead! There is no hard and fast rule on this. You may find what you decide to do with your group may not work for everyone but that’s OK. It’s one thing to create a group where everyone is happy but it’s another to have to over accommodate a select few which can affect the groups’ identity. One way to look at it is by using Pizza Hut and McDonald’s as an example. Both franchises are food outlets with great menus on offer but they are different from one another. You don’t go to McDonald’s and ask for a pizza nor would you go to Pizza Hut and ask for a burger and neither franchise would redo their menu simply because someone wants a burger at Pizza Hut. Book clubs can be just like that. Find what works for you as the creator.. build it and they will come! You can have a book club as big or small as you like – remember it is up to you.
When running the session, don’t be too nervous, it’s really a catch up with friends who know you and want to talk all great things books with you.
If you need discussion points to help guide the conversation, either of these can help:
Book of the month (assuming everyone has read it and spoilers can be made).
*What surprised you most about this book?
*How do you rate the plot? (too slow, too fast – thoughts?)
*Did you have a character you liked/related to? Why?
Theme of the month
*Ask yourself what you really need to know about a book to make you want to read it?
*What does this book mean to you and why did you select it for this month’s theme?
*Without spoilers of course – why do you love/hate this book? (yes you can have members selecting a book they don’t like and discuss – you find someone else may like it. Reviews are subjective)
Use these as a starting point and you will find it creates an easy flow conversation.
Choose a venue that is easily accessible
You don’t need much to create a session. Choose a venue you like that is easily accessible: a café, parks even bookstores if you have a friendship with staff as I do. Obviously this works best when we are not in lockdown however having it at a neutral location rather than someone’s house keeps the pressure off everyone. Using social media helps keep in touch with your members and again it’s completely up to you which platform you wish to use. For events and communication Facebook is probably the best option however creating an email address for the club is also very useful. If you have everyone’s phone number, you can create a WhatsApp chat group to update everyone on the next session. For virtual sessions due to lockdown or restrictions, platforms such as Zoom and Google meets are user friendly for virtual meetings.
Dare to be different
A final thing I’d like to add is dare to be different. It’s one thing to create but a whole other story to maintain. With Read3r’z Re-Vu I tried different ways to keep the membership engaged through adding different segments to the sessions that go beyond discussing books such as an allocated time to announce upcoming events to keep everyone in the loop, sharing book sales and fun opportunities readers can participate in. I also brought authors to the sessions as our special guests and even organised high tea and dinner events, giving readers the opportunity to meet their heroes. Whilst this brings an additional spark to the network, please keep in mind it is a lot of work and only consider these if you have the capacity to. You don’t want to run yourself into the ground running something that is meant to be fun. Simple things creating a quarterly mini newsletter for your group recapping the sessions of the last 3 months, sending out lists of book recommendations and trivia comps within your group always keep it interesting.
Hope this helps you if you are thinking of creating a book club of your own! Feel free to reach out to Read3r’z Re-Vu if you have any questions.