What is the right size for a book club? How do we turn away members?

At BookBrowse we get asked a lot of book-related questions. While we can provide our own answers we've found it's often much more useful to turn the question over to our Facebook followers to get a broad range of opinions. Here is their advice for addressing a common but knotty book club problem:

Q. Our Book Club started about 4 years ago. We have 15 members of whom 12 attend regularly. New people have shown an interest in joining and there have been discussions about closing our membership but not all agree. How do we politely turn new members away and is it necessary?

You're right to limit the size

"It's not 'discrimination' it's trying to find the space and have a good conversation that all can hear. We limit ours to less than 10 because we meet at restaurants. Only 2/3s show anyway. Everyone should be given a chance to give their opinion and in a smaller group, that's more likely to happen." - Sandi B

"We have 10 in ours and we all feel it is the right amount and the right mix. We just tell others that we don't want our book club to get any larger because we have the right amount to fit comfortably in our homes and and it's the perfect size for a good conversation." - Kathy B

"Preserve your intimacy. It is so difficult to schedule large groups!" - Amy V

"I'm in a fabulous book club that currently has a moratorium on new members - not because we want to have one, but when everyone comes, there are 20 of us. It's just too hard to meet in one person's house if we were to grow. The most amazing thing about book clubs is how the book talk always leads to deeply moving discussions about what we love, hate, fear, admire, ponder the most in life. Any group that affords that kind of atmosphere is almost always better if it is kept to a level of transparency and intimacy. You start to lose that atmosphere when you get more than 15 people in a room. Perhaps someone in the group could voluntarily leave to start a new one and spread the love that way." - Susan M

Help start a second group and/or start a wait-list

"I started another book club. We do 7 p.m. one month, 4 p.m. the next, different books so they have a choice. I would never turn anybody away." - Bev W

"A regular attendance of 12 is enough, otherwise people won't get a chance to contribute fully. People who are interested could be put on a waiting list or if there are enough of them form a new group, maybe some from your existing group could attend the new one to get things started." - Ann G

"Our book club is closed at 7 people. We have had to politely tell people that we are happy with that number and have all agreed that we won't add any more people until someone leaves. A few people who asked have started their own book clubs after we encouraged them to do so." - Brenda M

"We let all of our members who attend regularly nominate one person about every other year. Then decide how many spots are open, and then draw that many names from the hat. It has worked perfectly." - Debbie J

The art of compromise

"If you want to limit and others want to add, maybe you could compromise and have a 'bring a friend month' every six months." - Kay K

Perhaps it's time to move on those who don't participate to make room for others?

"You should probably get rid of the members who don't actively participate, making room for new ones who want to join." - Kim

Then again - perhaps not...

"I have a group with 44 (on the books) members. Usually only 8-10 come to the meetings but almost everyone reads the books. I have folks who email their comments because they have young children or work odd hours or have elderly parents who can't be left. It depends on what your goal is for the club. One of my goals is to get more people to read. The folks who come to the actual meeting get more out of it, but even the ones who never attend the meetings tell me how important being 'part of a group' is to them." - Becky H

"Our book club meets at local restaurants, so if the group gets too big it becomes a seating problem and discussion is difficult. There are probably 20 people on my list, but 6-8 typically show. Do I drop the ones who don't come? No. Some people are at stages in their life where they just can't attend. They still like to keep up with what we read. Some have even moved out of the area, joined new book clubs, but enjoy seeing what we are reading." - Donna H

"Be careful limiting membership. We did and our group ultimately disbanded for lack of interest. I belong to another group now. We don't turn anyone away. Not everyone can make all the meetings each time and people seem to go in phases in terms of attendance." - Vivian C

Some say, the more the merrier!

"Why would you turn away anyone who wants to read and explore their reading with others? Not enough people read now. Please don't discriminate against those who care to participate. Enjoy the new perspectives that will be brought to your discussions." - Cathy T

"Even with a large group (I run the one at my library and we can have up to 20 people sometimes) - there are all kinds of discussion formats you can use to manage the input fairly." - Cathi N

At the end of the day, there are lots of factors to consider

"The right number depends on the group's dynamics and where you meet. There definitely is such a thing as too big. I am in one book club that has 21 official members - any time we have more than 14 in attendance it can be difficult to get input from everyone. That group meets in a quiet location with fairly good acoustics, but we also enjoy cocktails, and that can affect the group as well.

My other group tends to meet in people's homes or restaurants. Anything over 6-8 in a restaurant makes hearing and participating difficult and the group tends to fracture into sidebars. When we meet in homes, we can easily do 10-12 if the living room or dining room can accommodate that. Given an acoustically good environment (hard to find!), my ideal discussion group size ranges from a minimum of 5 people to a max of 14.

Another issue with adding people is that it's very difficult to remove them once they're in, so if you've got a harmonious book club, you need to be careful about tampering with your group's chemistry." - Colleen D

Our neighborhood book club formed 2 years ago & we have 14 on the roll but the average size that comes is 10. We decided that if someone does not come for 2 or more meetings they are contacted to see if they are still interested. A few said they were busy & they would let us know when to start including them again. Only one has said a few times that she was coming but never did so she was taken off our email list.
# Posted By Ruthie B | 2/18/14 2:27 PM
I am the discussion leader for a book club that has 30 members. We meet once a month at 10AM in a room at a local church. Usually about 20 come. I stress that everyone needs to be heard and to please raise your hand if you have a comment. I have a bell that I ring if things get "out of hand." We have wonderful discussions and for the most part everyone does take turns speaking. We have been together for over 10 years.
# Posted By Anna | 2/19/14 12:32 PM
We have 5 members in our club and I love it. We do not have a set meeting date and accommodate so all 5 can attend. With a group this small, all members are necessary for the discussion.
# Posted By jody | 4/11/17 6:14 AM
Our snowbirds book club has as many as 32 at one time ... it is open to all, and newcomers cannot believe how well it works. Everyone is respectful of one another, and we have wonderful discussions. In fact, those that now have moved permanently nearby, still join the group. The fact that people come from so many different states probably is a contributing factor to the diverse interpretations and dialogue.
# Posted By Judith Vitali | 4/11/17 7:23 AM
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