Authors that are interested in meeting with book clubs will usually say so on their websites. If the author is local he or she might be willing to meet in person, if not you'll be meeting by phone or an electronic option such as Skype - more on this below.
Alan Brennert, author of Moloka'i, Honolulu, and Palisades Park, shares his thoughts from an author's perspective:
I've probably spoken to more than 200 book clubs in the past ten years, and the process has generally been a smooth and rewarding one. Logistically, most have contacted me early on in their research and reading—on average a month in advance of the discussion—giving me time to arrange my schedule around it. A few have contacted me on short notice—anywhere from a few days to the very day of the discussion—and although I tried to accommodate these when possible, I would advise book clubs to give an author at least a few weeks' notice to fit a book club discussion into his or her schedule.
I always request two contact numbers - two phone numbers, or a Skype name and a phone contact — in case I have trouble getting through on one. This has happened, most memorably when I tried calling a club fifteen times in a row, getting through only to voicemail. The club sat there waiting for me to call, and only later the group leader realized that the SIM card had fallen out of her cell phone! So always, please, a second contact.
I've done both phone and Skype chats; generally I prefer speaker-phone (especially on those early-morning calls with East Coast clubs, when I can chat while in my pajamas and having a cup of coffee). Skype is far from a perfected technology, I'm afraid, depending on the quality of the club's Internet connection: I've had Skype connections repeatedly crash, or deliver picture without sound, or sound without picture … if you want to do a Skype chat, make sure to check the stability of your connection before the discussion!
As for the talks themselves, the book club members have almost always been respectful and insightful, oftentimes asking questions I would never have thought of or pointing out metaphors and hidden meanings in the text that I wasn't consciously aware of; in these latter instances all I could do was shrug and say, "Sounds good to me."
Back in the pre-Internet days, writing a book was like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea; every once in a while you might get a letter back saying, "Hey, enjoyed your book." Today, the direct interaction an author can have with book clubs can be occasionally overwhelming (as in those weeks when I was juggling four or five different discussions; once I even lost track of which book we were talking about, and the group leader gently pointed out, "Um, Alan, we're discussing Honolulu, not Moloka'i") but more often it's rewarding and fun. An author gets a good idea what works and what doesn't with a wide variety of readers, and I think that makes me, at least, a better novelist. I've had to take a sabbatical from speaking with book clubs while working on some screenwriting projects, but when I publish my next novel, you can be sure I'll be inviting book clubs to chat with me about that one.
I think it's a good idea for the group members to talk among themselves first to organize their thoughts. A few group leaders actually sprang me as a surprise to their group ("And guess who's on the phone? The author of the book!") but I advise against it, it just leads to a lot of flustered readers scrambling to figure out what to ask.
As for length of discussion – 15 minutes is a short chat for me. Average is maybe 30, 40 minutes, with a few running as long as an hour. Most of the groups I've spoken to have been very smart and congenial and I've had no problem talking at length with them. As long as they ask good questions, I'm happy to answer them!
— Alan Brennert
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