Tips for book clubs interested in inviting authors to their meetings

Inviting Authors to Your Book Club on Zoom

  • Authors that are interested in meeting with book clubs will often say so on their website. If the author is local, they might be willing to meet in person; if not, you'll be meeting virtually, most likely via Zoom.

  • Be flexible regarding the date. If an author has posted that they're open to meeting with book clubs it's because they genuinely want to do so, but they have many demands on their time, so get in contact well ahead and have a backup option. For example, if you plan to invite the author to chat virtually and they can't make your regular meeting day and time, perhaps the group could meet specifically to talk with the author on a different day that works for everyone.

    If you organize a public book club, such as in a library or bookstore, and want to publicize the event, you'll likely want to plan well ahead. For example, Terye Balogh of the Milpitas Library in California sometimes books authors a full year in advance, and always for the night when the group regularly meets, so she can count on members of the group to be available on that date to form the core of the audience. Terye shared her extensive experience in an interview with BookBrowse.

  • Agree the details, taking your lead from the author. Make sure that both parties are clear on the day and time (if chatting virtually, check your time zones), which book you want to talk about and how long the author is available for. If meeting virtually, agree the platform (e.g. Zoom) and make sure to send the link at least a few days ahead, with a reminder on the day.

  • Discuss the book first before meeting with the author. For example, ask the author to join you for the second half of your meeting and use the first half to discuss it; or discuss the book at one meeting and then invite the author to the next.

  • Irrespective of whether you discuss the book at the same meeting that you chat with the author, invite the author to join your group at least 10 minutes after the meeting has started so that late comers have time to get logged in and technical issues are sorted out before the author arrives.

  • Look around the web for existing interviews with, and information about, the author, and have some questions prepared. For example, if the author has a Q&A on their website, make sure to read it, so your questions expand on the answers that are already readily available.

  • Remember to thank the author for their time. And, importantly, if you’ve enjoyed the book, tell others about it; for example, share your enthusiasm with your book-loving friends and post reviews online recommending it to other readers and book clubs.

Insights from an Author

Alan Brennert, author of Moloka'i, Honolulu, and Palisades Park, shares his thoughts from an author's perspective:

I've spoken to hundreds of 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'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!

BookBrowse note: Alan shared his thoughts with us prior to 2020. During the pandemic, the majority of book groups that continued to meet did so virtually and, according to our October 2020 research study, Book Clubs in Lockdown, 95% of virtual meetings took place on Zoom. We spoke to a number of authors during 2020 who expressed themselves very happy with the shift to Zoom

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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