Tips for book clubs interested in inviting authors to their meetings

Inviting Authors to Your Book Club

How to Find Authors Interested in Meeting

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.


Before The Meeting

  • Contact an author at least a month ahead and be flexible. If an author has posted that they're open to meeting with book clubs it's because they genuinely want to do so, but don't expect him or her to be able to drop everything to meet with your group. If you've realized at the last minute that an author is open to meeting with book clubs, then there's no harm making contact, but suggest a back up date - e.g. the date of your next meeting. If the author can't make the first meeting maybe the next works - and that way you can discuss the book at the first meeting, agree questions to ask, and have them answered at the next.

    If you organize a public book club, such as in a library or bookstore, and want to publicize the event to more than just your regular attendees you'll likely want to plan much further ahead as, once you've agreed a date with an author, you'll need time to publicize the event. For example, Terye Balogh of the Milpitas Library in California sometimes books authors a full year in advance, and always books them for the book group's regular meeting night as 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 inviting authors in an interview with BookBrowse.

  • Agree the details. Make sure that both parties are clear on when you're going to be chatting (remember to check which time zones you're both in), which book you want to talk about, how long the author is available for, and who will be contacting who (if the author is to contact you, provide at least two contact points in case the first one doesn't work.)



  • During The Meeting

  • If chatting by phone/Skype, plan on discussing the book first before the author joins you, so that you know what you want to ask.

    Make sure that the phone/computer is positioned so that everyone can hear and be heard. And test before the conversation starts! It's interesting to note that author Alan Brennert, who has spoken with over 200 book clubs, says that he prefers telephone, finding it more reliable than Skype. More on this below.

  • If inviting an author to your book club in person, be considerate of his/her time. You may wish to invite the author for the whole meeting but with the option to come for just part of it. If the author is joining you for the whole meeting, make sure to discuss among yourselves ahead of time so you have some questions ready to ask.

  • Do your research. Spend some time looking around the web, and particularly the author's website, for existing information about the author and books. This way you can think up questions that are different to what has already been asked, or probe more deeply on answers that you feel you'd like to know more about.

  • Have fun!



  • Insights from an Author

    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
        alanbrennert.com

 

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