Virtual Book Clubs: How to Host a Fun and Engaging Online Reading Group

From the best platforms for hosting your discussion to how to choose your next read, here's everything you need to know about creating a virtual book club.

Open your book and your laptop, your virtual book club awaits. Patrick Alex/Unsplash

Books have long been an outlet for those in the search of escape. Find yourself transported to a new world through the words on a page, or gain some comfort and solace between the covers of your favourite work of fiction. Book clubs turn this wonderful, yet solitary hobby into a social occasion, whether that’s a weekly meeting at the local library, a group of friends talking books or a lunch time discussion with colleagues. Book clubs are a fantastic way to discover new reading material, support authors and to maintain connections with loved ones. 

With social distancing looking set to stick around for a while, are you wondering how book clubs will continue to run? They will, they’ve just had to evolve. The new normal now comes in the form of virtual book clubs. Whether you’re trying to keep your in-person group going or looking to kick start a new gathering of avid readers, here are our tips for making your virtual book club a success.

SEE ALSO: The Most Popular Books New Yorkers Are Reading While Social Distancing

The Place

Virtual book clubs can be run from anywhere. All you need is an internet connection to take part. When you pick a platform, ensure that it suits your group’s needs. Many platforms are free and easy to use and can accommodate large numbers too. Try looking into Zoom if your members are tech-savvy, want to get creative with their backgrounds and you’re prepared to shell out a little money for a membership (the free version will cut group meetings off after 40 minutes). Skype and Google Hangouts are also great options for a simple group call. You could even try Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp if those platforms are more familiar to you.

When looking for inspiration for your book choices, discussion topics or format, social media is a great source, with the many books clubs that have sprung up among large groups of strangers. Take The Hyphen-Book Club, created by author Emma Gannon. She uses a dedicated Instagram account to host her monthly book club. Author Lindsey Kelk has created the I Heart Book Club as a Facebook group. And Anna James, host of the The Bookwanderers Club, creates a great example of how to harness the power of YouTube to create a book club. 

The Book 

Next up is your reading material. As libraries and bookshops are closed, and mail deliveries are delayed, you may need to be flexible when choosing your book. Pick a book that is available to buy as an e-book or available as a digital loan from your local library. You could also find an independent bookstore that is still taking orders, making sure they have enough copies in stock.

Take the temperature of your club to see what they want to get out of it. Is your group looking to tackle the classics together, or have a favourite genre they love to read? Try giving one person each meeting the opportunity to choose the book based on these loose guidelines. Or, if you’d rather decide by consensus, a simple doodle poll will track everyone’s responses.

The Discussion 

As the leader of a book group, you’re there to guide the discussion, ask questions and generally lead the session. Take notes while reading and highlight any interesting quotes or topics that resonate with you that can be discussed further with your group. This is the digital age, so feel free to seed some thoughts before the chat via whatever communication method suits you, like a quote posted in your facebook group or in the email reminding everyone of the date and time. And do be sure to send out those reminders! As the days increasingly blur into the next, it can be a good idea to send out a calendar invite or at least check in with everyone the day before so they don’t forget.

Expert tips on keeping the spark alive in your book club, however big or small 

“I would say investigate the best platform for your needs and make sure you’re comfortable using it! For my book club, it was just a case of which tech served the purpose best.” Anna James, The Book Wanderers Club Host and Author of the Pages & Co series.

“Be consistent, stay involved and keep things under control. You have to post regularly and engage with the group, otherwise, what’s the point? The most important thing is to know what your book club is and honour that.” Lindsey Kelk, Author of the I Heart Series

“I’m finding hosting giveaways, competitions and daily recommendations is a good way to keep the community engaged in between the virtual meet-ups and hosting a book discussion once a month feels frequent enough for me to do alongside all my other projects. I would suggest investing in some nice visuals and graphics, have a brand identity, and just experiment!Emma Gannon, Sunday Times Bestselling business author of The Multi-Hyphen Method

If you’re leading the group, remember that the other members will look to you, so be ready to ask open questions and encourage a range of voices within the group.” Hanna Andersen, Founder and Leadership Coach at AS WE ARE. 

Feeling inspired to start your own virtual book club? Just remember, the most important thing right now is to have fun. Enjoy spending time engaging in interesting discussions with like minded book lovers, while supporting authors that you love.  Virtual Book Clubs: How to Host a Fun and Engaging Online Reading Group