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Getting Ready for Book Clubs

TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

Today’s guest post is from Janie Chang [1]. Her first novel, THREE SOULS (HarperCollins Canada), is the story of Leiyin,whose  punishment for disobedience leads to exile from her family, an unwanted marriage, and ultimately a lover’s betrayal—followed by her untimely death. Now a ghost, Leiyin must make amends to earn entry to the afterlife. But when her young daughter faces a dangerous future, Leiyin has to make a heart-wrenching choice: Should she save her only child or forever relinquish her own afterlife?

Publisher’s Weekly says

Her novel bristles with freshness and heart.

Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand. She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and Mischa, a rescue cat who thinks the staff could be doing a better job.

Janie draws upon family history for her writing. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about family life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War. She is a graduate of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. When asked about book clubs, she said, “Book clubs are an opportunity for writers and their readers to meet, and there’s a bit of trepidation from both sides. Setting the right expectations (for both sides) can go a long ways toward a positive event.”

Follow Janie on Facebook [2], Twitter [3], on her blog [1], and check out her book trailer [4].

 Getting Ready for Book Clubs

Every author I’ve met loves visiting with book clubs. In general, these events are overwhelmingly positive experiences for both parties. It’s wonderful for authors to meet people who have actually bought and read your book and want to know more, while book clubs enjoy finding out about the story behind the story and getting insights beyond what they can get from reader discussions alone. Plus, meetings seem to involve cupcakes.

But I am a teensy bit nervous because (a) I worry a lot at the best of times and (b) I’ve heard stories from friends who are in book clubs about members who misbehave, authors who misbehave, poor planning, and cupcake shortages. So I’m figuring out how to organize things to create a worthwhile event for both author and book club. This is as far as I’ve gotten:

Find out about the club. This is just good preparation for the author. How long have they been together? How many regular members? How often do they meet and where? What’s the usual discussion format? How do they make book selections? Have they had other author visits?

Book clubs who have hosted other authors will be at ease; newer clubs that haven’t “gelled” yet may be nervous and need more guidance about topics, format, and cupcake options.

Ask whether everyone has read the book. Suggest strongly they all do in order to get maximum value from time with the author. It never occurred to me that clubs might invite an author without everyone first reading the book, but apparently this happens. It can’t be fun for the people who haven’t, when the conversation gets into topics they can’t follow.

Arrange to arrive after book club members have had a chance to discuss the book. Having the author in the room can inhibit people from talking about the book. If so, it’s better for the club to have food and some discussion first on their own; then have the author arrive for the second part of the meeting. Which would be a good time to bring out cupcakes.

Reconfirm the day before or the morning of. One author drove a fair distance to meet with a book club and found the house dark and empty. The meeting had been cancelled and the organizers forgot to tell the author. Emergencies happen.

Get phone or email addresses for two contacts, a primary and secondary. See above for reason why.

Provide topics in advance to spark discussions. Sometimes clubs are at a loss when they come face-to-face with an author and can’t come up with questions.

I’ve written some discussion questions for book clubs [5] on my website. But I should probably add something more to let people know it’s OK when meeting with authors to ask about stuff other than just the book: the research, the writing process, or the journey of getting published. They could go online for ideas, do some research on the historical setting of the book, or brainstorm over email.

Having some non-book questions also makes it easier for people who didn’t enjoy the book but are too nice to say so. Otherwise they end up not participating at all, which would be a shame.

Set a travel policy. I haven’t decided what this should be yet, but some authors limit their driving time to 45 minutes each way. Anything more than that and it’s meet via Skype or speakerphone.

Set a compensation policy. Experienced book clubs understand that being an author is a profession. They’ll offer a fee, if only to cover mileage, transit, or babysitting. At the very least, they make sure all club members have purchased a book. Imagine how it feels to take the time and effort to travel somewhere and find that nobody actually bought a copy of your novel. So for now, I’m going to go with this quote from author Sophie Perinot’s website:

“As I don’t charge any fee for my time, I do ask that members of your club buy my book before inviting me to discuss it.”

Ask for one book club member to be the point person. It’s helpful to have one person introduce everybody first, and facilitate the discussion. This is especially nice for Skype or speakerphone calls where the author can’t see or hear everyone.

Bring bookmarks to hand out. Avid readers can’t ever have too many bookmarks.

Get bookplates printed up. So I can send signed bookplates to the meeting organizer if it’s a Skype or phone call. Oh, and get a list of member names.

Am I missing anything? Am I overthinking this? And if you’re interested: red velvet cupcakes.