The book club craze isn’t over—in fact, it’s in a boom. The New York Times recently estimated that five million Americans belong to book clubs. Publishers understand the boon that the book club movement represents, and will often give books designed to meet this market additional support at the publisher’s website. These titles often have staying power. I just heard of a club reading The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which also came out in 2002. For the math-impaired, that’s twelve years ago. Especially with book club fiction, a title need not be out three months then die a quiet death as so many cynics attest.
This post is for authors who might like a piece of that action.
|Book club members get creative about reading!|
This one recreated Penelope Sparrow's fall onto
the baker's car in The Art of Falling
As someone who has led four different book clubs, participated in many more, and authored a novel marketed as book club fiction, I have some considerations you might want to take into account.
1. Join a book club. Not every book makes a great book club pick, and your club’s trial-and-error will give you a handle on that. Meanwhile you’ll learn to appreciate getting to know people through books, gain ease in entertaining differing opinions, and get a handle on what drives a great discussion.
2. Write about an issue that matters deeply to you. I remember one club that chose to read an early Lisa Scottoline mystery. By the time the club met we could recall not one of the character names. Our discussion lasted three minutes—a quick, “when did you figure out the murderer?— before we moved to food and wine. Compare that to another mystery, Elizabeth George’s Deception on His Mind, which incorporates themes of immigration (Pakistanis in England), arranged marriage, and necessary secrecy. George's passion for these issues gives clubs a lot to talk about.
3. Orchestrate your character set around that issue. While my debut, The Art of Falling, is a widely relatable tale about a woman seeking her authentic creative contribution in the world, it does so through the lens of what we can and can’t change about the talents, dispositions, and bodies we were born with. The many ways my characters relate to their bodies and to food pave the way for revelatory discussion.
4. Don’t spoon-feed the reader. Give clues about character motivation and let your readers figure it out. One of the surprises for book clubs when I talk to them is how often I’ll answer a question with, “Maybe she just didn’t know that…” They laugh and say, “You’re the author. Don’t you know?” Heck—I don’t know my own motivation at times! One of the great joys of art is interpretation. Don’t rob your readers of this opportunity to enter into and own your story.
5. Don’t tie up all the loose threads in your ending. A favorite book club question is, “Where do you see these characters another five years down the road?” If you’ve included an epilogue that told them, you’ve taken away another chance for them to co-create your story. Instead, think of your ending as a way to create emotional resonance while addressing the main story question.
|Here a book club member created a display|
about the fastnachts featured in The Art of Falling
6. Add discussion questions. If your publisher doesn’t plan to put the questions in the back of the book, there’s no reason you can’t put them on your website. My publisher has a book club site that includes a downloadable discussion guide, recipes, and food and drink pairings. You could do this too.
7. Devote a page at your author site to book club interaction. This shows that you are devoted to your book club readers. Here’s mine. Depending on your book, yours could include bonus discussion questions, a video, recipes, maps, photos, or related articles and facts. Book clubs often like to add a creative flair to their treatment of your book, so why not encourage it by asking them to send photos? Invite book clubs to interact with you and give a contact link so you can set up in-person or Skype visits. If you can find out the members’ names in advance, you can mail the organizer personalized and signed custom bookplates as a lovely and much appreciated way to thank them for choosing your book.
Book clubs are comprised of avid readers who recommend their favorites to other clubs. Don’t overlook this important market.
Have you met with book clubs, or been in a book club chat with a guest author? What was your favorite part of that interaction?
Click here to read more about the difference between book club fiction, women's fiction, and literary fiction.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service, and the author of The Art of Falling, a novel by Sourcebooks. Her monthly series, "Turning Whine into Gold," appears at Writers in the Storm. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.