Twitter is an awesome place to discuss romance books but sometimes I want to do it in person. Book clubs are a great way to discuss your favorite books with equally impassioned people, while maybe also having some cookies and catching up with friends. How do you start your own? We have some experts to help you out! Amy talked to Jen from Jen Reads Romance about their experiences starting romance book clubs in their community.
Who usually attends your club and how long has it been running? Do you/your host location provide the books or do the members?
Jen: We are about to have only our 3rd meeting. We meet at a bookstore in Chicago, 57th Street Books. This is my neighborhood bookstore, and they only started carrying romance in the fall of 2017. It’s an interesting bookstore with 2 locations in Hyde Park, The Seminary Co-op store is more academic and services the University of Chicago. 57th Street Books is around the corner from Seminary Co-op, and it’s for families and more casual readers. There’s an amazing children’s section, mystery, sci-fi, etc. I’ll be honest, I’ve lived in Hyde Park for over ten years, and it never even occurred to me to ask if they carried romance because I’m so used to that indie bookstore disdain. A few years ago, the stores started a massive push to sell more books. At 57th Street books, the comics/graphic novels & children’s section both expanded, and they added a romance section. I was thrilled.
Then, last February, they hosted an author night with Beverly Jenkins, Alyssa Cole, and Sonali Dev. IT WAS PACKED! I live tweeted the event and ended up having a great conversation with the manager and we decided to try a romance book club. We meet every other month and between 10-15 people come. I give the attendees a limited number of choices for the next meeting and we vote on which one to read. The attendees buy their own books, but most people that come buy a book of some kind once they’re in the store, so I hope the bookstore benefits!
Amy: I recently started a quarterly romance book club at the Brookfield Public Library. I’m a librarian there who also does collection development for the romance section. We’ve only had one meeting so far but I’m trying to focus on making the club events a casual space where romance fans can connect with authors they love. Our first meeting we met with local author Julie Ann Walker and read her Black Knights Inc. series - it was a hit! We had someone come from 3 hours away just to meet her. I’m currently working on our second meeting right now and am hoping to grow the club into a meeting space for romance fans in the surrounding area.
I am lucky enough that our library is a part of a large consortium, so I source our book club picks from there and have them available to pick up at the Library. And there are also ebook copies in the library catalog. Unfortunately I have to limit my picks to books that have physical copies for readers who don’t have access to a computer or eReader, but so far this hasn’t been an issue.
What made you decide to start a romance focused book club?
Jen: I talk about romance all day on Twitter, but it’s so much more fun to talk about books in real life. I know this sounds cheesy, but I love 57th Street Books. I think all communities deserve to have vibrant bookstores, and I want to make sure it continues to exist. In a recent letter to shareholders, the Director wrote, “By patronizing our stores, buying books, attending events… and sharing your enthusiasm with your community, you are helping guarantee that the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, too, will endure.” And I feel that sharing my enthusiasm for romance is something that makes that bookstore a more lively, engaging, and FUN place. And fun isn’t really what the University of Chicago is known for, so YOU’RE WELCOME. Lol.
Amy: I read romance novels pretty much every day, and write about them too. Add my romance tasks at the library and I pretty much am All Romance, All Day. I connect with our romance readers when I’m on desk and love talking about books that they’re reading! I already run two other book clubs at the Library (because I’m insane) and wanted to create a club that aligned not only with my professional interests, but also something where author visits would be the focus. We’re a small library with a passionate community, and I think author visits are a great opportunity for us to engage in literature in a totally different way!
Was this something that you were interested in and started, or was there a public interest as well?
Jen: I think there are quite a few Chicago romance authors, podcasters, and other readers that thought it was a good idea that I went ahead with it. I was pretty nervous no one would come to the first meeting, so I pressed some friends into coming just in case.
Amy: Same as Jen said haha. I was really nervous no one would show up but then people turned out! We’re lucky that the Chicagoland area is a big hub for authors too. A lot of our romance readers at the Library read Amish romances, contemporaries, and paranormals so I’m hoping as those subgenres come up that we’ll get some regular attendees.
How do you decide which romance novels are good candidates for your book club? Do you keep a list, do research, etc.?
Jen: The first book we did was a Beverly Jenkins book. When the author event happened, it was clear to me that MANY women were there because of Ms. Bev, and it was easy to capitalize on that. Right now, we’re doing a genre per meeting. The author T.J. Michaels offered to send free books to the group, so we read her paranormals for the next meeting. Contemporary is up next, and we picked A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. I’m pretty widely read in romance, so I’m confident in my ability to propose interesting selections... at least for now!
Amy: I have Excel spreadsheets FULL of book club possibilities. But since I’m focusing on author visits I do it a bit differently. I send out a couple of emails to authors (I’m focusing on local right now but am planning on branching out to other authors so we can do Skype talks) and whoever bites is who I go with. Again, a requirement is that the author has to have enough print and digital copies of their books in the Library system for me to provide copies to the group. It’s a lot of work and research and constant “UGH” moments but since the club does quarterly meetings I have time to find someone.
What has the response been for your book club?
Jen: Really positive so far! We’re small but I hope that people keep coming.
Amy: Same here! I’m hoping I can grow the event into something really cool.
Is your book club more social, academic, scholarly, or just for fun?
Jen: Definitely just for fun. I think we just want to hang out and talk with other readers.
Amy: Just for fun. I had someone come to the first meeting who hadn’t even read the author’s books, and another who came because they were a writer too and wanted to learn more about her process. We keep it pretty casual.
Have you had to deal with a book that people hated but you loved? Or visa versa?
Jen: Everyone loved Ms. Bev, so that was a fun one to start out with. The 2nd meeting which was paranormals was more complicated. There’s so much bonkers stuff that can happen in paranormal: fated mates, etc. It can be supercharged, and not everyone loved that subgenre. I am looking forward to the discussion of A Duke by Default, which I think will be less contentious.
Amy: Not yet, but in my other book clubs I have! I figure with romance, if they don’t like it they won’t come. In my other clubs I have people who have been attending meetings for over 20 years, and come regardless if they liked the book or not. I’m not always a fan of what we read in my book clubs but I find that the readers’ passion pulls me through.
Do you prepare questions about the book or do you let the group lead themselves?
Jen: I was so nervous the first time that I prepared a bunch of notes, but we really didn’t need them. Everyone had plenty to discuss! But I still think having some passages marked and some guiding questions helps move the discussion along if we stall out.
Amy: I usually prepare some questions - half that I want answered and half time fillers for when people are a bit too shy to talk. But I find people are so psyched to talk to an author that I often don’t need to use my notes.
How do you deal with a group that’s not talkative? Too off focus?
Jen: My group is so talkative, I don’t really worry about it. Also, I’m a middle school English teacher IRL, I know how to get a group of people who are off task back to talking about a book. That’s easy. If anything, we have to make sure we wrap up so the bookstore employees aren’t shutting off the lights on us.
Amy: I have that list of questions to spark discussion during slow moments. I’m a weird introvert that can be extroverted when in crisis. So when people stop talking I panic and start blurting out whatever is on my mind haha. It’s become more structured now and I find that I can create conversation and also keep it on task. Just so long as we end with enough time so that I can close the Library.
If you do author visits, how do you book them and how do you choose who to invite?
Jen: I haven’t done this yet. I want the group to gel as readers before we put authors in the mix. I think author events should be separate, and I’d love to see 57th Street Books have more romance author panels in the future.
Amy: Right now I’m trying to focus on local Chicagoland area authors from different subgenres of romance. There are two local chapters of the RWA in Chicago, and I’ve been using that list as a resource. I think the idea of contacting an author is intimidating but it’s actually really easy! I shoot an email to them and if they answer, they answer. If they don’t, I move on to the next one. I find that there’s a sweet spot about who will respond to you - obviously Nora Roberts isn’t going to come to a small suburb in Illinois for my meeting. But many authors will offer to video conference with you or meet there in person. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.
Is there a romance book club in your area? Should there be? *hint hint*