I am the Book Club coordinator for a large church in Roanoke, VA. Our club started 4 years ago meeting monthly in two discussion groups. The Tuesday group meets 11:30am-1:00pm at the church and the Saturday group meets 9:30am-11:00am at a Panera Bread. In addition to the club members, many others read from our book list even if they cannot attend a discussion group. Some of these readers choose to meet in smaller groups or individually with a club member to share their thoughts about a book.
Because there are limited spaces for books on the schedule, each selection must meet the following criteria: first and foremost a chosen book must honor God, secondly, it must be a well written great story offering potential discussion topics. Being aware that the books I choose for the club will be spending the time and money of our readers, only the best of the best make the final book list. I intentionally seek variety in genres, authors, geographic locations, time periods, and topics. I am personally rewarded when our members are stretched to read something beyond what they would normally consider and I take special delight in introducing new authors to the group. I actively search for first time authors having found that often a first book has been marinating in the author’s heart for years yielding a carefully crafted story. An excellent example of this is Linore Rose Burkard’s book “Before the Season Ends.” Without exception, everyone in both of our discussion groups loved this first book of Linore’s. So much so that most of our readers ended up reading all three books in her series as they were released. C.J. Darlington’s first book “Thicker Than Blood” has been added to our fall schedule because not only was it a great story, but she handled some difficult subjects with sensitivity and created likeable characters in spite of their flaws. I am looking forward to the sequel. On my stack of books that I am previewing for the club is “Crossing Oceans” by another first time author Gina Holmes. I can already tell that Gina will join the group of elite authors whose work everyone admires and respects.
Much research goes into picking a book for the club. Obviously each book must be read with discernment of the content. Twice each year, I have our members anonymously complete a survey about each of the books we read. Without the burden of putting their names with their opinions, I find the results are candid and very helpful. Note to authors: Reader response is not always an accurate reflection of your talent. For example one of the most talented wordsmiths and story tellers in the business was the most polarizing author on one of our surveys. The response was almost evenly divided between 10’s (the best) and 1’s (the worst) with very little middle ground. The added comments revealed that those giving a poor rating totally missed the genius of what the author was trying to convey in the book.
I always check an author’s website before selecting their book. The site does not have to be technically “slick” but information about the author and why they write is very useful. It also helps to know if they have a personal connection or special knowledge about the subject matter of their books. I often check the sites of my favorite authors to see what they are recommending and have followed links on their sites to some real gems some of which were added into the Book Club mix.
In August before our new “book year” starts in September, our group takes a road trip to a special location with “atmosphere” to enjoy a long leisurely lunch and share what the members have been reading in addition to the club selections. I take careful notes of the members’ likes and dislikes and always choose one of their recommendations (after reading it myself of course!) to go on the coming year’s schedule. This is also my opportunity to recommend the great books I read during the year which didn’t make the book list because of space constraints or because the subject matter had already been covered. While I try not to duplicate content, I do not have a problem with offering more than one book by the same author. Each book is considered on its own merit. Also if an author’s previous work did not qualify to be a selection, I will still revisit their new work in the future for consideration.
Discussing the book selecting process brings me to another thought about book reviews. Once a club leader has been at the selection process a while, it becomes apparent which reviews are genuine. The most helpful reviews reveal enough of the content along with information about the author’s writing style to peak interest in the book. Reviews that simply state whether someone liked or didn’t like the book are interesting but not terribly useful. On Amazon I always read the top and bottom reviews for clarity.
The most challenging aspect of my Book Club leadership role is narrowing the potential book choices down to the number that will fit on our schedule. This limitation has so disappointed me that I am considering a quarterly “bonus discussion group” that would perhaps meet in the evening over dinner and would include both men and women. Any thoughts on this idea?
Well this is probably enough to get this discussion going but I would like to thank Fred and Nora for making this forum available to link Book Clubs and authors. I have already found much of the content useful. Having watched trailers and read some of the reviews, the UPS truck will be delivering an Amazon order to my door this week! J