Friday, December 2, 2011

Is your Novel Attractive to Reading Groups/Clubs?

There are as many types of book clubs as there are people to belong to them. When setting up a book club, one should keep in mind one's target audience and adjust things to suit their needs. The purpose of a book club is to read the book and have fun discussing it with each other.

Genre-Specific Clubs: Book clubs are comprised of people who enjoy reading. Some clubs' members are more like-minded than you would find in a basic book club. These clubs are the genre-specific clubs, whose members prefer to read in one topic area.

One City-One Book Club: Rochelle Township High School in Rochelle, IL, is attempting the "One City/One Book" program for the first time. All high school students, staff, and eighth graders from the middle school will read Irene Hunt's No Promises in the Wind. Here are some basic steps that high school librarian Debby Van Dyke has followed to pull the program together, based on the success of other programs across the nation.

1. Van Dyke recruited faculty members from many departments to read many books over the summer. After three meetings of intense debate, No Promises in the Wind was selected due to its readability and the treatment of parent/child relationships. The railroad theme was another benefit, as Rochelle is a major railroad hub.

2. Van Dyke secured the support of the administration through the school's North Central Accreditation goals. The principal has agreed that everyone will stop work to read for at least 5 minutes a day.

3. Van Dyke secured funding through local businesses and organizations so that the books will be free to all student readers. She has also applied for several grants.

4. Committee members have planned enrichment activities for both the school day and at night. Guest speakers and demonstrations are planned. Speech classes will visit local nursing homes to interview residents about the Great Depression. Art classes are involved in the planning as well.

5. A cross-curricular group of faculty members is writing discussion questions to be discussed in the same class period once a week. By keeping the same discussion groups, Van Dyke hopes that even reluctant students will become comfortable participants by the end of the program.

6. Members of the community may pick up copies of the book in the high school library.

7. The editor of the local paper wrote an article in support of the program, where he challenged the community to get involved. The area association of realtors is distributing copies of the book to new community members.

On-Line Book Clubs: A listserv book club is an email list that discusses elements of the book. Users subscribe to the listserv by e-mail, specifying which list they would like to join. BR_Cafe is a listserv for kids hosted by Western Carolina University; click here to see subscription details.

Public Library Book Clubs: Because public libraries have such a wide patron base, they are able to offer variety in the kinds of book clubs that they sponsor. One club cannot please everyone, so clubs within the different departments address the interests and needs of the patrons. Librarians provide their expertise in book selection, while some library foundations provide free copies of the books.

School Book Clubs: Many schools have book clubs in which both students and teachers participate. These clubs often have a theme such as banned books or mysteries. The book club provides an interesting place for students to share their opinions about books with teachers in the absence of a classroom setting.

Although it's impossible to select a book to please everyone, there are some suggestions to consider when selecting a book for the school book club:

1. What is the reading level of the students? The book club is intended to be fun, but a truly difficult word might me more challenging than fun.

2. What are the interests of the students? If students are allowed to offer their suggestions, they will feel greater ownership of the group.

3. For what age/maturity range is this book club? A fifth grader may not enjoy topics that an eighth grader finds fascinating, while a freshman may not be mature enough to handle a work that challenges a college-bound senior.

4. Are there any special curricular themes we could tie in? During Red Ribbon Week, the club might read a book about drug abuse. During Latino History Month, the club might read a book by Sandra Cisneros.

Example of Book Club Questions:

The Secret Life of Bees

Set in the American South in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and intensifying racial unrest, Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees is a powerful story of coming-of-age, of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine. Addressing the wounds of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, Kidd demonstrates the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of true family and home.


1.      Were you surprised to learn that T. Ray used to be different, that once he truly loved Deborah? How do you think Deborah's leaving affected him? Did it shed any light on why T. Ray was so cruel and abusive to Lily?

2.      Had you ever heard of "kneeling on grits"? What qualities did Lily have that allowed her to survive, endure, and eventually thrive, despite T. Ray?

3.      Who is the queen bee in this story?

4.      Lily's relationship to her dead mother was complex, ranging from guilt to idealization, to hatred, to acceptance. What happens to a daughter when she discovers her mother once abandoned her? Is Lily rightwould people generally rather die than forgive? Was it harder for Lily to forgive her mother or herself?

5.      Lily grew up without her mother, but in the end she finds a house full of them. Have you ever had a mother figure in your life who wasn't your true mother? Have you ever had to leave home to find home?

6.      What compelled Rosaleen to spit on the three men's shoes? What does it take for a person to stand up with conviction against brutalizing injustice? What did you like best about Rosaleen?

7.      Had you ever heard of the Black Madonna? What do you think of the story surrounding the Black Madonna in the novel? How would the story be different if it had been a picture of a white Virgin Mary? Do you know women whose lives have been deepened or enriched by a connection to an empowering Divine Mother?

8.      Why is it important that women come together? What did you think of the "Calendar Sisters" and the Daughters of Mary? How did being in the company of this circle of females transform Lily?

9.      May built a wailing wall to help her come to terms with the pain she felt. Even though we don't have May's condition, do we also need "rituals," like wailing walls, to help us deal with our grief and suffering?

10.  How would you describe Lily and Zach's relationship? What drew them together? Did you root for them to be together?

11.  Project into the future. Does Lily ever see her father again? Does she become a beekeeper? A writer? What happens to Rosaleen? What happens to Lily and Zach? Who would Zach be today?

I don’t know about you, but book clubs intrigue me. As I finish my first novel, Winnie’s War, I’m going to keep in mind how it would fit into various reading clubs. I’m going to create questions in the appendix for clubs to use.

Recently I discovered that you can set up a book club on Goodreads! What ideas do you have about getting your books into book clubs?
Author Bio:
Award winning author, Kathy Stemke, has a passion for writing, the arts and all things creative. She has Bachelor degrees from Southern Connecticut State University and Covenant Life Seminary, as well as graduate coursework from New York Institute of Technology and Columbia University. Hanging her hat in the North Georgia Mountains, she has been a teacher, tutor, and writer for many years.
As a freelance writer and ghostwriter, Kathy has published hundreds of articles in directories, websites and magazines. She is a reviewer for Sylvan Dell Publishing and a former editor for The National Writing for Children Center. As a retired teacher, Kathy has several activities published with Gryphon House Publishing. Kathy is also part of the team at DKV Writing 4 U, a writing services company that includes ghostwriting, copywriting, editing, proofreading, critiquing, and resumes.
Kathy’s first children’s picture book, Moving Through All Seven Days, was published on Lulu. Her next two picture books, Sh, Sh, Sh Let the Baby Sleep, and Trouble on Earth Day were released in 2011.  These two books were awarded the Classic Literary Seal of Approval. Visit her book blog at
Mrs.Stemke offers great teaching tips and children’s book reviews as well as a monthly newsletter titled, MOVEMENT AND RHYTHM, on her blog.


Karen Cioffi said...

Kathy, Great information and something us authors should take advantage of.

Thanks for sharing!

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great info, I'll being forwarding this on to others.

anthony stemke said...

Although I'm not personally familiar with kneeling on grits, I must say your post here was most informative - jam-packed with useful information.

Thank You.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Great topic. I suggest authors use reading groups (sometimes called book clubs) to promote their work in The Frugal Book Promoter. There are ideas for using the same kind of groups online, too. And, yes, like Mary Jo I'll be tweeting this!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Excited about the new edition of The Frugal Book Promoter (updated! expanded! and now a USA Book News award-winner!)--

Unknown said...

This was wonderful. Packed with useful information and so well organized. Thanks very much for sharing.

Shirley Corder said...

Thanks for the input. I'm intrigued about your comments about Goodreads. I don't know anything about them but I think I need to look into them.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Very useful and informative post. I'll be passing it round my authors too as an excellent way to promote their writing, as suggested also by Carolyn.

Margaret Fieland said...

Kathy, great post. Definitely food for thought.

Magdalena Ball said...

Great reminder Kathy, not only of the importance of book clubs, but of the need to incorporate book club questions into our media packs/pages. I also know that some authors are now offering to "visit" book clubs via Skype, where their book is being read and discussed - a really clever way to encourage readers.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the great comments. I love the Skype idea too.

T. Forehand said...

This is helpful information now and for future reference. Thanks for sharing, and I will be passing it along.

Donna McDine said...

Hi Kathy:

You've given me a lot to think about. I have never thought about book clubs. Thanks for the important information and direction.

Best regards,

elysabeth said...

Kathy, I hadn't thought of book clubs per se. I'm guessing this would be a great idea and helps get an unknown author a little bit more known. I know Faye Tollison just did a book club talk and I have another friend who has done several discussion times with book clubs. I'm now thinking my newly published YA novel would make a good book club read (now to come up with the discussion questions for book - lol. I will think about this over the next few days and see what I can come up with.

Thanks for posting this interesting discussion - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author Finally Home, a YA paranormal mystery
“The Proposal” (an April Fools Day story), a humorous romance ebook
“The Tulip Kiss”, a paranormal romance

Ma America, The Travelin’ Maven
Author of the JGDS, 50-state, mystery, trivia series and
“Train of Clues”, a mystery destination story (the predecessor to the 50-state series)
Where will the adventure take you next?

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