How to Start a Book Club | All About Book Clubs | Reader Resources

By Mary Burnham

Mary Burnham is Dubray Books‘ Book Club Co-ordinator. Based in Dún Laoghaire, she sets up clubs all over the country from 6 to 60 people. Dubray offer a 10% discount to book clubs who register with them – they also have a great book club newsletter packed full of news, reviews and information on securing signed copies of your favourite books. Contact for more information.

These are her tried and tested tips for setting up your own book club:

1. Let people know that you are setting up a book club – spreading the word will help broaden the group and can be a great way to meet new people. Whether you decide to simply put up a notice in your local library, print a few brochures and flyers from home, or enlist the help of a t-shirt printing company, finding members for your book club should be easy!

2. When you have your group assembled, decide on a set of simple rules. In every group of there is a mixture of personalities; some quiet and shy about expressing their opinions while others can be very outspoken and may dominate to the exclusion of others. Normally, this isn’t a problem but in a book group it’s important that everyone has their say and that no one person takes over the discussion more than another.


3. Decide on the kind of books do you want to read.· Maybe you could try a mix of the following:

  • Travel literature
  • Biographies
  • Current affairs
  • Classics
  • Fiction in the news
  • Foreign writers and books in translation
  • Book prize winners and runners up

4.The do’s and don’ts of choosing a book:

  • Don’t choose a book you will all love as you may have nothing to discuss.
  • Don’t choose a long book as there is not enough time in one month to read a doorstopper.
  • Don’t choose a title you have not read unless it comes with an excellent, reliable review. A month is a long time to be reading a boring book!
  • Don’t choose something that’s out of print
  • Do check availability of a title with your local bookshop
  • Do make sure your book is worth reading!
  • Do make sure the book you choose is in paperback
  • Do take turns and when it’s your turn, do your research in plenty of time

5. Some other things to think about:

  • Always discuss the book in its entirety. Just because one person hasn’t finished the novel they can’t expect to limit the discussion for others.
  • The person whose house the meeting is being held in should not choose the book of the month as there are other things they need to attend to.
  • It is such a personal decision to read crime fiction and not necessarily a good choice for a book club.
  • The ideal length for a bookclub book is between 250 and 350 pages.
  • Keep a list of the books you have read and rate them. It makes for fascinating reading when you go back over them in a year or two.
  • Try and find out something about the author of the book you are reading.
  • Pick out passages from the novel you are reading and share with the others when you are reviewing it.
  • Choose a chairperson for each discussion and give them some power otherwise you may find that some people get to air their opinions more than others.
  • Put aside time to read during the day. I find early morning is the best, before my day begins in earnest.· Most people wait till they’re in bed to read and end up falling asleep.· Ten minutes in a quiet corner during the day will do wonders for you!

6. Running the discussion:

  • One person to give a synopsis of the story (optional). This refreshes everyone’s memory and helps to get the discussion going.
  • Each person to give their opinion of the book allowing about three minutes each.
  • Opinions are personal (it’s ok to dislike a book that everyone else likes and visa versa).
  • When everyone has had their say open the discussion up.
  • Did the plot ring true?
  • Were the characters well drawn?
  • Did all the voices work?
  • What did you think of the style of writing?
  • What do you know about the author and have they written anything else?
  • Look at the use of language.

7. Book prizes to keep an eye out for, some with excellent shortlists:

  • Man Booker Prize decided in October.
  • The Irish Book Awards, shortlist announced in October, winners in November.
  • Costa Book Awards (formerly The Whitbread). Winners announced in January.
  • International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the most inclusive book prize and also the biggest prize money that honours the translator as well as the author. Held in June.
  • Pulitzer prize for Fiction. Announced in May.
  • Nobel prize for Literature. Prize giving December.

©Mary Burnham for

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