Monday, September 30, 2013

Speaking to Book Clubs

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Friday I spoke to a book club in my hometown of Anderson, South Carolina.  It was a great group and a very well-established one—it had been founded in 1920.  My grandmother had been among the early members. 

In the past five years or so, I’ve spoken to a variety of different kinds of book clubs.  Some have been very casual with a loosely-organized program.  Some have been dressy, organized events.  Some have been at retirement homes.  Sometimes there’s even supper involved.  I’ve found that it’s good to know what to expect before you arrive.

It’s also nice to know if you’re expected to give a talk, for how long, and on what topics…limited to a particular title?  About writing in general?  Or will the host going to introduce you and then the club will start discussing the book and ask questions afterward? 
And, as with our writing, it helps to know our audience.  I’ve spoken to book clubs made up of a variety of different age groups…and I try to tailor my talk to fit in more with their group.  If it’s a group of moms, I’ll talk a little bit more about trying to write a book around children.  When I talked in my hometown, I talked about growing up there and my influences and the way the town has figured into my writing. 
Although the groups have been very different, I’ve noticed that, mostly, their questions are the same.
The most common questions:
When do you write? How much do you write a day? How many books do you write a year?
Do you write yourself into the books? Do you write your children into your books?
How do you bring characters to life?
How did you get started with a publisher?
Do you like ebooks/what do you think about ebooks/are your books available as ebooks?
How do you keep your series straight?
Do you do signings at bookstores?  (And when I immediately answer ‘not usually,’ they ask ‘why?’)
How long does it take you to write a book?
Do you write about people you know?
Do you help with your titles? With your covers?
How many books are printed by the publisher?
Do you write on the computer or longhand?
Sometimes I’ve spoken to groups about writing, in general.  Sometimes the talk has been focused around a particular book. If they’ve read one of your books, you’d better know that book backwards and forwards.  I now have cheat sheets of all my books that I can review before speaking to clubs.
I know writers who give away door prizes at book club meetings.
And make sure that you bring books and a pen with you.  Ugh.  As ridiculous as it sounds, I’ve forgotten to bring books to sell before. 
Dina Santorelli guest blogged here in April and had some great tips about talking with book clubs.  Among them, she recommends bringing a mailing list signup sheet, a camera, and giving the book club a group discount on books.
Finding book clubs can be a challenge.  I’ve heard some people have had luck on MeetUp.  I know people who have contacted retirement homes, senior centers, bookstores, and libraries and asked if they needed speakers at club meetings.  The times I’ve spoken with book clubs, it’s been a word-of-mouth process.  Usually it’s a family member or a friend’s club—sometimes it’s more of a friend-of-a-friend thing.
Have you spoken to any book clubs?  Have any tips? 
Image: MorgueFile: by MissMeganBunn