How to Choose a Book for Your Book Club

A person's hand reaching for sheets of paper on a wooden shelf.

Four ways to pick a book for your next great discussion.

Whether you’re in a long-standing group or prefer to participate when you have time, one of the most exciting parts of the book club experience is finding out what book you’ll be reading next.  In any type of book club, it’s important to decide on one method for choosing the next book, so that members know what to expect.

Here are four common ways that your book club could choose a book.

The Leader Chooses a Book

In larger book clubs, books are usually chosen by the person or organization running the book club. Typically, if you join a book club at your library, community center, or school, there’s a person or committee who is making all the logistical decisions. They decide the theme of the book club, how long each reading period will last, when the discussion will take place, and even how many people can join. They usually have discussion questions prepared for all members, and someone to moderate the conversation as well.

Large online book clubs often structure their events this way, too — like Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club.

Even if you don’t have a big book club, you can still appoint a trusted leader to choose the books and guide the discussion. If all members feel comfortable with this structure, it could make participating easier for everyone.

Books Are Nominated by a Leader, but Members Vote

It’s understandable that book club members want to feel like they have a say in what book they’ll be reading next. To honor everyone’s preferences, while keeping the selection process fast and simple, some book club leaders simply offer a choice. Leaders should choose at least two books as possible reads for the next session, and then ask members to vote on which book they want to read.

Important tip: The number of people in your reading group should inform the number of books offered. If you have an even number of members, offer at least three choices so there’s not a tie. An added benefit of letting book club leaders do the nominating: It ensures that the books chosen stay with the theme of the club.

Members Take Turns Choosing Books

Depending on the number of people in your book club, allowing each members to have a turn choosing the book is a fair way to make sure that everyone’s interests are represented. The monthly leader can even be tasked with providing reading group questions or moderating the discussion.

This method tends to work best with smaller groups. In larger groups, letting each person have a turn means that you may only get to choose a book once a year or less. When you do get your turn, be mindful of what people have enjoyed (or not) in the past, and try to pick something that you think everyone will read. There’s no point in asking people to read a 500-page novel, if they have no interest in the topic or genre.

Members Nominate and Vote on Books

A true community effort, nominating and voting on books gives every member of the book club an equal voice in deciding the next read. As a group, decide how you want to do nominations. It can be a complete free-for-all, with members nominating anything from poetry to the latest bestselling historical biography. Or you can establish some general guidelines, deciding ahead of time that the next book is going to be nonfiction, or a Pulitzer Prize winner, or a mystery, or a debut author, for example. Establishing a deadline for nominations is always a good idea. You always want to give members enough time to review them, vote, pick the winner, and buy the book.

The beauty of this method for choosing a book club book is that it works well for big and small groups, both online and off. The Mystery, Crime, and Thriller Group on Goodreads opens up nominations and voting to their group of more than 20,000 members every month! Whatever the size of your book club, if you open the floor to nominations, assign one person to collect them and tally the votes.

Is It Working?

However you’ve decided to choose the next book for your book club, try to get a sense of how it’s working for your group over time. Maybe members thought appointing a leader was a good idea, but they are starting to feel like they want more of a say in what they read next. If participation starts dropping off, or meetings becoming less about the book and more about the snacks, a few simple organizational changes can inject new life into book club discussions.

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