In the digital age of Kindles and other e-readers, you might think that book clubs have gone the way of any other non-virtual interaction. I can personally assure you that you are wrong…Pistils was selected by at least two book clubs (that I know of) as a featured read. Considering it was our first venture into the world of indie publishing, I’m grateful and humbled by their faith in us. I’ve already been approached by one of those book clubs to read Sub Rosa as well, so I’d like to share with you how you can gain entrance into this fairly tough nut to crack.
First off, let’s split book clubs into two categories: local and online. We’ll define local book clubs as those that physically meet up, maybe at a coffee shop, bookstore, etc. Online book clubs are those that share their thoughts virtually, something that can include readers from across the world.
What the two share in common is that they’re sort of like private clubs with a secret handshake…pushing yourself into their midst and shilling your book is pretty much the easiest way to guarantee they won’t touch it on principle alone (and they’ll probably ban you too). You have to know someone who’s on the inside. That might sound daunting, but it’s doable.
For local clubs, start by asking your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, Facebook friends, etc…Do they, or do they know, someone who belongs to a book club? I can almost guarantee that the answer will be at least one YES. I’ve personally belonged to two different work-related book clubs (at two different jobs), where we got together once a month during lunch and discussed our most recent read. Just because you don’t know about a book club doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
If you do get an affirmative answer, proceed respectfully. Ask your contact if they’d be willing to submit your book for consideration. Give them a free copy. And don’t be discouraged if the answer is an immediate no; some clubs only read certain genres. If you’re met with encouragement, however, meet them over halfway. Offer discounts on bulk purchases, both hard copy and e-reader, for the group. Let them know you’d be happy to attend a meeting to discuss the book, sign copies and take pictures. If you are invited to their discussion, come bearing little book-related gifts (bookmarks thanking them for reading are a no-brainer to hand out) and be willing to engage in honest discourse about your book with an open mind. They may love it, some of them may hate it (or at least parts of it, or your characters’ actions), but always remain respectful, positive and engaged. Remember, you are there by invitation, and they’re providing you with feedback.
Online book clubs are a bit trickier, due to the unfortunate onslaught of authors who promote their book well into the boundaries of unwelcome spam. Due to this, most online book clubs will either not accept submissions from the author (“no self-promotion!”), or have incredibly tight restrictions on author submissions. I don’t blame them a single bit for this. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pimping is bad enough.
The two online book club types I’m most familiar with are via Facebook Groups and Goodreads Communities. If you already know someone who is a member of an online book club, you can certainly give them a free copy and ask them to consider sponsoring your book, but another way that seems to catch virtual eyes more easily is to be proactive…include a page on your website or blog specifically targeted to book clubs, demonstrating your willingness to offer deals on bulk sales etc. I currently belong to an online book club, and I speak the truth when I say that if I saw such an offer from an author I already adored, I’d be all over it!
The same advice goes: be willing to offer discounts on purchases by the book club members (and yes, some of them will be reading a physical copy even though the club itself is online), and be prepared to participate in their scheduled virtual discussion of the group. Touch base with the moderator in advance and find out if there are any ground rules you must follow, if you’ll be allowed to give a quick introduction that includes your website, other work, etc. And then again be willing to participate in but not monopolize the conversation. Virtual meet-ups are harder to read, so err on the side of caution: answer any questions directed to you, but remember that this is a discussion about your book, not a chance for you to jump in and explain when someone mentions what they may not have enjoyed.
Afterward, for both clubs, make sure you send them a heartfelt thank you, whether you can send a handwritten note to the person who got you into a local meeting, or a short and sweet thank you on their Facebook page/Goodreads thread. Then back away. A gracious guest is more likely to be invited back than one who keeps shilling their book/s over and over until they’re finally asked to knock it off (how embarrassing).
It may seem like I’m going overboard on advice for courting book clubs, but here is the reason why: when you make a tangible connection with readers, they’re more invested in you and your book. They are more likely to leave a review (especially if you gently mention how much feedback is appreciated by indie authors), they are more likely to mention or loan your book to a friend. This is a genuine connection that is more priceless than a hundred absentminded “How Do You Rate This Book?” reminders at the end of a Kindle read. It also gets you back in touch with the faces and names behind that “readers” abstract all authors might slip into.
A book club is a microcosm of ALL of your readers. Remember and respect that, and enjoy the interaction.
Has your book been reviwed by a book club, or are you a member of a club with thoughts to share? Let me know in the comments!