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Book Discussion Groups: An Introductory Guide: Start a Book Group

A guide to joining, starting, and running a book group.
Introduction to Start a Book Group


So you want to start a book group... here you can find the basics on everything from where to meet to finding book discussion questions.


Book Group Basics - A list of things to consider when starting a book group such as where you will meet, what you will read, and who you will invite to join you. 

Book Discussion Tips & Tricks - Tips on how to handle a book discussion, what types of questions to ask, and where to find good discussion questions online.

Your Book Group Online - If you're looking for an online place to plan your group, connect to new members, and meet to discuss your book, this list can help!

Additional Resources - Links to articles and videos with more tips and tricks to starting, running, and recharging a book group.

Book Group Basics


The first thing to know about running a book group is...

...there is no one way to run a book group!

Below is a series of things you'll want to consider whether you're planning to meet online or in-person.


Who will you invite to join and how large will your group be?

Who joins your group will help determine what you read as well as when and where you'll meet! It will also help determine the tone, and maybe even the theme of your group. Do new members have to be already known by a current member in order to join or can anyone join in?

  • Coworkers
  • Friends
  • Age specific
  • People with specific life experiences

The ideal size: is 6 to 15 people. If there are more than 15, there may not be enough time for everyone to talk, it can be hard to hear what others have to say, or the space you use might be too small; fewer than 6, the discussion may not be varied enough. But as long as a book inspires discussion, a book group with only 3 or 4 can still have an enjoyable time. 

If you are noticing that members are not showing up even though they receive regular notifications about your group, it can be beneficial once a year or so to send out a notice to see if they are still interested. Sometimes members move out of state and forget to tell you, or their work hours change and they can't make it. If they let you know, you can take them off your notification list and offer to put them back on again if their situation changes.

Has your group gotten too large to manage? Check out the advice from members on multiple ways you can solve this problem.


What will you read?

You could choose to stick to a certain genre, or maybe a mix of fiction and nonfiction. As long as the books spark a discussion, that's all that really matters.

Go to the How to Choose & Acquire Great Books section for more information on how to choose the right books for your group while the Suggested Reads section includes booklists and resources full of books recommended for book groups.

Once you've read a few books, create a booklist that you can refer new members to, so they can get a sense of who you are as a group in terms of what you read, and so that members won't recommend or nominate something you've just read. Wherever your booklist resides, make sure all group members have access to it. There are a few online websites and apps that can help with this and other aspects of running a book group. See the Your Book Group Online tab in this section for more information.


What will you name your group?

Of course you don't have to name your group, but if you're going to list it online, or attract new members, it's good to have a group name that stands out, something that's fun and catchy, or speaks to who you are or what you read. You may find yourself wanting to attend your group discussions more when you see the name on your own calendar! A good group name is:

  • Creative but simple
  • Easy to understand and say out loud
  • Tells a story

If you need help with suggestions, check out this list: The Most Clever Book Club Names for Every Type of Lit Squad by Elena Nicolau for The Oprah Magazine. 


How important is it that members finish the book?

Every book group is different! For some, its okay for members to have started the book, but not finished it, or maybe they haven't read the book at all. For these groups, meeting is more about the conversation, whatever it may be, and not about the book. For other groups, it's more important that members read and finish the book to join in a proper discussion about it. Just remember that life does occasionally get in the way and no one should be turned away if they haven't finished a book now and then. 


Will you have trivia and fun games as part of your book discussion?

This could be a fun way to spice things up! Find some prizes to hand out for your trivia winners that aren't too expensive for added fun.

You could also have a potluck discussion where everyone brings food inspired by the book.  


Where will you meet?

Will your group meet online or in-person?​ If you decide to meet online, see the Your Book Group Online tab in this section for a list of options.

  • Will you meet in someone's home or in a public place?
    • If you choose someone's home, will there be new and unknown group members invited? If so, make sure the owner is comfortable inviting strangers into their home.
  • Choose a location that everyone can get to easily by car or public transportation. Make sure it will work for any members who are handicapped. And if it's a restaurant, make sure it can handle everyone's dietary needs, if you know these things in advance.
  • Keep your decibel level in mind. You'd be surprised, but a group of readers, when they get into a book discussion, can get pretty loud. Make sure you choose a place that will be okay with however loud you end up.
  • On the flip side, choosing a bar where there will be loud music or other loud conversations going on around you will hamper everyone's ability to hear each other and have a good book discussion.
  • If you are choosing a public place (such as a library, cafe, or bookstore), make sure you call ahead of time to ask if it's okay to bring a group of people in at a specific date and time. They may not be able to accommodate you and it's better to find out before you show up with ten people. They may also have requirements you need to follow, or forms to fill out. If it works out, let them know you'll be regulars there, so they are aware and can make appropriate arrangements, if need be. 
    • If you are interested in space at the Boston Public Library, you will find room use guidelines, forms to fill out, and contact information for our Events department on our website here: Reservable Community Spaces, but these are the basic guidelines:
      • Reservations must be made with a minimum of 2 days’ notice and no more than 2 weeks ahead of the requested date.
      • Study rooms may be booked for 4-hours maximum per day; up to two reservations a week, maximum 4 per month, unless authorized by the library.
      • At this time we are unable to accommodate day-of requests.
      • Continuous meetings (daily, weekly, monthly) may not be hosted at the library.
      •  Please note that these rooms are not intended for use as your organization's primary meeting place. 


When & how often will you meet?

Adult book groups traditionally meet once a month and spend an hour discussing the book. If you have an exceptionally large book group, or one centered around eating dinner perhaps, you will likely want to meet for more than an hour. 

Other groups may decide to break up the book and read it in chunks of one or more chapters at a time. They may meet once a week, or every few days, to discuss each section. This works especially well if you're using an online text-based way to meet, such as Slack, Discord, or a Goodreads group, where it's less formal than meeting in person or via a video chat.

Choose a date and time that will work for everyone, and that you can keep consistent so it's easy to remember, such as the first Thursday of every month at 2pm.



How will you communicate with each other outside of the meeting? Via email? Facebook? Goodreads? Text? Make sure your mode of communication works for everyone in the group and don't assume everyone has a Facebook account. 

The Your Book Group Online tab in this section lists websites and apps you can use to keep in touch whether you meet in person or online, vote on upcoming dates or titles, and even discuss your books.


Additional reading material

The group leader may want to point readers toward materials other than the book that they might be interested in, such as:

  • Author interviews about the book
  • The author's biography
  • Professional book reviews
  • Articles relevant to the book such as information about the time period for historical fiction or another viewpoint of an event you're reading about.

If you are handing out the physical book to the readers, you may want to print out these materials and slip them into the book. Or, if your group is reading eBooks, you may want to email the links to articles or find an online place to put them, such as a Goodreads group, where your members can find them. Make sure this information is available before your book discussion so that it can be included in the discussion if necessary.

Where can you find these resources? It's easy to search the internet for author interviews. Your search would look something like this: "author interview Julia Alvarez Afterlife". Make sure you include the author's name and the name of the book you're reading.

The library also has a few databases you might want to consider looking through:

You can access these databases at home by logging in with your library card number and PIN, or you can come into the library and access them without needing to log in.

Gale Virtual Reference Library - If you want to learn more about a topic your book group is reading, this database covers a wide variety of subjects including Arts, Biography, Business, Education, Environment, History, Law, Literature, Medicine, Multicultural Studies, Nation & World, Religion, Science, and Social Science. 

Gale In Context: Biography - Looking to learn more about the authors you choose to read? This database has a large collection of biographies and news items covering a wide range of individuals from many fields, gathered from reference sources and periodicals.

Gale Literature Resource Center - A great resource for literary criticism articles, reviews, work overviews, and biographical information if you really want to dig deep into the books you're reading.

You don't have to do any of this at all, depending on how formal you and your members want the book group to be. Instead, you could have each reader bring one question they want answered.

Book Discussion Tips & Tricks


Handling the group in general

  • Rules & Expectations. Have a discussion about the group's rules and expectations for the leader and for the members. This way, people are more likely to be responsive to correction when they know they are in violation of a rule they helped to put into place. This goes for those who like to take over a discussion and not let anyone else speak, or those who discredit the opinions of others among other indiscretions. Revisit this discussion once a year to remind everyone what the rules are and to make any necessary changes.
  • Introductions. It can be helpful to start each discussion with introductions, especially if your group is still new or you've had a new member join recently. Introductions should be short. Here are things you may want to include:
    • Member's name/What they would prefer to be called
    • Preferred pronouns: he/him, she/her, they/them...
    • What they do for a living in general terms
    • Answer a fun ice breaker question: What is your favorite ice cream flavor? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • Be mindful of group dynamics. The discussion’s goal is to expand understanding of the book, not start a war over a character's decisions and actions. Make sure members are open-minded about others thoughts and opinions, or can censor themselves when need be.
  • Read body language. For example, a person leaning forward wants to speak. During an open discussion, it's okay to pause someone who just jumped in to say something, or has already commented, if you see someone else has wanted to speak and hasn't had a chance to. If you see someone hasn't spoken at all or in a while, you may want to ask if they have any thoughts to offer.
  • Find a way to let everyone talk. Having each person in the group ask a question is a great way to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak. One way is to have them choose a question off of a provided list, giving their thoughts about it before opening up the question to the group at large. Another way is to have everyone bring a question of their own to the discussion, something they thought about while they were reading the book.​
  • Be firm and respectful. The group leader should be willing and prepared to take control of the group, firmly but respectfully. Becky Spratford, a librarian in Illinois, says she will stand up during a heated discussion and say "It is now time for me to be firm but respectful." This ensures that everyone checks their behavior quickly and with a little humor. You can read more about her book group's rules and expectations here.
  • Interrupt a discussion gone awry.  Use something that will make a gentle noise to catch everyone's attention, such as a small bell. Once you've rung the bell, remind the group of the rules, and redirect the conversation to a new topic, or offer the speaking time to someone who hasn't had a chance to comment on that topic yet.
  • One diva one mic. If you're having difficulty with people speaking over each other, or side conversations going on at the same time, it might be good to use a "talking stone" or other object. The person holding the object is the only one allowed to speak at that time.
  • Ending the discussion. Sometimes it can be hard to let go of a good discussion and folks might not want to go home. It might be beneficial to ease them into the end. Here are two things you can do to signal the end of the discussion: 
    • Have everyone vote on a rating for the book. They can use slips of paper that the group leader then tallies to create the average rating for the group. 
    • Ask members to give a book recommendation in the last 5-10 minutes.


When asking questions

Some groups work well with an open ended discussion that does not include pre-arranged questions. Other groups go down a list of questions one by one. And still others choose a mix of open discussion with a few questions thrown in when the conversation lags or veers off course. What you choose will depend on the dynamic of your group and how easily your conversations flow. However, even if you choose an open discussion, it can be beneficial to have pre-arranged questions on hand just in case the discussion lags a little.

When asking questions, it's best to ask open-ended questions that can spark conversation among members, such as "What did you think of X character's actions in this scene?" For very basic questions like “Did you like the book?” they are sometimes better asked at the end of the discussion, as they don't spark much conversation. However, you can also pair it with "What did you like best about it?" and "What did you like least about it?" which are great conversation starters and might be the best way to kick off your book discussion!

Make it fun and relaxing. A book club is not school. There are no right or wrong answers. You can have a list of questions to help you when the conversation stalls out, but try not to be rigid about making sure they always get answered. 


Finding discussion questions

Many books already have lists of discussion questions specifically written for them, you just need to know where to look. Here are some websites to check out. If you don't have luck with any of these, you can search the internet at large with the basic instructions below, or use Book Riot's 40 Great Book Club Discussion Questions  that are open ended so they will work for any book you choose to read.

Reading Group Guides - The online community for reading groups with over 4,000 reading guides available.

Lit Lovers - An online community featuring book discussion guides, recommendations, and literature courses. - Excerpts are included for all featured titles, as well as reading guides and author interviews.

Spark Notes - Study guides that are just as useful for book discussion groups as they are for students. Available titles cover a broad range of literature including contemporary classics.

Reading Group Choices - A large collection of reading group guides searchable by author or title.

African American Literature Book Club - This is the oldest online bookseller dedicated to African-American and Black literature. Their website includes book lists for all ages and book reviews, author profiles/interviews, as well as a list of book groups in major cities, and many other features.


Searching the internet at large for discussion questions

If you don’t see questions for your book on one of these sites, you may want to search the internet by typing in your book title and adding “discussion questions” or “book group questions” to your search. So your search would look like “A Gentleman in Moscow book group questions”. 

Your Book Group Online


Whether you're meeting in person or staying home in your comfy pajamas, this list of websites and apps can help you do the following:

1. Plan - Set up meetings with your members whether you meet in person or online

2. Vote - Vote on discussion dates or book titles

3. Track - Keep track of the books you've read

4. Connect - Connect with new members who can search groups or events to find you

5. Meet - Have your book discussion online whether it's a slower, text-based chat, or a single-session video chat.

Check each listing to see what it specializes in.


Bibliocommons - (Track) The library's catalog, Bibliocommons, allows you to create booklists in your account and then share the links with anyone you like. For an example, check out the booklists for the Fantastic Books Book Group. 

Book Club by Book Movement - (Plan, Vote, & track) An iOS app that keeps track of attendees, helps you select your next read, and lets you know when the books you're interested in are on sale if you'd rather own your selections.

Bookclubz - (Plan, vote, & track) Create polls, schedule meetings, track RSVPs, rate books, and create a personal library for your book group so you can keep track of what you've read.

Discord - (Plan, vote, & meet) Create a free chat space, known as a "server", where you can have multiple channels to discuss different topics as well as video and audio channels. Add a poll bot (search the internet for "poll bot for Discord") to your server and vote on your next read! 

EventBrite - (Connect) List your events, keep track of who's coming, and promote your event with Facebook and Instagram integration.

Facebook Groups - (Plan, connect, & meet) There are many book groups on Facebook, and it's easy to start your own here as well.  

Free Conference Call - (Meet) It sets up a phone number and a passcode members would use to connect in. This is over the phone, with no video aspect.

Goodreads - (Plan, vote, track, connect, & meet) It's easy to talk about books on Goodreads in their Groups area, keep track of what you've read and vote on your upcoming meeting dates or book choices. Groups are searchable or you can list your events as public to connect with new members. 

Google Groups - (Plan, connect, & meet) This platform acts like your own personal forum. 

Google Meet - (Meet) Free video chat meeting space. It's easy to start a video and invite others to join or schedule something in advance!

Jitsi Meet (Meet) A free, open source video chat platform. Simply type in the title of your meeting and you'll have an evergreen link you can keep forever! - (Connect) Add your book group to the listings here so new members can find you!

Our Own Book Club - (Plan, track, & meet) Discuss books, keep track of what you've read, keep track of your event dates, and let the OOBSeer choose your next book for you if you can't decide! 

Proboards - (Plan & meet) A free forum hosting service, where you can create your own forum and keep your discussions organized. - (Connect) Add your book group to the listings here so new members can find you!

Slack - (Plan & Meet) This app works on iOS, Android, PC, and MAC and is a free forum where you can set up discussion threads, add photos and documents and easily set up meetings and decide what you're reading next!

Survey Monkey - (Vote) A basic account is free and you can create a wide variety of polls for your group members to vote on dates, books, or anything else you'd like to vote on. Use this in conjunction with another service for more options.

Zoom - (Meet) This is a video chat platform that lets you have meetings up to 40 minutes for free. 

Additional Resources


Need more information on starting, running, or recharging a book group? These articles and videos can help!



For Book Clubs - explains how to find the right group for you, start your own group, structure your meetings, and so much more.

How To Keep the Peace at Book Club - Courtney Rogers at Book Riot goes over some tips and tricks to keep conversation civil and flowing.

How to Keep Your Book Club From Becoming a Wine Club - Librarians, professors, and literary professionals offer their best advice on how to run a successful group.

How to Start a Book Club - To help you get started, Epic Reads lays out the basics: how to find your group, pick a book, and where to start with discussion.

How to Start a Book Club in Six Simple Steps - spoke to Random House publicity assistant Emma Thomasch, and the New York Public Library's manager of reader services, Lynn Lobash, for their expert advice on finding and creating your own social literary hub, even if it's online.

How to Start a Book Club That Doesn't Suck - To help you make sure your book club is on point, here is a short guide about how to start a book club to help you make yours perfect.


Videos & Recorded Webinars

10 Tips for Amazing Book Clubs - Chandler has been a member of many and has some tips for keeping your book club from fizzling out.

How to Start and Run a Book Club - Here are some tips and ideas for starting a book club, and having it run without you having to do all of the work.

Recharge Your Book Club - Becky Spratford of RA for ALL has been leading book clubs for over 14 years. In this webinar she will help you identify and use the best resources for leading a book discussion and pick books that will lead to a more interactive discussion. 

Virtual Book Club Tips and Tricks - Lindsey has been involved in several book groups that have gone virtual due to the pandemic and offers tips and tricks to move your group to a virtual setting.