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Host Your Own Book Club

Not being able to meet in person doesn’t mean that readers can’t have book clubs. Thanks to video conferencing programs, in-person book clubs can easily go virtual. But how do you keep meetings fun and engaging while physically apart?

We are pleased to present “Everything You Need To Know To Start An Online Macalester Alumni Book Group” advice from Twin Cities MacReads.

  • You Don’t Have To Do It Alone

    Let Macalester help you. If you are thinking of starting an online book group for Macalester alumni, start by emailing Alumni Engagement at [email protected]. Macalester can help you with all kinds of things, including getting the word out to your fellow alumni.

    Emily P.G. Erickson ‘08 has been running the Twin Cities MacReads alumni book group since it started in January 2012. She is happy to help with any questions you have after reading this guide. She can be reached via MacConnect.

  • Determine Who Will Be In Your Group

    Who will lead your book group?

    1. Things to consider: One of the biggest determinants of whether a book group flourishes or fizzles is if it has a reliable person who is willing to keep it going month after month. For this reason, it helps to pick people who commit to taking this on. You can have someone who takes on this role indefinitely or can rotate after a given amount of time.
    2. What works for us: We’ve had one leader since our group started in January 2012. When she needed to take a break for maternity leave, another member took over the role for several months. She’s the point of contact for the group and makes some decisions about the group, although solicits group feedback on any major changes.

    Who will be your group members?

    1. Things to consider: It helps to have an idea of how you’ll accept new members. Maybe your only criterion is that someone is a Macalester graduate. Maybe you want to open it to family members, too. You may want to create a group for a specific graduating year, geographic region, or based on affinity for certain book genres.
    2. What works for us: Outside of the pandemic, our group is for Twin Cities alumni only. Keep in mind that ours is not a remote-first group like yours will be, so your mileage may vary.

  • Determine Meeting Logistics

    What video meeting platform will you use? 

    • Things to consider: There are tons of video meeting platforms and you can use whichever one feels most comfortable to you or is easiest for your group members. Options include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoTo Meeting, and Google Meet.
    • What works for us: MacReads uses Zoom. You’ll want to use a paid Zoom account for meetings, and if you do not have one, Macalester does and can help set up the meetings.

    How often will you meet? 

    • Things to consider: Monthly meeting times tend to strike a good balance between building momentum and allowing time to actually read the books. Some book groups do meet quarterly, but more frequently than once a month is rare.
    • What works for us: MacReads meets once monthly, on the fourth Tuesday. 

    What time will you meet?

    • Things to consider: Take into account the daily rhythm of the average alumni who might want to join, or base it on the ideal schedule for your leadership or key group members.
    • What works for us: MacReads meets at 7pm CST. This has worked well for Twin Cities alumni. 

    How long will meetings run?

    • Things to consider: Longer times can be harder to fill, but shorter can cut off good conversation. We recommend planning for 1.5-2 hours.
    • What works for us: We meet for two hours.

  • Decide What You’ll Read

    What kind of books will you read?

    • Things to consider: You can decide to limit your book group to a certain genre or open it to all genres. It’s also worthwhile to consider how easy it is to get a hold of the book at local bookstores and libraries, and how long the book is. We’ve found books over 500 pages are rarely read by more than a few members.
    • What works for us: We read all kinds of books. We’ve read fiction and nonfiction, chapter books and even picture books and plays. We try to select books that are easily available at local libraries. 

    How will you decide which books to read for each meeting?

    • Things to consider: It can be nice to share responsibility for book selection by having people volunteer to be a host for each meeting. This adds interesting variety and encourages buy-in. If you do that, the host can select the book. Some book groups pick all the books for the forthcoming year at its beginning. Others just try to plan a few meetings in advance.
    • What works for us: Each month’s host chooses a book. Sometimes they will select a couple and ask for feedback from the group at the end of a previous meeting. We try to have the next month or two decided, but often don’t commit to a particular book until the day of the prior month’s meeting.

  • Decide on a Communication Plan

    Where will group members go to learn about your book group?

    • Things to consider: It helps to have an online hub for your book group to house all of what you decided above. You can use any option you’re comfortable with, including Google Sites, Squarespace, WordPress, Wix, and Facebook. 
    • What works for us: We built a free website on Google Sites – Mac Reads Alumni Book Club.

    How will group members learn new meeting details and be reminded of upcoming meetings?

    • Who will send emails?
      • Things to consider: It can help to have the same person sending all emails related to the group. That way, members know who to expect emails from and it also helps email communication not fall through the cracks.
      • What works for us: All our emails are sent by our group leader.

    How often will you email?

    • Things to consider: You want to strike a balance between getting out needed information and not contributing to inbox overwhelm. You can use schedule send to make the workflow simpler. Reminder emails are helpful. Without them, we’ve found people who intended to come to the meeting forget. 
      • What works for us: In the typical month, we send three emails. 1) Day of the meeting: Reminder and link 15 minutes before the meeting starts; 2) Day after the meeting: Highlight of the recent meeting and information about next meeting; 3) Week before the meeting: Reminder of upcoming meeting.
    • What email subjects will you use?
      • Things to consider: When you use standard email subjects, your book group members know what to expect.
      • What works for us: Our email subjects are variations on MacReads [Month] [Year], MacReads [Month] [Year]: Next Week, MacReads [Month] [Year]: Tonight!

    What will the body of the emails contain?

    • Things to consider: It’s nice to have both a brief conversational element to your emails and an easily scannable format so folks can get the nuts and bolts they need easily if they’re not interested in reading the whole thing.
    • What works for us: Here’s an example text for our emails that go out the day after the meeting:

    Dear MacReaders,

    [Highlight of previous meeting followed by context for upcoming book selection].

    Official Details:

    When: 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Tuesday January 26

    Where: Online via Zoom (more login details below)

    Host: Emily P.G. Erickson ’08

    Read: The Mothers (Brit Bennett)

    Eat: TBD

    Please RSVP on the website

    Happy Reading,

    Em ‘08

    How will you manage your email list?

    • Things to consider: Most email programs have an option to create an email group. This can make it easy to ensure no one is left off your list and that it’s easy to add and remove people as needed.
    • What works for us: Our group leader created a “MacReads” label using Google Contacts.

  • Readers Can Still Buy Books from Bookstores and Online Retailers

    Because most libraries and brick-and-mortar bookstores are closed, many readers don’t know where to go to get their books. But lots of local bookstores are still delivering, shipping, and offering curbside pickup while their shops are closed to customers. Call your local bookstore or check their social media pages to see if they’re open. If you don’t have a local store that you can currently buy from, consider checking out The profits from their orders go to independent bookstores or, if a buyer chooses, a single independent bookstore. Normal online retailers are still operating, and buying books for your ereader should be as easy and quick as it normally is.

  • Use Meeting Best Practices

    What will your ground rules be?

    • Things to consider: Although it’s not super likely you’ll have to use them, setting expectations early can be very helpful for the rare times you do. Ground rules can cover things like sharing the conversation and how much of your time will be spent discussing the book versus other topics.
    • What works for us: In nine years, we only had one experience that would have benefitted from having ground rules to refer to (it’s what inspired us to make them!). At the same time, having them has been a helpful way to orient new folks to the culture of the group. Here are Twin Cities MacReads ground rules, which we refer to as intentions. Two of our members drafted these rules together and submitted them to the larger group for consent.

    How will you introduce attendees?

    • Things to consider: You can expect that not everyone will know each other at each meeting and that the meetings will include a different mix every time. To make sure that new people always feel welcome, it’s important to establish a practice of introductions at the beginning of every meeting.
    • What works for us: The host calls on attendees to each say their name, pronouns, graduation year, and majors. We usually also have an upbeat, low-steaks ice breaker question. A favorite is: What is something that delighted you today?

    How will you help members share the conversation?

    • Things to consider: While Macalester alumni are generally sensitive to sharing the conversation, it does help to have a member or two who is responsible for gently facilitating the conversation to both keep it moving and ensure people who want to speak have space to do so.
    • What works for us: Our group leader attends to this each meeting. She usually has to do very little to help ensure the conversation is shared.

    How will you end the meetings?

    • Things to consider: One member should keep an eye on the time and solicit any final thoughts 5-10 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to end. Take time at the end of the meeting for the next host to introduce the book selection.
    • What works for us: Our group leader wraps up our meetings.