To Book Club or Not to Book Club

So one of the many invitations you may get as a published writer is to come to book club meetings after the club has read your book.  Now if you've written some thought-provoking, life-changing, Pulitzer Prize-winning tome of literary genius, this is a great idea!  If you're a genre writer, it gets a little weird.

In my experience, most book clubs are made up of people who only want to read thought-provoking, life-changing, Pulitzer Prize winning tomes of literary genius.  They're not interested in merely being entertained.  They can go to the movies for that.  So for a genre writer like myself, this whole book club thing seems a bit dicey.
Apparently there are book clubs that are devoted to mysteries and crime thrillers (ahh . . . these are my people!).  But on the whole I've found these groups to be very rare.

Here's the thing:  if you've got 10 or 12 people who only enjoy thought-provoking, life-changing, Pulitzer Prize-winning tomes of literary genius, they're not going to like your down and dirty little crime thriller.  So whenever someone says to me that they are going to recommend my book to their book club, I always cringe a little.  Then I ask, "Well, does the club ever read thrillers?" and if the answer is no, I'm in a full-out wince.  If the answer is yes, I think well, all hope is not lost.

Don't get me wrong, I'm exceptionally, eternally grateful for the people who have done this for me--even if the outcome was not as I or they had hoped.  But I've seen it go both ways.

Take my friend, Writer Joe, for example.  Writer Joe writes crime thrillers.  Writer Joe's friend Sandy said, "Hey, I asked my book club to read your book.  Would you come to the meeting after we've read it as a guest?"  Writer Joe was terribly flattered and he eagerly agreed.  He asked Sandy, "How many people are in the club?" and Sandy said, "Oh about ten people.  You know Jane, Joan, Cindy, Darla, Rose, Sophie, Bob and Tim, right?  They're in it."  Writer Joe was thrilled!  He couldn't wait for the meeting.  Then in the month before the meeting, Writer Joe stalked himself on Amazon and Goodreads and one by one, the bad reviews appeared:  Jane - 2 stars; Joan - 2 stars; Cindy - 2 stars; Darla - 2 stars; Rose - 3 stars but in the review she rounded it down to 2.5.  The list goes on.  Now just about every person in the book club has given Writer Joe bad reviews, and Sandy, who invited him, hasn't said anything one way or the other about how she feels.  So Writer Joe doesn't even know if the person who invited him liked it!  Writer Joe doesn't think that anything good can come of him going to a meeting where at least 8 out of the 10 people there hated his book.  And I do mean HATED it.  Worst case:  Writer Joe is going to his own roast, but none of it will be in good fun.  Best case:  no one there will be comfortable telling Writer Joe how much they abhor his book to his face so they'll either say nothing or lie--and Writer Joe will know they're lying cause he's read all their shitty reviews online already.  Being a crime thriller writer, Writer Joe began to wonder if said book club was actually planning to kill and dismember him and dispose of his body parts in a Taco Bell dumpster.  Writer Joe tried feeling Sandy out about the situation.  Sandy assured him it would be fine, but still said nothing about whether she had even enjoyed the book.  Ultimately, Writer Joe declined this book club invitation.  And he lived to see another day.

Now I've had two book club invites from people who told me they loved the book.  What I've asked is that at some point close in time to the meeting, for the person who invited me to feel the members out.  I really don't want to go unless there is at least a 50/50 split--half hated it and half loved it.  This will give us something to talk about!  Because quite frankly, I don't want to end up in the Taco Bell dumpster.  The first invitation I ended up having to bail on because it was the evening before my wedding anniversary, and as many of you know, that is on Valentine's Day.  Try getting a decent reservation on Valentine's Day!  Forget it.  So the husband planned something grand on the evening before (without checking the calendar.  You know, moms and wives have those community calendars for a reason . . . but whatever) so I couldn't very well tell the hubs sorry, I've got a book club meeting.  Had to choose the hubs over the book.  This was wise.

But then a friend I went to grade school with contacted me about a friend of hers whose book club was reading it and asked if I'd attend.  I said sure, I'd love to.  She said they read all kinds of books, thrillers included.  She felt them out in the month beforehand and it appeared that the majority of the members liked it.

As it turned out, going to that book club meeting was one of the best nights of my life.  Yes, my life.  Like birth of my child, wedding, day I met my hubs, day my books came out, day I signed my contracts, college graduations, day I got my black belt, Bouchercon 2012, night I went to awesome book club meeting--this kind of night.  Of course I got lucky because all of the members gave me a 4 or 5 star rating.  They didn't know I was coming so they had all given their ratings before I got there.  That way none of them could lie to my face about what they'd given it or they'd get called out, and believe me, these were the kind of no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is kind of ladies who would call their fellow members out.  Which I loved.

Anyway, was it so awesome because I got to hear how great my book was for 3 hours?  Well, yeah, but it was more than that.  They had questions.  They had criticisms.  They had theories.  Here were people who were really, truly, deeply, passionately interested in the very thing I'd spent almost a decade of my life laboring over.  To get to talk about the story that has consumed all of my days and nights for nearly ten years with people who actually gave a crap about it--this was the most amazing feeling.  They had taken in every detail.  They had really thought about the book.  Also they were extremely candid about what they liked and what they didn't like--what they thought was brilliant and what they thought was total bullshit.  They told me where I succeeded and where I failed in the book, and you know what?  It was incredible.  Sure, I needed a vat of butter to grease my giant head up so I could get it through my front door when I got home, but it was also very constructive.  I learned a lot about what I did right and what I did wrong.  Stuff I can actually use next time around.  These ladies were intelligent, discerning readers.  All of them were funny, witty, warm and down-to-earth and they all had the same sense of humor that I do.  It was a match made in heaven.

In fact, when we took this photo of all of us, instead of "Cheese!", they yelled out the name of the bad guy in my book.  It was hilarious.

So to close this dreadfully long post, I invite you to tell me:  what are your thoughts about book clubs?  Any experience with them?  What would you do in Writer Joe's situation?


  1. Wow, I'm glad you had such a great time with that book club. Maybe they'll have you back for an 'Aberration' party! As for Writer Joe, that's a tough call. You don't want to be uncomfortable, or make people feel uncomfortable by being there, yet that could have been a valuable experience for him (unless, of course, they really were planning on leaving him in the Taco Bell dumpster).

    Don't sweat the long post--I, for one, like them.

  2. What an awesome experience! I think I might be a little intimidated to walk into a room full of readers, too, not knowing if they liked it or not. Could you imagine having to defend yourself for an hour as a writer? But of course they liked it. It's a great read, even for snobbish book types who love literary, life-changing, Pulitzer prize winning tomes. *ahem* :)

  3. I've never been to one or asked to attend. I don't believe there are many for science fiction. Glad your experience turned out good though.

  4. Lisa Regan. You under-estimate yourself and your tomes. I read "Claire" and loved it. You have an amazing talent and that book speaks on more than just the entertainment level. You should go everywhere they want you with pride!

  5. Oh how fun! I loved that they yelled out the name. Very cute picture. :)

    I've never been involved with a book club but I'm glad you had such a good experience.

  6. Wow. Very interesting post!

    I'm glad you had such a good time. :)

  7. I think writer Joe was smart! And I love the Taco Bell joke. From now on, every time I get a bad review, I'll think of a Taco Bell dumpster and laugh. :)

    I'm glad you had such a great experience, and were able to learn from it, too!


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