Book groups are a boon to writers—so they’ll visit when they can.
They say book clubs give important feedback and inspiration. Just as importantly, they like talking about books with readers, and book groups provide a vital critical eye. I contacted a few writers, and here’s what they had to say:
Author Ann Packer, (“The Dive from Clausen’s Pier,” “Songs Without Words,” “Swim Back to Me”) says a great book group experience springs from the interaction. “What works best will vary from author to author and group to group. I’ve had great experiences when the group has assembled on its own first, so the members can have their customary book group discussion without the pressure of having the author there. They can also use this time to think about what questions they want to ask to get the ball rolling … it can be like an interview or a conversation, whatever the chemistry dictates.”
Concord resident Kate Flora, whose non-fiction, “Finding Amy” was nominated for the prestigious Edgar Award, has also written two series, based on characters Thea Kozak and Joe Burgess—the next Burgess, “Redemption,” comes out in February. She loves book groups. “Unlike library or bookstore talks, I get a chance for a deeper discussion of the book. It gives me insights I might not otherwise get into what readers are seeing and wondering about. Sometimes, they’re surprising.” Request a visit at www.kateflora.com. When inviting writers, be supportive of them, she reminds: “It is critical, since these events do take time, that the club members commit to buying the book. Selling books, after all, is what keeps us alive and readers often don't understand that. Readers sometimes don't understand that a writer is not flattered by a group that proudly announces they've bought three copies of the book and passed them around.”
Hallie Ephron, a Boston Globe columnist and author of several suspense novels (“Never Tell a Lie,” “Come and Find Me”), says “I know I’m speaking for most authors when I say we would love to hear from you. All they have to do is email me.” (http://hallieephron.com/events/.) “I confess I love talking with book groups in person. There’s usually wonderful food!” When the group isn’t close enough to her Massachusetts home, she has used both Skype and Gmail video conferencing. They work great, she says. “I’d love to do more. It’s one of the best ways to meet readers. With fewer and fewer independent bookstores to host events, and publishers being very careful about how they spend their promotional dollars, speaking with book groups is a no-brainer. It's a win win win.”
Romantic comedy writer M. Kate Quinn (“Summer Iris,” “Moonlight & Violet”) can be reached at www.mkatequinn.blogspot.com. “To me, it’s like giving back to those who’ve taken the time to buy and read my work. I love their questions about the book, their interest, their hopes for future works. I get great ideas ...” She’s offering a book group visit through a random drawing among groups that submit a request on her website (www.mkatequinn.com) and she’ll bring an Italian dinner along as a treat. These people have way too much fun!
Quinn suggests that club members prepare by, of course, reading the book. Also, “it would be great if they had a little preliminary discussion as to what they’d like to hear from me. For example, do they want to know if the story stops there, or if there’s a planned sequel, do they agree with the protagonist’s decisions, the antagonist’s? What’s helpful to me is learning how the reader relates. In each circumstance where I’ve visited… I took away valuable insight as to why my stories resonate with people. That’s gold!”
Author Chris Bohjalian allows a free 20-minute conference via speakerphone. Or, groups can read interviews about his 13 books at www.chrisbohjalian.com. His books include “Midwives,” “Before You Know Kindness” and the upcoming “The Night Strangers.” “I speak to book clubs all the time via speakerphone or Skype,” he said. “I average three or four … a week, and have been doing this since 2000.” He limits personal visits. “I only visit book groups in person when the group is the highest bidder in a non-profit fundraising auction.” (Close to his Burlington, Vt. Home, the opening bid is $500.)
Bohjalian relishes book group interaction. “It isn’t work to talk about books,” he said. “It wasn’t all that long ago that my books sold briskly, but only among people related to me by blood. I try never to lose sight of that reality. Consequently, I will communicate with readers in virtually any fashion they like.”
The popularity and variety of book groups proves serious reading is not dying out, he says. He once attended a book group made up of judges debating the merits of a trial involving his lead character in “Midwives.” (See www.chrisbohjalian.com/whyreadinggroups.html)
He shares one tip for the groups: “Make sure the technology—speakerphone or Skype—is working ahead of time. Few book groups do. The result is a lot of wasted time when we could be discussing books.”
So don’t miss out on a great opportunity to add dimension to your reads in this way.