Thursday, November 3, 2011

Throw a book club blast!!!


In the early months of planning, especially in clubs that choose topics month to month or quarter to quarter, there’s an opportunity to slate a guest speaker or activity that will stimulate conversation and really make a book memorable.
West Brook Crossing in Shrewsbury, an over-55 community, has an active book club. Members invited all of the residents to meet author John O’Toole of Worcester when he visited on Oct. 4. O’Toole is the author of “Tornado!” (about the disastrous Worcester tornado in 1953) and “Return to Zion,” a novel of the American Revolution. Club members were surprised when 40 guests—“even some of the men”—showed up. Member Janette Comeau made it a point to contact all of the residents, not just club members, and served coffee and refreshments. “Everyone was very, very pleased,” she said. “It was supposed to end at 11, but everyone stayed after to ask questions.” They were still doing so at Noon, she said.
With such a large group, the event was held in their community club house. “He was very pleased,” she said. “He couldn’t believe how many came.” Several members brought O’Toole books they already owned and he signed them.
Grub Street, the writers’ center in Boston, recently posted writer Nichole Bernier’s recommendations for a “book party.” Bernier gave me permission to refer to that information here. “Our book parties are such fun,” she said; “everyone loves to share a glass of wine with the author.”
A Massachusetts resident, Bernier (www.nicholebernier.com) becomes a published author in June, when Crown/Random House releases her novel, “The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.” But she’s already a professional, having written extensively for Condé Nast’s Traveler magazine and magazines such as Elle, Self and Boston. Her writing is also on Beyond the Margins, a literary blog by 12 writers (http://beyondthemargins.com). As a reader, she too enjoys book parties: “I’m a geek about connecting people with new writers, and I love talking books,” she said.
Vermont author Chris Bohjalian (“The Night Strangers” is his latest) has already mentioned in this column that authors enjoy feedback from book clubs. Like many popular authors, though, he has only so much time to devote to readers, dividing it between Skype and actual visits. Your club might be better served—and equally interested—by a newer, local or regional author. You may know some already; if not, contact Grub Street (www.grubstreet.org) or your local librarian for recommendations. You can also sometimes find this information on publishers’ websites and at the back of a book. Sisters in Crime, representing New England crime writers has a very active visiting schedule among its members, all mystery writers (www.sincne.org).

Meanwhile, here are some tips, along with a synopsis of what Bernier has to say about throwing a great book party.
** Teens are avid readers of Young Adult books, and you might be surprised how many children of members and friends of your club will sign up to meet a “real, live author.” E-mail, spread the word, maybe get the library involved. Younger children have their favorites as well. First line up the appropriate authors for age level, she says. And plan to serve refreshments. Let the writers bring books to sell (or order them through a local bookstore and re-sell them on the spot, autographed). “There were about 45 children sitting on my living room floor,” Bernier said. “The kids were thrilled … and they asked smart questions.” The three YA writers at Bernier’s party, by the way, were pleased at total sales of more than 100 books that night.
** To get a very willing author, plan your adult book party around the release of a novel if possible. Guests help celebrate the event, meet the author, and buy a signed copy. But any author, new release or not, is glad to talk about what’s gone into the books they’ve written.
** Invite more folks than you can fit readily, and bring in folding chairs. The more the merrier, she says, and conversation gets far more lively.
** She found independent bookstores very helpful. In one case, Wellesley Books not only provided books but stayed to sell them. “They have gotten us books that are no longer on shelves, and even some titles that aren’t widely available from smaller presses. And they take away the extras for you.” If you can’t do that, try assigning a member to re-sell books you’ve preordered.
** As any good book club member knows, food matters. The best cook in my home club provides the treats for Lancaster’s “Off-Track Bookies” (because the conversation veers widely). What you serve depends on the nature of your members. Appetizers, crisp veggies, sweets are all good. You can keep it simple, and folks will be happy. “Mostly they want to mingle, listen and talk, and would just as soon have their hands free,” Bernier said. She recommends wine and bite-size munchies.
** You can e-mail or mail invitations. Visual reminders do help. Bernier has them made up through an online printer and copies the author’s photo, a book cover image, and a short description of the book or an excerpt.
** To sell books, you’ll need a coffee table, kitchen table or rented oblong table. Think of the author’s comfort in signing books.
** Bernier also recommends a podium or black metal music stand for the author to use in reading aloud. Most guests will read for about 10 minutes, then take questions. Plan on 90 minutes minimum for your event.
** Let your kids greet guests and take coats, or pass snacks. It’s a good chance for them to experience writers as real people, not just photos on book jackets.
** Extend an invitation to any author your members will enjoy, not just someone who has “just published.” Massachusetts is rich with writers, and they like nothing more than talking about what they’ve written.
“The beauty of book parties is that they exist outside of the trendiness and timeliness of shelf life,” Bernier said.
Just ask!

Ann Connery Frantz, journalist, fiction writer and avid reader, participates in several Lancaster area writers’ groups through Thayer Memorial Library. Her short story, “Samaritan,” won the 2010 Dr. Neila Seshachari Award for best fiction published during 2009 in Weber: The Contemporary West. Send questions, comments or club info to ann.frantz@gmail.com

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