Jill Santopolo on Lessons Learned from Other Genres

No literary genre is an island. Even if there is one genre you usually read, odds are, it has more in common with other kinds of stories than you might think. No one knows this better than Jill Santopolo, whose latest novel The Light We Lost draws on her experiences writing and editing across a number of genres. Here, she tells readers about the lessons she’s learned from her genre-spanning career.

Before I started writing The Light We Lost, I spent ten years editing children’s and young adult novels across many different genres. I’m still doing that, and I love it. I love being able to work on mysteries and paranormal romance and fantasy and historical fiction and contemporary novels because I can look at what one author has done really well in one genre, and see how it might apply to what another author is writing in another genre. I can give tips to a mystery writer about narrative tension from editing a romance novel, I can give tips to a historical fiction writer about world building from editing a fantasy novel. I love being able to do that, finding pieces of the writing craft that crossover from genre to genre.

So when, a few years ago, my boss, the publisher of a children’s book imprint, asked me to read E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey to see if there was anything that she did that we might learn from and share with the young adult novelists we were working with, it made perfect sense to me. And I did come up with some things that I thought might be useful—some that I also ended up applying to my own writing of The Light We Lost. And when I did so, it got me thinking: What have I learned as a children’s book editor that could make my adult writing stronger? While young adult novels aren’t a genre, they do have some similarities as far as craft is concerned—and they’re elements of craft that I thought might my make my own novel stronger.

Pacing
One of the things I keep in mind when I’m editing children’s books is that books are competing for kids’ attention with sports, video games, apps, homework, play dates… basically everything. The goal with any children’s book is to keep the pace of the story moving so quickly that there isn’t any place that feels natural to pause, nowhere to put the book down and go do something else instead. We want those kids to fall asleep with their books on top of their blankets. And one of the ways to make that happen is to pay special attention to pacing. When I started writing The Light We Lost, I kept that in mind. I wanted my readers to get so wrapped up in the momentum of the story that they fell asleep with it on their blankets as well.

Love Triangles
I’ve edited more than one teen romance with a love triangle at its center, and, as an adjunct professor at The New School, have worked with students who are writing books with love triangles in them, too. The “who will s/he choose” and “who would I choose” is something that seems to connect readers deeply to the characters whose stories they’re reading—think about Bella, Edward, and Jacob from Twilight. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale from The Hunger Games. Calla, Ren and Shay from Nightshade. The trick, I think, is creating two characters who are potentially a good match for the main character because they fulfill different needs that the character has. Then the reader—and the character—get to choose which of those needs is more important. Making that decision along with the main character is a way to connect the reader to the story, and that’s always my goal—to make that connection.

Short Chapters
The Light We Lost is written in vignette form, none of which is more than a handful of pages long. This is something else I look for when I edit books for children and teens. It’s easy to read “just one more,” when the next chapter is only a couple of pages long. This ties in with pacing, but is slightly different because it’s not just the idea of keeping the action moving, but it’s the idea of making each scene as tight and taut as possible.

No Extra Words
When I’m line-editing novels for kids and teens, I often circle words or sentences or whole paragraphs and write “needed?” next to them in the margin. I tried to do the same thing with The Light We Lost. The book’s not all that long, and every word that’s in there feels, to me, like it’s absolutely necessary. I hope readers feel the same way.

There’s that old writing mantra: Write what you know. And then there’s the addendum: Write it slant. For the past 15 years I’ve known children’s books. But with The Light We Lost, I took what I learned and I wrote it slant.

Jill Santopolo received a BA in English literature from Columbia University and an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s the author of three successful children’s and young-adult series and works as the editorial director of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers group. An adjunct professor in The New School’s MFA program, Jill travels the world to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City.

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From Goth Girl to Gone Girl: Unreliable Narrators in Literature

Where do you turn when you can’t trust your own mind? In The Widow’s House, a couple moves into a deteriorating estate in the Hudson Valley, hoping to revitalize their marriage and careers. However, shortly after moving in, the wife, Clare, begins having visions of strangers walking their property and she starts to hear wailing. Could the house be haunted, or is it all in Clare’s mind? Author Carol Goodman took inspiration from gothic novels when crafting this thrilling tale, and here she shares how unreliable gothic narrators are still influencing characters and novels today.

Reader, beware: spoilers ahead.

Unreliable narrators are all the rage, from the prevaricating Amy in Gone Girl to the inebriated Rachel in The Girl on the Train to the semi-amnesiac Leonora in Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood. When these women aren’t flat-out lying, their versions of the truth are compromised by alcohol, trauma, or just a very vivid imagination. Why are we so drawn to these alt-truthers? Is it something about our particular times? Or has the unreliable woman always been with us?

It’s tempting to look to gothic literature for answers. Our modern imperiled (or seemingly imperiled) female protagonists calls to mind the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and her heirs. From Emily St. Aubert, the heroine of Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, who is kept prisoner in an Italian castle, to the narrator of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper who is confined to a room with bad interior decorating, these women have to sort out the mysteries of their situations to find the truth. Jane Eyre has to find out who’s in the attic. The second Mrs. de Winter has to figure out what happened to her predecessor, Rebecca.

Trapped in a duplicitous world, is it any wonder that they retreat into their own versions of reality? Jane Eyre admits to opening “my inward ear to a tale that never ended—a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously.” The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper begins to see figures in the walls. The second Mrs. de Winter is so insecure (maybe because she doesn’t get a name!) she believes Mrs. Danvers’ version of the truth and misreads her husband’s feelings about his dead wife.

The modern psychological thriller is filled with such perversions of reality. Rachel in The Girl on the Train gives into her husband’s version of her drunken behavior because “After a while … you don’t ask what happened, you just say you’re sorry.” The narrator of Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, doubts her own perceptions after hearing someone thrown overboard in the night: “Maybe he’s right, the nasty little voice in my head whispered.” Only Amy in Gone Girl is impervious to doubt, and that makes her (spoiler alert) the most unreliable narrator of the unreliables—a woman who has turned the tables on the gaslighting male to create her own truth.

So why are we drawn to the unreliable narrator? Because the world is harder and harder to parse these days and we need to see how it’s done? Because we need a reminder to see past dissimulation and seek the truth? Whatever the reason, the gothic tradition with its unreliable narrator is likely here to stay. “A truism of critical commentary,” writes critical commentator Patricia Murphy, “holds that the gothic emerges in literature during times of cultural anxiety.” Welcome to the new goth.

Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of fourteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.

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Lori Rader-Day on the “Right” Research to Do Before Writing

“Write what you know” is common advice for writers, but what about times when you want to learn and write about something new? Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died has done her fair share of writing outside of her own lived experiences, and here, she shares some advice about her research process. Whether you’re researching your own project, or just fascinated to know how books come together, we think you’ll find her advice illuminating.

For my new novel, The Day I Died, I wrote about a handwriting expert who gets embroiled in a small town murder/kidnapping case that’s bound to unravel her life, which has been lived in basic obscurity on the run with her son for thirteen years.

What people want to know about all that: Do I know how to analyze handwriting?

I’m reminded of the writerly adage where readers will skewer you for any tidbit of your nonfiction that smacks of lying but pick apart any fiction for a hint of real life—finding accusation with anything made up but then refusing to believe that anything made up can be entirely fictive. There’s a line there, and readers want to find it.

Me? I’m a make-it-up fiction writer who, yes, sneaks bits of my real life—and yours, if you sit still too long—into my work.

I’m no handwriting expert. I have also not raised a kid or lived on the run for thirteen years. For the handwriting expertise used in my novel, I did what all writers do at least a bit: I researched it.

Though there are a couple of ways I could have gone with the research for this novel, here’s what I did: I read a book. Specifically Sex, Lies, and Handwriting by Michelle Dresbold with Jack Kwalwasser. This book didn’t just provide the basis for any expertise I gave my character; it launched the entire premise of the novel. Back in 2007, I saw the book on a library shelf and thought: Hmm. There’s something I know nothing about.

And then I wrote the book anyway. That is the beauty of research. I don’t have to write what I know. I can write what I absolutely don’t know.

For instance, in my first novel, The Black Hour, I wrote about a university campus, something I knew a lot about, since I worked on one every day. But I wrote about it from the perspective of a sociology professor, while I was an administrator with absolutely no pedigree in the subject. What does a Sociology 101 professor say on that first day back in front of students, still recovering from an attack by a student she didn’t know and a little gun-shy? I didn’t know. I bought a textbook, and I studied up.

In my second novel, Little Pretty Things, I wrote about a motel housekeeper, once a promising high school long-distance runner and now stuck in life and hoarding secrets. I borrowed the town I’d grown up in—and a couple of hotels I’d had the pleasure of never sleeping in—but what I didn’t know was what it was like to be a high school track star. Runner’s high? Never heard of it. To get part that right, I had a friend of mine, a former high school long-distance runner, read the book and give me feedback.

I could have taken up running, sure. I could have done a PhD in sociology, too. How many lives do we get to live, though? I don’t have time to get a PhD in everything I want to write about and, if you want to read the books, neither do you. Plus, I’m rather impatient. I don’t read instruction manuals. Give me the headlines.

For The Day I Died, I spent only a little time on handwriting analysis, getting a general feel for how someone on that profession would notice and judge samples that appeared to her professionally and in daily life. What I cared more about was the protagonist’s relationship to her son, the protagonist’s relationship to her past, the protagonist’s ability to save herself and to let others save her. The research I did after the manuscript was complete had more to do with how a small town Indiana sheriff’s office functions. For that, I found an another expert to give me feedback.

Even as I write this, I’m starting to see where getting an expert read is my fallback. Does it seem like cheating? The truth is that I often don’t know what questions to ask an expert before I start writing. What I’m looking for from an expert reading my draft isn’t just error but missed opportunity—things I wouldn’t even know to ask about.

So what kind of research is the “right” kind? Anything that works, anything that thrills you, that keeps you writing, that keeps readers turning the pages. Anything that gives you the detail and texture of a life you haven’t lived, so that we all can.

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Day I Died, The Black Hour, and Little Pretty Things, is the recipient of the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and is the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter.

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What Men Can Learn From Romance Novels

Good books are for everyone, regardless of genre. In fact, some of the most enlightening and exhilarating reading experiences can come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Julie Ann Walker, author of Wild Ride is definitely on our wavelength. Here, Walker writes about what men who read romance novels know. Men who avoid the genre you assume it isn’t for you: You could be missing out on something great!

They say romance novels are written by women, for women. While that’s true, while the books most often feature female protagonists, cover issues women are interested in, and celebrate women’s sexuality, that doesn’t mean men shouldn’t be picking them up and reading them cover-to-cover. Why? Firstly, because so many of them are darn entertaining reads. Secondly, because romance novels are windows into women’s wants and desires. Discerning gentlemen can use them as guidebooks for how to be a better partner.

And what will they learn in these “guidebooks”, you ask? Read on!

It’s the little things
So often men fall for the fallacy that what women need are wide, sweeping gestures to make them happy, like skywriting marriage proposals by biplane, trips to exotic lands, and candlelight dinners that cost more than a month’s rent. But the truth (and what most good romance novels show) is it’s the small, everyday things that women really appreciate. A man who takes out the trash without being asked, brews the coffee so it’s waiting for her when she gets up, and volunteers to walk the dog so she can take a long, lazy bath is a god. (And just FYI, men who do these things are often invited to join their lady in the bath when they get back from walking the dog. *wink, wink*)

It’s the big things, too
But what if a man wants to bring tears to his lady’s eyes with a sweeping romantic gesture? Whether it’s Kyle Rhodes renting out the top floor of the restaurant where he first saw Rylann Pierce “nine years ago on this very day” in Julie James’ About That Night or Ian Eversea using every last dime he’d saved to buy Tansy Danforth her childhood home in Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, romance novels are chock-a-block full of inspiration for grand gestures.  

The difference between being an arrogant a-hole and a charismatic, confident man
Yes, it’s true. We women love a self-assured man. But there’s a difference between confidence and egotism, between tenacity and imperiousness. Good romance novels show the way to toe that line.

How to approach a woman
Forget the pickup lines. Pick up a romance if you want to learn some techniques for getting a woman to notice you. From Cole Langston standing up for a harried counter-girl in Marie Force’s Everyone Loves a Hero to Dean Robillard pulling over to give a woman in a beaver costume a ride in Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, some of the most amazing meet-cutes can be found between the covers of romance novels. Read, relate, repeat, gents.

The dos and don’ts of bedroom etiquette
Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about what women like and don’t like, from how to kiss, how to unhook a bra, how to talk dirty, and far, far more can be found in a good romance novel. Want to be stellar in the boudoir? Pick up a romance novel and take notes.

Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of award-winning romantic suspense. She has won the Book Buyers Best Award, been nominated for the National Readers Choice Award, the Bookseller’s Best Award, the Australian Romance Reader Awards, and the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award. Her books have been described as “alpha, edgy, and downright hot.” Most days you can find Julie on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission.

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There is something incredibly relaxing about sitting down with a book and enjoying a nice cold beer. The only thing better would be actually sitting down for a drink with the author who wrote it, or maybe even your favorite character. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we asked nine writers to share with us their ideal literary drinking buddy. Let us know in the comments which author or character you’d want to cheers with this year!

Pia Z. Ehrhardt, author of Famous Fathers and Other Stories
Drinking Buddy: Rosie Schaap

“I’d like to drink Manhattans—no more and no fewer than two—in Manhattan with Rosie, because she wrote a memoir about drinking by herself in bars, something I can’t make myself do. Because while I sit there, where do I look? At my phone? At the book I brought in as company? Why do I need a prop? I’ve always wanted to tend bar, fix drinks, look in on the drinkers. And I’ve always wanted to be a regular, to belong. Rosie is at ease on both sides of the rail. I’d like to sip my Maker’s Manhattan, rocks, and talk to her about the difference between being lonely and being alone.”

Aubrey Hirsch, author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar
Drinking Buddy: 
Ford Prefect

“Of all the literary characters I’ve come across, the one I’d most like to have a pint with is Ford Prefect from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. He combines charming curiosity about Earth customs with gritty wisdom that comes from traveling the universe on his Electronic Thumb. He’s smart, funny, cares deeply for his friends and, most importantly, he always knows where his towel is. A nice, muscle-relaxing beer is the perfect beverage to share with Ford, since you never know when you might need to hop aboard a Vogon ship to avoid being destroyed in service of a new hyperspace bypass.”

Sherrie Flick, author of Whiskey, Etc. Short (Short) Stories
&
Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door
Drinking Buddy: 
James Baldwin

“We’d meet in a crowded bar, a slouching jazz band playing softly in the corner. He’d say, ‘I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.’ I’ve heard James Baldwin liked to drink whiskey. I like to drink whiskey, too. But that isn’t why he’s the author I’d like to have a drink with right now. He’d say, ‘The truth which frees black people will also free white people, but this is a truth which white people find very difficult to swallow.’”—Sherrie Flick

“I’m always in awe of James Baldwin’s ability to be incisive, compressed, and nuanced—all at once. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what keeps certain people away from political expression, and I think it comes out of the worry that they have to reproduce a kind of received language, and they’re not going to get it right, not going to sound like they wholly believe it. Can you blame them? Baldwin is a great guide for finding a political voice that’s organic and self-attuned, which is important not just for talking to others but for keeping ourselves awake and evolving. Just to sit across the table from that mind! And those famous pictures of him with Nina Simone! You just know that this was a person of mischief, high spirits, and fun. Maybe unpredictable but so alive and smart and worth every minute.” —Paul Lisicky

Claudia Zuluaga, author of Fort Starlight
Drinking Buddy: 
Mary Lennox

“In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox arrives at Misselthwaite Manor rude and sour, ten years old, never having known cold weather or love or kindness. When she finds both, she blossoms. I want to sit with the adult Mary Lennox in a cozy bar, neither of us pressed for time. I’ll tell her I admire her strength, how, having known nothing but loneliness and despair, she was able to open herself up to growth and possibility and to help heal others. We will drink enough that I will ask her if it’s still part of her, that smoke-colored emptiness of those first ten years, if the pain hides inside of her like an inactive, dangerous virus, the way it does in me.”

Sarah Yaw, author of You Are Free To Go
Drinking Buddy: 
Colette

“A sidewalk table in Colette’s French sun. Time is relative. We drink champagne.

‘What do you need?’ she asks.

‘A psychic told me you helped with my first book.’

She squints old eyes. Won’t confirm or deny anything.

‘I saw myself in My Mother’s House and Sido,’ I say. ‘The home, the gardens. The animals. We had a red Dodge named the Diplodocus.’

‘Diplodocus was the name of our cat,’ she says.

There’s a hundred years between us and one of us is dead, yet we both nod at the coincidence.

‘I became a writer because I saw my life in that book. I always had the weird feeling the psychic was right. You were there. Were you?’

Colette’s distracted by a bird hopping in the branches of a tree. She was a girl who read Zola hidden in tree branches. She was a mime. I think she nods but I can’t be sure.

‘I’m writing another one.’

‘I know,’ she says. Sweat beads on her lip. Is sweat uncomfortable for the dead? She drains the champagne flute, calls the garçon. ‘I miss champagne,’ she says.”

Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The House on Primrose Pond 
Drinking Buddy: 
Francie Nolan

“My St. Patrick’s Day drink would be with Francie Nolan, the protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I must have read this novel 20 times in my youth, and Francie became a beloved friend, a kindred spirit. Though the book was set in a time decades before my own, the Brooklyn depicted in its pages—a provincial, sleepy backwater, like a perpetual Sunday afternoon in August—felt so familiar. Yet Francie assumed an ownership of this place that I too had felt—we were two Brooklyn girls walking those somnolent streets, urban sisters under the skin. And she adored her father despite—or perhaps because of—his faults. I too had a charming but feckless father, so this was yet another reason to love her.”

Bill Roorbach, author of The Remedy for Love
Drinking Buddy: 
Lady Brett Ashley

“I would like to have a drink with Lady Brett Ashley, or probably six drinks, four bottles of wine, and an aperitif or two. I fell in love with her reading The Sun Also Rises in one sitting in college, while I sat on the steps of the student union. I still haven’t gotten over her. Yes, I have grown more sophisticated since, and I know that Ernest Hemingway has fallen out of favor for his bluster and misogyny and boozy, insecure caricature of manhood. But I know Lady Brett would like me. And I just want to hear her say ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’ right before we walk off together, and leave Jake on the steps. Poor Jake.”

Ron Currie, author of The One-Eyed Man
Drinking Buddy: 
Andre Dubus

“In late summer 1998, I took a bus from Rhode Island to Maine. I was, at 23, trying to figure out how to be a writer, typing one shitty and derivative short story after another, occasionally writing a line or two with some genuine heat, but mostly just failing. I didn’t believe—because I had no reason to—that I’d ever write anything worthwhile, but I was driven by the books I read to keep trying. I’d been introduced to the short stories of Andre Dubus a couple years earlier, and had the good sense to become obsessed with them—little masterpieces of tempo and tone, his best stories seemed to reach into my chest, rip out my heart, and put it on display, still pumping, right in front of my face. Because I was obsessed with the writing, I’d also become obsessed with the man—I knew he was a hard-drinking ex-Marine, a gruff and unmistakably flawed man who had somehow managed to produce these flawless narratives. Dubus was the kind of writer I wanted to be—the imperfect man who writes perfect stories. Such are the preoccupations and enthusiasms of youth, I guess.

“Anyway, there I was on the bus, despairing of ever being able to write anything worth a shit, and I noticed that we’d just passed into Haverhill, Massachusetts. Haverhill, where Dubus had lived and taught for decades, and where he still lived now, stuck in a wheelchair after losing a leg in an accident when he stopped to help a pair of stranded motorists on the highway at night. Suddenly I had this crazy idea: I could get off at the next stop, hitchhike back to Haverhill, and just show up at Dubus’ door. I shudder to think about it now, but I imagined that Andre would welcome me in, not thinking it at all weird or intrusive for a strange young man to appear unbidden on his front porch, and we would drink whiskey and trade stories and be men. We would become the best of friends in no time, and he would recognize in me some latent genius, and upon such recognition he would offer me the two or three secrets to writing sublime fiction. And then, with regret, I would be on my way once more.

“Alas, the bus didn’t stop again for another 30 or 40 miles, and thank god—otherwise I might have actually followed through and harassed an old man who almost certainly just wanted to be left alone. Instead I went home, kept plugging away at my own stories, eventually wrote some that weren’t too bad. Dubus, though, had pretty much written everything he was going to—six months later, in early 1999, he died of a heart attack. We never met, goes without saying. I’m glad, ultimately, that I didn’t go to Dubus’ house that day. But I do regret that we never had a chance to share a drink in a different context, when I might have been a little less needy, a little less of a greedy sycophant, and I might have been able to just enjoy the company of a big-hearted man who happened to write fantastic stories.”

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It’s Women’s History Month, and we could not be more excited about it!

To celebrate, our friends at Bookish put together a collage that highlights some incredible books written by favorite female authors.

Let us know in the comments if you see (or don’t see) any of your own favorites below:

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Bookish Valentines for Your Literary Sweetheart

*Brought to you by Bookish (a NetGalley sister company)!

Can’t find the words to express your love to your bookish valentine? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are ten Valentine’s Day cards that will make the literature lover in your life swoon.

Inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey.

Inspired by Sarah Crossan‘s One.

Inspired by Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

Inspired by V.E. Schwab‘s A Gathering of Shadows.

Inspired by Beverly Jenkins’ Forbidden.

Inspired by W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues.”

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How to Start a Book Club

*Brought to you by Bookish (our sister company)!

So, you want to start a book club. Sounds easy, right? Think again. Putting together a book club is trickier than it sounds, but we’re here with some pro tips to help your literary circle thrive.


Focus on the members
One of the reasons why book clubs fail is that members don’t read the material. For your first book club, we recommend starting small and extending an invitation to two or three friends who you know are serious about diving into a new book each month. A small club also means it will be easier to coordinate schedules when it comes time to plan meetings and to find common ground when picking new titles.

Pick the right book
A bad read can be the kiss of death for a book club. Some clubs choose to set a page limit, to ensure everyone has time to read the book and to stop anyone from picking Infinite Jest (which clocks in at over 1,100 pages). Some blacklist genres that few are interested in. But we think the best thing to do is to encourage your members to make thoughtful choices and listen to the other readers. You might find a classic that no one has read, or you might learn that they’d prefer to read new books (in which case a trip to your local indie bookstore could help make the selection easier).

It should go without saying, but don’t force anyone to read a book they don’t want to. If someone takes a hard pass on a book, let them skip that month or be open to changing the selection.

Be flexible
You may want to dive in with meetings twice a month, but that can be tough to schedule if you hope to have all of your members attend. Start by getting together once every 30 days, and don’t fuss over meeting at the same time or day each month. The books and discussion are what really matters, not having a set schedule.

Accept all formats
Kelly likes hardcovers, Kirsten reads paperbacks, Elizabeth loves ebooks, and Catherine prefers library books. So what? Pick books that are easily accessible to all of your readers and let them dive into the story in the format of their choice.

Location, location, location
Bars and restaurants may seem alluring, but are often loud and can make discussions difficult. You want a place that is comfortable, quiet, and welcoming. Very often, the best location for a book club is in the home of one of the members. If that doesn’t work, try a coffee shop or even a park if the weather is nice.

Wine and dine them
Half the fun of a book club is getting to eat and drink with your friends. Whether you have everyone contribute or leave the prep to the host, ensure that each meeting has enough food and drink for everyone. And, of course, be mindful of dietary restrictions and allergies.

Discuss the book
This should go without saying, but book clubs can very quickly turn from a discussion on metaphors and foreshadowing to a catch-up session between old friends. It’s tempting to let the conversation flow organically, but it’s best to be prepared with a list of discussion questions or thought-provoking comments. Many popular book club reads have discussion questions you can find online, or you can ask each member to come up with two questions to pose to the group.

Think outside of the box
The traditional book club structure may not work for you and your group. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit. Our editor is in a book club that takes its inspiration from Tequila Mockingbird. They read a book and make the corresponding drink at their monthly meetings. Another member of the Bookish team is in a book club that assigns a theme each month (rather than a single title) and allows members to read a book that they feel fits the theme. If a standard formula works for you, go for it. If you want to try something different, don’t be afraid.

Branch out
Is an author coming to speak at your local bookstore? Take the club on a field trip! Is there a writer’s walking tour in your city? Go for a stroll! Attend library events, go to festivals, and don’t keep your club shackled to a living room.

Have we inspired you to start your own book club? Gather your friends and then browse NetGalley or our winter previews for a look at the best books out this season.

Read more articles by Bookish here!

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