May. 6, 2013

Discussion Etiquette #101

Inviting an author to your book club meeting to discuss their work is a great way for authors to get their work in front of groups and for book club members  to meet and show support for an author.  The Reading Divas have held several such meetings over the years and I thought we did a pretty good job until recently, when an author friend shared that he sometimes feels unsure of what is expected of him when he is invited to a book club chat.  My immediate reacton was to tell him he should simply ask for direction from the club.  He responded that he had asked, but answers were often vague and not very helpful.

Was he describing me?  Was I guilty of assuming that just because an author wrote a book and a book club read it, that they would automatically know how to facilitate a great discussion?  So, off I went to research and put together tips to ensure that when we held future discussions, they would be exciting, informative, and stress free for both the writer and the reader.


Getting Started

Before you extend an invitation to an author to visit, advise the book club members of your intention and ask for their support.

When you approach an author to invite them to attend your book club meeting, whether they will attend in person or by phone or Skype, be prepared to give them the date, time and place of the meeting and how many members will attend.

  • Share the title of the book the group will read and focus their questions on.
  • Be open to negotiate if the author responds "I can't be there at 5 but I can arrive by 6", or "I already have a 7:30 engagement, so I must leave by 7:00".
  • If it's an in-person discussion, share whether or not a meal or other refreshments will be served, and invite the author to participate.  It's acceptable to start the discussion during the meal if that's what you usually do.

Once you reach an agreement - discuss the meeting flow and share your expectations.

  • For example, you might state that you would like the author to begin their remarks by sharing a little personal information, talk about their genre and the book, and then open the floor for questions from the group.
  • If the author has a new book, you might ask if they will read a short passage at the close of the discussion.
  • Agree on the author's arrival and departure times and how much time they will have to speak.
  • Ask if they will bring books to display and sell, and if so - let them know you will provide a small table.
  • Make a note to reconfirm with the author a week before the meeting.
  • During this follow-up call (or email) be sure to provide your phone number in case of an emergency, as well as the address and directions to the meeting place.

Alert the club members!

  • Once the author has confirmed, members who will participate, MUST purchase and READ the author's book.  Whether they purchase the print or Ereader version, buying and reading the author's book is the polite thing to do to show support to both the author and the club.
  • If the author will bring books to sell, tell the members so they will have cash with them to make purchases.
  • Authors rarely ask to be paid to attend a small book club meeting, but would appreciate a small gift or honorarium.  Take this from your treasury or ask each member to donate $5 to $10.
  • If you have a small group, invite others to attend!  An author once told me, that when she arrives at a book club meeting and the house is packed (especially when she has traveled outside her immediate area) it makes her feel that the readers really appreciate her, her writing, and her time.
  • Authors and readers have busy schedules, so:
    • Hold your business meeting prior to the author's arrival or after their departure - the author should not be expected to sit and wait while business is conducted.
    • Advise the members of the time line you and the author have agreed on so they can plan their time accordingly.


  • One club member MUST be designated the Facilitator/Moderator to ensure the meeting runs smoothly.  If the meeting hostess will be busy serving refreshments, etc., she might not be the best choice.
  • It is not appropriate to use the discussion questions at the end of the book during this meeting; these questions are designed to spark a group discussion when the author is NOT present.
  • Instead, ask club members to prepare one or two questions to ask the author, either about the author personally or about the book.
  • Consider discussing the book prior to the author's arrival to share initial reactions, read the author's bio and refine your questions.  This will save time once the meeting begins.
  • To begin the discussion, the facilitator should introduce the author and the book.  Share a few tidbits from the author's bio, say something positive about the book (even if the group doesn't love the book), and ask the members and other attendees to introduce themselves.  The facilitator is now ready to turn the floor over to the author until Q&A begins.
  • When Q&A begins, questions can be directed to the author by the faciilitator, but the meeting will be more engaging if everyone participates by asking questions in turn.  Do not allow any one person to monopolize the discussion.
  • The faciliator should keep track of the time and gracefully bring the discussion to an end to allow time for the author to sell and/or sign books and depart at the agreed upon time.
  • At the end of the discussion, thank the author and give them any gift or honorarium you have for them.


Questions should be designed to "get at the heart" of the book not "pick it apart".

Sample Quesions:

  • What inspired you to write this book?
  • How did you come up with the title?
  • Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
  • Is any part of the book based on you, people you know, or places or events in your own life?
  • How long did your book take to write?
  • What book are you reading now?
  • Do you see writing as a full time career?
  • Can you share a little of your current work with us?
  • What was the hardest part of writing your book?
  • What were the challenges you experienced bringing it to life?
  • Who is your favorite author?
  • What inspires you to write?
  • Do you write in more than one genre?
  • How was your cover designed  Did you contribute?
  • If you could go back and change one thing in the book, what would it be?
  • Who was your favorite character and why?

Don't be afraid to respectfully dig a little deeper:

  • When I read the title, I thought the book was about ___________ but instead it was about ___________.  Why did you choose this title?
  • When I looked at the cover, I thought your genre was erotica but once I began reading, I was pleasantly surprized to discover it was a suspense novel (love story, sci fi, etc.).  Why did you choose that particular cover?
  • People often question whether white writers can really capture the black experience.  Your writing seemed to be colorblind - why did you decide to write "outside your race?"

None of this is etched in stone - but if your club has been handling invitations and dsicussions in a "willy-nlly" manner, use this as a guide to "take charge" to make your future author visits special events for both your club and the author.

Sharon Lucas

April 12, 2013