How To

How to Start a Historical Fiction Book Club

So you’ve decided to start a historical fiction book club. Congratulations! Great books and conversations await — and if you’re looking to create an in-person book club, cake most likely awaits as well. But you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. A historical fiction book club, just as any other, requires at least a certain degree of planning. So where to start?

A few months ago, I started coordinating the virtual book club, The Unusual Historical Romance Book Club, founded by author Jackie Barbosa. Since then, I have learned a few things. Namely: although formats and themes may vary, historical fiction book clubs are surprisingly straight-forward. All you need are a to-do list, a few extra lists, and some time. With that said, let’s get started, shall we?

Back to Basics

Before we get down to business, you need to know the basics of running a book club.

Define Your Focus

What kind of books do you want to read? Fiction or nonfiction? Classics? Mystery? Choose your niche. Of course, your niche may simply be “the book that most of our members want to read that particular month.” But it’s important to know that going in.

Choose a Format

In-person or virtual? If the former, you’ll need to pick a venue. If the latter, you’ll need to decide how the discussions will take place. In a meeting? In a Discord channel or Facebook thread? There are pros and cons for all options, so take the time to really think about what you want your book club to be.

Who Are You Going to Invite?

This depends entirely on how big or small you want your book club to be. A small friend gathering? A club open to all library patrons? Take into consideration how much moderation you’re willing to do.

Figure Out a Book Selection Process

Will you select all books? Will the members take turns? Will there be options for members to vote on? You need to be very clear about this, and likewise make it clear for everybody who joins.

Always make sure to keep your books accessible

If a monthly selection happens to be a book that only exists in one format, it’ll make it harder or downright impossible for some members to join in the reading. For example, someone with a different type of ereader or a disabled person who can’t see a certain print book’s tiny font may have trouble gaining access to certain books. You want your club members to feel welcome, so always make sure to be inclusive.

Brainstorm Questions and Prompts

A book club is not a book club without discussion, after all. Often, people want to talk about a book but don’t know where to start. Try to have a mix of open- and closed-ended questions, with an emphasis on the former. Don’t think you have to stick too closely to the list, though. Sometimes, the best discussions are unexpected.

The Specifics

Narrow Down Your Focus

You already know that you want to read historical fiction. Great. But you can streamline your vision even more: are you going to focus on a certain historical period? A certain theme, like books about war or books written by women, for example?

Stay Up to Date with New Releases

In order to choose books, you need to know what’s being published. But don’t stay on the surface: there are a lot of great books being published by authors of color and LGBTQ authors that don’t get the same publicity as those by cis het white authors. Follow bloggers and authors on social media, sign up to newsletters, and look for databases in order to find hidden, or at least under-publicized, gems. Naturally, Book Riot has many lists that highlight diverse authors’ new releases.

Make a Spreadsheet to Record All Your Selections

I know, I know. You can go with a word doc or even a spiral notebook if spreadsheets make you break out in hives. Whichever way you choose, you need a record of the books you’ve already read in order to ensure that you don’t pick too much of the same, and to avoid chaos if you’re not the only person choosing the books.

Make Another Spreadsheet of Possible Future Selections

If I had a penny for every time I forgot an intriguing possibility when I first started coordinating The Unusual Historical Romance Book Club, well, I’d have a dollar (hey, it’s been less than a year). But now, whenever I stumble upon a book that could work, I jot down a quick note and then add it to the file.

Give Out a Brief Intro to the Historical Period and Setting — or at Least a List of Resources

It’s hard to understand a book sometimes if you don’t know enough about the socioeconomic context in which it is set. A story set in 1942 England will not look the same as one set in pre-colonial India. If you understand the context and the cultural mores of the time/setting, you’ll be able to appreciate the conflicts and characters better. Give your members a little context, like a map, political system — is it an absolutist monarchy? A republic? A bare bones historical timeline is a good way to start.

Consider Having a Group Chat

Or a Google Drive folder, or Facebook group. Somewhere you and the members can share videos, book recs, and article links about the period and setting. Historical fiction is all about submerging yourself in another world, after all.

What to Read First?

Congratulations! You’ve successfully set up your historical fiction book club. Now, are you ready to start picking your selections? We’ve got some great selections for you:

50 of The Best Historical Fiction Books

9 of The Best Historical Fantasy Books

The Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Reads of the First Half of 2022

Historical Fiction Book Clubs to Join

If you’d like to join a historical fiction book club, but don’t have the time or inclination to start one, take a look at the existing book clubs out there:

The Historical Fiction Club

Historical Mystery Lovers

Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club

Historical Fictionistas

The Unusual Historical Romance Book Club

If you want more historical books to read, why don’t you give historical nonfiction a try? There’s also historical romance manga or mystery!

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