Many authors love to visit local book clubs, either in person or over Zoom or Skype. They enjoy meeting fellow book lovers and talking about their book, their writing process, and the research they did into their characters, settings, or stories.
Inviting an author to visit your book club is a great opportunity to peek into the life and process of a published author, break up the same-old-same-old routine of your gatherings, and get insider insights into the book or the publishing industry.
Last month on my blog, Laurie Marr Wasmund, a gifted author of historical fiction, graciously wrote about what to do if you’re an author who’s been invited to speak at a book club. (See “So You’ve Been Asked to Appear at a Book Club…”)
This month, I’m offering tips for the other side of the equation: for book club members on what to expect if an author is coming to speak to your group.
- “I’m nervous about meeting this author!” Remember, they’re nervous about meeting you, too. An author is a real human being. They have pets, kids, commutes, and dishwashers that broke last week. They have self-doubts and electric bills and finicky internet connections just like the rest of us. They don’t stay in fancy hotels on the publisher’s dime (unless they’re Stephen King, I guess). Almost all of them have to spend their own money and do their own marketing, and they are thrilled that your group has read their book!
- “Do I need to have read the book?” The expectation is that many of the members will have read the book before the meeting. But authors also know that life happens, and not everyone will have had time to get through it. That’s fine! They understand. They’ve probably belonged to book clubs and probably skipped a book here and there themselves, too, despite their best intentions.
- “What should we talk about?” The book, obviously, but there are a million ways to do that. Does your club have a focus, like history, women’s fiction, fantasy/science fiction, romance, books by South American authors, non-fiction, etc.? If so, tell the author that ahead of time. They may want to prepare a short presentation for your group. Or you can just have a Q&A session with no formal agenda. If that’s the case, it’s always helpful to think of a couple of questions as you read the book, to get the conversation going.
- “What if I don’t like their book?” The way I see it is you have two options: 1) Don’t go to the meeting, or 2) Instead of telling them you don’t like their book, ask questions about something other than the story, like “Where did you get this idea?” or “How did you research this part?” or “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” or “How do you manage to write while juggling two kids, a dog, a full-time job, and a llama-rescue organization?” Just because you’re not a fan of fantasy-football-romance novels doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy hearing the author talk about her misspent weekend in Las Vegas researching corrupt fantasy football leagues.
- “What if I love the book?” Great! Feel free to tell the author why. Did you love the way the heroine stood her ground without losing her values? Did you love how the author got the historical details right? Did you love that crazy twist at the end? Authors eat up that feedback, because it helps them see what does and doesn’t work for their readers. You can also ask about their writing process, their research, their other books, their funniest research discoveries, tips for new writers, etc.
- “Do I have to buy their book?” Nope. However, if possible, it is nice to actually purchase their book. After all, they did spend time, effort, mileage, and makeup (LOL) to come visit your group, and it’s coming out of their own pocket. Often authors will bring some of their books, which they can sell to you. But you can also bring your own copy to the meeting for them to sign. Or if you love what they have to say, you can always buy it later (but you won’t be able to get it signed if you buy it after-the-fact).
- “Wait! I can really ask them to sign my book?” Yes, of course! The author will be happy to sign as many books as you want. Buy copies to give away as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, teachers, Mother’s or Father’s Day, etc. People love getting signed books, I’ve found, because they’re such unique and personal gifts.
- “Will the author pressure us to buy their books?” No pressure at all! They will probably bring some books just in case someone expresses interest, but authors hate feeling like used-car salesmen. Before the meeting, have your leader check with the location to see if it’s okay if the author brings a few books to sell. Some libraries and bookstores won’t let person-to-person sales happen on their property, for example. If it’s allowed, your leader can invite the author to bring some books to sell. If you meet in a bookstore, let the store know about your author visit and ask if they’d consider stocking a few of the author’s other titles ahead of the meeting. Finally, in the meeting, your leader should be the one to mention the author has books to sell, to keep the author from feeling weird about hawking their own wares. The author will be very grateful.
- “Can I ask them to read a story I wrote?” Um, no. Please be respectful of their time and boundaries. Don’t ask them to read a story you’ve written or ask for their agent’s email address. Writing and editing is this person’s full-time, low-paying job. You wouldn’t ask a dentist you meet at a party to give you a free root-canal in their spare time. Don’t ask the author to give you hours of free editing service. However, you can ask if they offer editing services for a fee. If they don’t, they may know a professional editor they can refer you to.
- “What else?” Have fun! You joined a book club because you love books and like to talk about them. Well, nobody loves to talk about books as much as authors, whether theirs or someone else’s. Ask lots of questions and enjoy your visit with this author. They are truly honored to have been invited to spend time with you talking about their heart’s work.