Stephanie at The Written Word is the one who got me started with blogging. My book club had an author chat with Laura Fitzgerald, author of Veil of Roses. Laura pointed me to The Written Word, where she’d done an interview with Stephanie. Several lengthy emails followed, and it got me thinking, maybe this is something I should try. I was so intrigued by the idea of blogging that I started my own blog a few days later, and here we are!
Stephanie has a book club, too, and they are preparing for their first “live” chat with an author. Since our book club has done three of these, she asked if I’d put together some tips for book clubs to use.
Author chats are a great way to add an interesting dimension to your book club meetings and gain a deeper understanding of the book you’ve read. Many authors are willing to speak with book clubs via speaker phone, and they are surprisingly easy to arrange. Most authors have websites, and usually they have contact information listed there. Take a chance and send the author an email. Let them know that your club has selected their book, when your meeting to discuss their book will take place, how many people are in your book club, and ask them if they would be willing to attend. If an author’s schedule doesn’t allow for a phone chat, they may still be willing to answer your club’s question via email.
Here are some tips for conducting an author chat with your book club.
1. Read the book! Seems obvious, but after speaking to a number of people in various book clubs, I’ve learned that many people view the club meeting as more of a social thing than an actual book club. I’m always surprised to hear someone say that very little book discussion went on at their meeting. While I’m all for being social, books are the reason for the club, right? If you’re going to have an author in attendance, it’s important (and respectful) to read the book.
2. Make your members aware of the chat. Email the club members in advance to alert them to the author chat, and ask them to have their questions ready.
3. Do your homework! Read the author bio. on the book jacket, search the internet for any information or interviews you can find, know what else the author has written.
4. Pick a discussion leader. It’s good to have one person be the facilitator for the conversation with the author. Everyone can chime in, but it’s good to have a point person so the chat doesn’t turn into a free for all. Unless you like that sort of thing.
5. Wait 30 minutes. Plan to call the author about 30 minutes into your meeting, allowing time for everyone to get settled and get their food and drinks. This is a good time for your discussion leader to compile a list of questions from everyone. Ideally, your club members will have questions in mind, because you alerted them in advance.
6. Make sure your cell phone is working! Is your battery charged? Do you know how to use the speaker phone feature?
7. Start off with a compliment. Even if your group doesn’t love the book, you can always find something positive to say. Praise before criticism!
8. Go beyond basic questions about the book.
Here are some questions that you can ask of any author, regardless of what they’ve written:
Ask about the writing process. How long did their book take to write? To get published?
Does the author sit down at a desk to write for 8 hours a day, for example, or do they wait until the mood strikes?
Do they have an office? What is it like? Do they write in longhand? On a laptop? (The first draft of Brian Groh’s Summer People was written completely in longhand).
Who are their favorite authors? Who inspires them?
When did the author know he/she was a “real” writer? At what point were they able to quit their day job? Was their family supportive?
Ask about the cover. Did the author have any say in the design? Is there more than one cover? (We were surprised to learn that Laura Fitzgerald had no say in the cover of her book, Veil of Roses. Luckily, she liked it!)
All of our authors were Target Bookmarked authors (Laura Fitzgerald/Veil of Roses, Jennie Shortridge/Eating Heaven, and Brian Groh/Summer People). We asked what they were doing and how they felt when they found out they’d been selected by Target. If the author you’re speaking with has won an award, you could ask how the award changed their lives.
Ask about character development. How is this done? Are characters based on real people? Are events based on actual events? (We found out through questions like these why Laura Fitzgerald/Veil of Roses writes under a pen name).
Had the author ever considered a different ending to the story? If possible, would they go back and change anything?
Is a movie in the works? (We learned that Jennie Shortridge’s Eating Heaven was optioned for a movie).
If they had a choice, what actor would they cast in the leading role?
And the question we usually ask last is:
What are you working on now? (We learned Jennie Shortridge has a new book called Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe coming out May 2008).
The authors we’ve spoken with have been extremely gracious and kind, answering all our questions and giving insight into the writing process. With a lively group and a little preparation, an author chat is really fun and could be the highlight of your book club year! Give it a try!