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What book clubs read – insight and analytics from BookBrowse

Book clubs can be an integral part of your book marketing plan, providing valuable word of mouth book publicity. BookBrowse is a community for book clubs and book lovers which researches who is reading what.

Statistically speaking, 70% of clubs read fiction most of the time. However, it is too simplistic to assume (as some not in book clubs do) that book clubs are bastions of “women’s fiction.” The reality is that the amorphous qualities that book clubs look for in their books result in interest across a wide range of genres and types, including serious and “light” books, fiction (99% read) and nonfiction (93% read), classics (85% read) and bestsellers (94% read).

Book club choices are influenced by both the personal reading preferences of individual members and the simple fact that some genres produce more books suitable for discussion than others. Few, if any, genres, are off limits to clubs. For example, book clubs tend to read more historical fiction than they do fantasy because a higher proportion of both men and women read historical fiction, and there are more books in this genre that are suitable for discussion than in the fantasy genre. Despite this, there are a number of books with fantastical aspects that have proven to be perennial book club favorites.

One of the most fascinating aspects of conducting in-depth interviews with book clubs over a number of years is not just how wide and varied the world of book clubs is, but also how their choice of reading tends to expand over time. Clubs that start off reading the “safe bets,” start to explore new avenues as the group’s tastes and confidence grow.

Some BookBrowse members shared how their book club chooses their genres:

  • "Bookies is a group I started about 12 years ago. We meet monthly at the same location and are a ‘no food’ group. We read fiction, both classic and current, and nonfiction with the members selecting the titles. We are proud to have read several books ahead of what ‘every one is reading’!"
  • "One of my book club reads almost all non fiction, adventure stories, especially seagoing. The other one reads only foreign authors and mostly fiction."
  • "In both book clubs, members make recommendations of books they have read and liked so there is a wide range. In one club, we have a Mystery Month and
    a Colorado Month and a Summer Reads Month. In general, nonfiction is less popular than fiction, and fluff is less popular than substance."
  • "We try to read at least one book each year that is a “classic”, one each year about our region (or by a regional author), and at least one historical book or non- fiction each year."
 
 

Authors

80% of book clubs read local authors at least occasionally and many enjoy hearing first-hand from authors, whether local or not. A note of caution for those wishing to connect with clubs: while clubs enjoy hearing from and asking questions of authors, some are uncomfortable openly discussing the book in front of the author. So, whether visiting a book club in-person or electronically, authors may wish to drop in for just a portion of the meeting. 

The Ideal Book Club Book

Overwhelmingly, book clubs want to read books that expand their horizons – windows that allow them to see into the lives of others or mirrors that let them reflect on aspects of their own lives. Above all else, books need to have plenty to discuss. Time and again we hear book clubs note that a book was fun to read but provided little to discuss, while other books were not liked by most but generated good conversation. Clearly, all book clubs hope that they find books that balance an enjoyable read with good discussion topics. So what are the qualities that create a good book club read?

  • Well-written and proven successful with other book clubs
  • In a genre that is different from what the club has read recently,
    but something that members will enjoy
  • Challenging and capable of provoking good conversation
 

This is a tall order for any book to meet, and is one of the reasons why proven book club books tend to spread rapidly from club to club. Those choosing books often feel considerable pressure in making selections, which is why information and guidance on a book’s suitability is so important. A book that is not appreciated by the club is often remembered for years to come (as is the member who recommended it!)

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