Temporary Book Clubs

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this idea was born out of an author crush. In 2008, I was escorting John Burnham Schwartz to an event at Watermark, and he told me he had just finished the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. The next day, I held up a copy (with 2 hands) and jokingly said to another bookseller, “We should read this for a book club.” We both laughed. And then we stopped laughing, realizing that it was actually a pretty good idea. Watermark owner Sarah Bagby thought so, too, and we started a temporary book club called the Watermark Challenge.

We challenged our customers to read War and Peace with us over the course of the summer, and to keep everybody on the same page (sorry), they had to read the new translation. We thought we might have ten takers, and we were even more in love with the idea when more than 100 people accepted the War and Peace Challenge. The challenge grew and Watermark began to organize a different challenge for spring, summer and fall. I think it helped that Sarah accepted and met each challenge, participating along with her customers. (I bought every book, but failed at every challenge.)

Temporary book clubs are beneficial for several reasons.

  1. Customers who are reluctant to join traditional monthly book clubs like the noncommittal approach. There’s a beginning, but there’s also an end.
  2. Author-less events are still events, bringing customers into your store.
  3. Experts from the community can be called upon for their expertise, and because the book club is temporary, they might be more willing to say yes.

You do not have to limit your selections to classics. Watermark also hosted a temporary book club for teens featuring Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series in anticipation of the movie release last summer. Or you could read a whole body of work by a contemporary author.

To set up a temporary book club, you only need to follow these steps:

  1. Select a book. If you’re looking to explore a classic, decide on a specific edition.
  2. Solicit a leader for the book club. This can be a bookseller or an expert from the community. Have a time frame in mind so they know to what they’re committing. (Monthly meetings over the course of the summer, bi-weekly meetings for five sessions, etc.)
  3. With the leader, determine how the book might be divided into segments and the amount of time necessary to read the sections.
  4. Look at your calendar and plan meeting dates according to the reading assignments.
  5. Pull together marketing materials, including background on the book, why you’ve selected it, a bio of the leader, and the meeting dates with reading expectations.
  6. Promote, promote, promote… just like you would for an event.

If you’re not motivated to start your own temporary book club, you can join up with NPR and participate in theirs. They are reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath before it turns 75 years old. The organizers have already determined dates and reading segments. All you have to do is promote it to your customers and host the meetings at your store. I would hook-up to their online meetings, but then allow for discussion among your own group after the broadcast.

Click here for more information on the NPR book club for The Grapes of Wrath.

Embed Videos on Website


To post an animated GIF in an email newsletter or on a website is as simple as copying and pasting. To embed a video is only slightly more difficult.

I like to use EmbedResponsively.com because it formats the embed code so that the video can be viewed on mobile devices like phones and tables as easily as possible.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Find the video and copy the video URL. (In the image below, it’s highlighted in blue beneath the icons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.)


2. Go to embedresponsively.com.

3. Choose the source (YouTube, Vimeo, etc) and then paste the video URL:


4. Press the “embed” button.

5. A preview of the video will appear. Check to make sure it’s the correct video, then copy code from below the video.


6. Open the code on the website where you want the video to end up, and paste the code you just copied. (“Find the place where you want the video to be on your site and paste the copied code into your “code editor” (rather than the visual editor or the WYSIWYG editor. This will save headaches later.)

Educator Newsletters

Last month, I wrote a piece about offering targeted newsletters to your customers. Today I’d like to focus on how to create a newsletter just for educators.

You’re probably thinking that you do not have time to write another newsletter. You don’t have to. Look to your staff for assistance, especially if they’re well-versed in the children and YA sections.

Newsletters do not have to be lengthy; they only need to contain useful information. This is how I would break down the content:

  • new releases for young readers
  • event information for the coming month that might be of interest to students or teachers
  • book reviews by you or your staff to further confirm that you are experts
  • and finally, a closer look at one of the additional services your store offers

If you feel that any of the sections are too long, post the information on your website and link to it.

Remember that customers who sign up for your newsletter might teach 1st grade, or they might teach Honors English to seniors. When covering new releases, try to include books for all age groups.

What kind of additional services do you offer educators? Probably more than you realize. Do you offer…

  • special educator discounts?
  • bulk discounts for classroom sets?
  • author visits to schools?
  • onsite book sales for author visits?
  • in-store or onsite book fairs?
  • Teacher Appreciation Day?
  • book talks for teachers?
  • general sale events at the bookstore?
  • common core expertise?
  • book clubs available for young readers?
  • student writing contests?

Be sure to post the explanation of teacher services on your website along with the opportunity to sign up for the newsletter. And whenever you publish the monthly newsletter, get on Facebook and Twitter to announce that you did… along with the link for where to sign up.

“The Noisy Paint Box”

This week, Knopf Books for Young Readers released The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, and illustrated by Mary GrandPre. This book about Vasily Kandinsky and his synesthesia has received starred reviews from Publishers WeeklyBooklist, Kirkusand School Library JournalGrandPre’s illustrations are muted and subdued when Kandinsky was a proper young boy, but they come alive with color after his exploration into art begins after receiving a paint box from an aunt. (You’ll recognize GrandPre’s illustrative style from the Harry Potter books.)

An entertaining book for children ages 4 to 8, it is also educational and touches on the subjects and themes of art, history, color, music, and following one’s dreams.

If you tweet about it, here’s Barb Rosenstock’s Twitter handle: @barbrosenstock. And when handselling, think of artists, teachers and parents, but especially of grandparents… and aunts who give paint boxes.

Case Study: Debut Author Book Club

Bookstore sponsored book clubs are important because of the built-in handselling they present. Offering themed book clubs is a smart idea; as long as you have a leader, the time, and the space, book clubs help customers find their place in the reading world.

Just over a year ago, the folks at R.J. Julia in Madison, CT, started a Debut Author Book Club. Lori Fazio, general manager of R.J. Julia, explains that the book club stemmed from a “Debut Author of the Month” initiative to help publishers and debut authors. “We know it’s important when an author is getting their start, and if the author is unknown, it can be difficult to drum up business. If the author is coming to the store for an event, it helps to have an automatic audience.”

The group meets once a month, and the books are chosen through a collaborative effort between R.J. Julia’s book club coordinator and the book club members. Past selections include The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and The Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

R.J. Julia sponsors 6 in-store book clubs, and have many outside book clubs registered with the store. “Our book clubs are customer based,” says Fazio. “We put a book club out there for the customers, and then ask one to take the helm.”

Book clubs that order selections through the store receive a 15% paperback discount and a 20% hardcover discount. With the Debut Author Book Club, sometimes the group receives galleys and can then buy the new release at a discount.