Not only is Brenda Novak a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, she’s also a book club planning expert! Brenda Novak’s Online Book Group has over 13,000 members and features not only great reads, but monthly book boxes, fun merchandise and unforgettable friendships with fellow book lovers. We were lucky enough to chat with Brenda Novak about her book club, how it got started and some tips to help you with your own book groups!
When you first started your book club, what was your end goal?
I wanted to create a new kind of bookclub, an online bookclub that closely modeled an in-person bookclub so that my members would experience the benefits of both—the ease and convenience of being able to check in at any time, from any place, and participate in something fun mixed with close personal friendships, autographed print books and occasional, bigger in-person events where we get to know each other even better. Now elderly and/or homebound readers can participate from the convenience of their own homes, at least in most of what goes on.
My book group is a place where book lovers come together to enhance their overall reading experience through live interviews of the authors we read, books I have already vetted and recommend, a monthly subscription box service where they can get autographed books they’d probably not be able to get otherwise, a weekly game night and more. It’s been so exciting to see how quickly the book group has grown and the long-lasting relationships that have been formed in the two years since I created it.
Tell me all about how your book club works—we’ve been told it’s the gold standard in book clubs!
I think real friendship is at the center of any good book club and that’s truly the driving force behind ours. We’ve developed so many programs to enhance our members’ experience. We have a monthly read we read together. Then I travel to the author’s house to interview him or her via a Facebook Live event for the group, so we can all discuss the book we’ve just read with its creator. We even offer autographed copies of the featured author’s book via our “Professional Reader Boxes.” These are a subscription box service where members not only get an autographed copy of the book we are reading for the month, they get a second autographed book I call my “Brenda Novak Recommends” title as well as other fun, reader-related goodies that follow a new theme each month. For instance, we recently did a box that included a Brenda Novak sterling silver charm bracelet for which we will be adding custom charms throughout the coming year. The boxes are wildly popular, but so is our Book Buddy Program. Members who sign up for this program are paired with other members for a three-month period, during which they get to know each other by exchanging letters and small packages. We have Tuesday Night Game Night, Foodie Friday, the 50+ commemorative pin program (any member who has read more than fifty of my books is awarded a pretty pin) and so many other fun things, most of which is listed on the Book Group page of my website right here.
What has your engagement with book clubs taught you about the power of readers and community?
I’ve learned that reading and community can be strong catalysts for positive change. Several months after a woman named Virgie joined the group, I was contacted by her daughter. She told me how grateful she was that her mother had found my book club. She said that after her father died, her mother was so lonely but finding a community of like-minded individuals who treat her so well has offered her fresh hope and happiness. I’ve actually heard many stories like this, which makes me feel as though the group serves a deeper purpose than one might think at first glance. The many selfless acts we have witnessed serve as another good example.
After we started the Professional Readers Boxes there were a lot of members who wanted one but couldn’t afford it. We gave away (and still do) what we could, but the need for that type of thing is always greater than the resources for it. So I had someone suggest we start a fund where members could contribute toward boxes for the less fortunate. We instituted that and have been deeply touched by the number of people who have contributed. Many group members save up to get themselves a box and then end up giving it to someone else! And one member has given away at least fifteen Kindles to elderly and disabled members in our club.
BEFORE WE WERE STRANGERS is a departure from your recent Silver Springs trilogy—tell us all about it!
I love to watch true crime. One night I was watching a show about a woman who had long suspected that her father had murdered her mother. Indeed, the remains of her mother were finally found–after something like forty years–in their own backyard. This made me think about how terrible it would be to doubt your own father, to fear him even though he was the one to raise you and to always wonder, in the back of your mind, if the story he tells about that night is really the truth. I imagined how hard that would be if you were a child when it took place so you had no power, no way to stand up to him and your feelings of doubt and fear were mixed up with love and gratitude. Talk about a complex conflict, but the bigger the conflict the more interested I am in writing the story. I couldn’t wait to explore what a child in that circumstance would be like as an adult–the responsibility she might feel to the mother she lost and how difficult it would be to betray her father by suspecting and accusing him, especially because he could just as easily be telling the truth, which means she would’ve destroyed her relationship with him for nothing.
This is a story about love and forgiveness, justice and mercy, and I can’t wait to see how my readers react to Sloane and her determined search for what really happened the night her mother disappeared.
Looking for more book club advice from Brenda Novak? She shares her tactics with the BookBub Partners Blog here!
Are you part of an online book club or looking to start your own? Let us know in the comments below!