Anyone looking to join a book club or re-energize an existing group will have a rare opportunity to network with book sellers, publishers and fellow readers at Warwick’s Book Club Happy Hour coming up on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
When Warwick’s annual book club event in August drew more than 100 people, the bookstore recognized the increasing popularity of reading groups. Creating an event that would allow book club members to mingle seemed like a great idea.
The Book Club Happy Hour is a mixer, so people looking to join or start a book club and those already in groups are encouraged to attend. In addition to presentations by publishing representatives, the forum will allow readers to mingle and see what other clubs are doing.
“A year ago when I just started keeping tabs on [book clubs], we only had about 13 groups,” said Adriana Hill, Warwick’s book club facilitator. “Now it’s up to about 40 groups.”
Book sellers, publishers and even independent authors are starting to recognize the value of book clubs as a marketable demographic. Warwick’s offers registered club members a 20 percent discount on books and guidance on reading selections, hosts special book club events and occasionally connects authors with clubs who have read their material.
“We noticed more and more that people are saying, “We’re looking for a book club,” said Susan McBeth, Warwick’s event coordinator. “We see a definite need in the community for this.”
For publishers, book clubs are a direct route to readers, lots of readers.
“Book clubs are a big market for us,” said Wade Lucas, district sales manager for Random House, one of the publishers participating in the Book Club Happy Hour. “If you reach one book group, that could be sales of 20 or 25 books.”
Like Warwick’s, publishers are reaching out to book clubs in several different ways.
“In addition to the reading group guides that we include in select paperbacks, we have a page on our Web site devoted to book groups with a comprehensive selection of guides to many Penguin books,” said Tom Benton, a sales rep with the company.
The publisher recently launched The VP Book Club, which features three titles a month and allows users to look up information about more than 100 other Viking Penguin books.
“Book clubs have become an important way to spread the word about certain books,” Benton said. “Since word-of-mouth is always the most powerful way to sell books - one reader telling another, ‘You have to read this book,’ the book club phenomenon has been especially important in the last decade or so in doing that. If a book catches on with book clubs, the sales can catch fire.”
During the Book Club Happy Hour, both Benton and Lucas will share new releases and highlight books that groups might not otherwise consider. They will distribute reading guide materials, review book club resources offered by the publishers and there will be free giveaways.
As valuable as book clubs are to publishers and book sellers, their importance to members is unquestionable.
Dr. Jennifer Burton of La Jolla has been a member of The Open Book Club for about seven years.
“No matter how busy life may get,” Burton said, “every month I know that I will both finish one book and see my friends at least once.”
Connecting and socializing are common elements of most book clubs. The Blackhorse Book Club of La Jolla, founded in 1989, includes men and women from the same community. Meetings are held monthly, with coffee and dessert preceding the discussion.
“It’s usually a stimulating evening, hearing other people’s reactions and interpretations,” said Edith Kodmur, a member for eight years.
The Page Turners, a women’s reading club, was formed in 1988 with 14 empty-nesters. Barbara Doren, one of four friends who started the group, explained that with her children grown and gone, there was a lack of opportunities to meet other women, unlike the days of PTA meetings and team sports.
“We started the book club to spark some interest and share some interesting books you might not read and to have the camaraderie of women friends,” Doren said.
The Page Turners meet once a month, rotating between members’ homes. They read fiction and non-fiction. One person is designated as a reviewer, and she summarizes the book, shares reviews or information about the author. Part of the group’s success stems from the diversity of personalities and opinions.
In its early days, the club turned to Warwick’s for advice on reading selections. Over the years, the members began making their own selections, but they still rely on their hometown book seller.
“I try to go to some of their reviews,” Doren said, “especially the ones where they’re reviewing a lot of books at the same time.”