For authors, writing groups are incredibly valuable in terms of feedback, motivation, and inspiration. A good group can keep you on your toes when it comes to plot, character development, and supporting detail. But reading groups can be just as valuable. Reading groups keep you tapped into what else is currently being written out there, and what other writers and readers think of such works, offering up valuable insights you might not otherwise have.
Why a reading group?
Reading groups can add another dimension to your writing process. You’ll know what your peers are publishing, as well as how those published works are being received within your reading community. You may be struggling with a particular character’s development or with one of your subplots. Your reading group can help. You’ll be able to see how a range of authors tackled their own character and subplot developments, and perhaps reading different genres will also inspire different ways to solve such problems in your own writing.
You’ll also be reading more or different types of books. You’re likely already an avid reader in your specific genre, but broadening the books you take in will help your writing and story development. You might also get inspired by the way other writers handle changes in the plot, move between different storylines, and articulate their particular writing style. Plus, you’ll have a large group of contacts who will likely be willing to read your book—or parts of it—before it’s even done. And once it’s published, you can share the finished product in your reading group to, hopefully, solicit reviews.
What a reading group looks like
Reading groups have been around for ages. But you want your reading group to be a bit more strategic. Think other writers, bloggers, reviewers—essentially, anyone plugged into the self-publishing industry. Sure, you’ll want to include some non-writers in there as well, but come review time, the industry connections will make a difference in getting a tweet, review, and blog post to promote your book. (Something you should be willing to do as well for the writers in your group.)
But the amount of time you have, your specific goals, and how long you want to sustain the group should determine how many book clubs you set up.
Digital vs. in-person
The best place to start is on the web. Goodreads and Facebook are both obvious places to start due to their popularity and engagement stats. Goodreads will, of course, convert more reviews when you publish because the entire reason to have an account is to document what you’re reading, learn more about the books out there, and share your views on recent reads. But don’t discount Facebook either. Since most people already have accounts, it is less of an ask for them to join a reading group or page where everyone can participate. You can also forego the social media sites, and use the digital technology available to you and your potential group. You can use Google Docs to organize your reading schedule and have each reader input feedback into the shared doc for everyone to see. You can use Google Hangouts to all join a video call and chat about your findings. If members don’t have a Gmail account to access all of Google’s features, try using Skype. It’s free to download, and members can chat via video or phone from wherever they are in the world.
Also, consider an in-person reading group that meets once a month. Personal connections are that much stronger when made face to face, and you never know where you might be able to grow relationships and who you might meet. Start by sending out an email or group Facebook message to those friends and acquaintances of yours who are writers, avid readers, and have industry connections or interest. Be sure to ask them if they know anyone who would be a good fit to join, and plan a spot to meet each month.
So pick your first book, gather your group together, and get reading. You’ll gain new perspective, learn about other markets and genres, and potentially improve your own writing and stories.