Start a book club for kidlit writers

1024 576 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

You’ve heard of reading like a writer (because I talk about it all the time). Now it’s time to book club like a writer!

In the mid-nineties, ‘Book Club’ to me meant the Scholastic catalogue handed out after lunch and a pile of paperbacks waiting on my desk when I got back from assembly. In my early twenties, ‘Book Club’ meant white wine and themed cupcakes at a friend’s kitchen table, discussing the novel *some* of us had read that month and then watching the film adaptation, slightly tipsy. Now, at 37, it means research and inspiration; improving my writing craft by reading excellent genre fiction with people who love it as much as I do. Naturally, there’s still wine (what do you take me for?), but now the focus has shifted and narrowed.

I’ve started and joined a few book clubs aimed at writers of middle grade and YA. I don’t have as much time to read for pleasure as I once did; I’ve got a demanding five year old who’d prefer I read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Marshmallow Pie instead of the toppling TBR stack of horror paperbacks eyeing me from the bookshelf. Then there’s the spooky middle grade novel I’m supposed to be writing.

Plus, I’m a fiction editor, so I have to read for work a lot and rarely stray beyond my specialist genres and age ranges. But I missed the magic of meeting up with friends and comparing notes on a novel over Pringles, so audience- or genre-specific book clubs aimed at writers who all enjoy reading and writing the same type of stuff was a breath of fresh air!

So, what is a book club for writers? It’s just like a typical book club with one exception: you’re not only approaching stories from a reader’s perspective, discussing characters you hated or bragging that you worked out the big twist halfway through. You’re also analysing them from a writer’s perspective, pulling them apart and looking for the join. It’s not enough to explore whether or not you enjoyed the book – you want to understand why it worked (or didn’t) and which authorial decisions led to the end result.

By tinkering under the hood of the books you read and asking questions about the author’s approach and skill, you’re firming up your understanding of writing mechanics. That’s why it’s so useful to focus on a specific niche, like middle grade fantasy or YA horror – every book you read in that category will contribute to your knowledge of the genre: conventions, expectations, trends and market.

And then there’s the added bonus of improving your critiquing skills. Just imagine how much more useful your peer feedback will be after analysing novels and verbalising your thoughts at book club.

There’s loads of advice online about starting a book club so I won’t rehash it, but here are the basic considerations:

  1. Choose whether you want face-to-face or online meetings
  2. Cap the number of members depending on how small and cosy you want your group to stay
  3. Pick your niche. Will you read all middle grade and YA, focus on a kidlit genre like fantasy or science fiction, or narrow it down further into a subgenre like slashers or vampire fiction? In the book club I ran with my friends a few years ago, we only read books that had been adapted for the big screen so we could watch the film together in our meeting.

And here are a few articles to give you some inspiration:

Now all that’s left to do is choose your first book and prepare some talking points for the meeting. You can find book club questions for most novels online but try to stick with discussions about the author’s craft and choices. For this book club, you’re reading actively rather than sitting back and enjoying the story as a reader. Here’s an example of the sorts of questions you might ask at your book club meeting (no spoilers, I promise):

The book: Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

    1. Did the novel meet YA horror conventions?
    2. Did *that* inciting incident in the café come at the right time in the book?
    3. Was the first-person POV the right choice? How would the narrative change if Bell told the story from Cameron’s perspective? Or Piper’s?
    4. Is Sophie a strong protagonist? Is she always active rather than passive?
    5. The plot is very fast paced – did you ever feel characterisation took a back seat in order to push the action forward?
    6. Were flashbacks and discoveries handled well or did they ever feel like info dumping?
    7. Was the dialogue natural and well observed? Did it always advance the plot?
    8. Was the ending resolved enough? Was the narrative question answered satisfactorily?

By the end of each meeting, not only have you had a jolly good time chatting books and eating crisps, you’ve also strengthened your story craft and understanding of the market. You’ve clarified your own thoughts about what did and didn’t work in the novel and heard what other writers and genre fans thought, too. If there’s a downside to all this, I haven’t thought of it! So, what are you waiting for? Go set up your own book club for authors and be the one who gets to choose the first book.

Thanks so much for reading, lovely writer! Want empowering, feel-good writing chat and fairy dust in your inbox? Plus receive a PDF of my recommended writing craft books for children’s and YA writers (including go-to genre guides and Children’s Lit MA reading list) AND £20 Wolf Credit to spend with me! Sign up today!

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes