How to Start A Virtual Book Club: A Q&A with the Founders of the Letter Writers Alliance

Posted by Jessica Lewis

Let's talk about book clubs. If you're like me, an introverted former English student, you may have an aversion to book clubs because they still feel too much like class, except they have wine. And what if you'd just rather be at home in your pajamas?

Never fear! In comes the Letter Writers Alliance, a worldwide organization of letter writers that hosts broadcasted 'online socials' so people all over can write letters together. Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson started this club in 2007, but this year, they're finally diving into running a mail-themed virtual book club. Their first pick is 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I wanted to find out more about the way a virtual book club can run – what does it have that a physical book club doesn't? How do you discuss the book? And most importantly, what do you eat? So here are some questions answered by Kathy & Donovan.

The Letter Writers Alliance is essentially an online community about a popular offline hobby. What made you want to add a book club to the mix?
Since our membership is worldwide, we wanted to add ways we could virtually connect everyone together and make us feel the sense of community better. We also love reading and noticed that our members would often comment or suggest mail-related books. We saw there was a desire to talk about these types of books within our community, so we created a platform for it.

How do you plan to manage this club; what kinds of things does a virtual book club do?
We created a Goodreads group that has forums available for each book we will read. We also do a live stream discussion from our studio via Google On Air, which our members can watch either through Google or through the embedded video on our website. We have used On Air for our virtual letter writing socials and have liked that it automatically records and uploads the video to our YouTube channel. This way people can participate with the book club any time they wish if they can't make the live broadcast. For our very first book club, we are being joined by our friend Ana, of The Well-Appointed Desk, for this discussion.

What are the benefits of being in a virtual book club instead of a physical one?
Much like our virtual socials, we like to give our members a way to participate if they aren't physically present in a location. It's our way of trying to include everyone. This way, we can hopefully reach people all over the world, and not just in Chicago.

How do you manage a discussion online?
We use hashtags (#LWAbookclub) to pick out questions and comments on Twitter and Instagram. We also use an embedded chat plugin called ChatWing that is on the book club event page on our site.

What would you eat and drink at a virtual book club?
The current snacking items in the studio are peanut butter filled pretzels and chocolate biscuits shaped like letters and numbers. We'll also have tea. Maybe some bourbon.

Why did you pick 84, Charing Cross Road as the first book?
Frankly, it was the only book on our list that we both hadn't read and we both agreed we wanted to read.The shortness also helped, as we wanted to start off the book club with something that was quick to get through to account for any people who heard about the new club late.

What are you looking forward to for this first book and discussion?
We are really eager to see how it goes. It is our first time doing the book club and we are certain to learn a lot. We are also looking forward to talking with our fellow members. It's always a pleasure to talk about what you love. We are also interested to see the different aspects of the story people enjoyed.

What's some advice for someone who wants to start a virtual book club?
Plan far in advance. We set this up with a two month lead time to give members and ourselves time to put it on their schedules and to read the book. Choose a theme you are passionate about or the picking of the books will start to turn into drudgery. Lastly, make sure to have fun; that is the whole point of getting together with your friends!

The first #LWAbookclub meeting takes place this Sunday, April 12, at 3 pm CST. Find out more here.