YA Book Clubs “Revel in the Awesome”

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Not Your Mothers Book Club members at a Maggie Stiefvater event.

With Teen Read Week (October 16 - 22) just around the corner, BTW asked several booksellers to share their tips for attracting and keeping YA book club readers.

What works at Bookbug in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said Joanna Parzakonis, is a combination of “a great/popular book title, good outreach through schools, parents, and promotion, and a fun night out with pizza and prizes.” In exchange for promoting a restaurant, the pizza is “practically free,” she added.

Bookbug runs a “low-pressure” book club for kids ranging in age from 9 to 14. “They are not required to have read the book, and often we choose not to designate a single book, but rather encourage them to talk about what they’ve been reading or have liked,” said Parzakonis. “But we do ask that kids register in advance.”

Bookbug gets word out about the club via school visits, social media, and the store’s website. The club meets on the final Friday of the month, so kids (and their parents) remember when to attend.

Bookbug’s sales usually get a boost before and on the night of the club. Purchases increase on trivia contest nights when the store gives away prizes in the form of “Bookbug bucks,” which usually amount to a few dollars each. Providing incentives to buy books in conjunction with the club definitely helps, said Parzakonis.

Still, the club is “somewhat more of a ‘goodwill’ generating evening for which we see kids/parents returning in the future,” she said. “It has helped generate longstanding customers.”  

In Mequon, Wisconsin, Next Chapter Bookshop’s YA club meets monthly and has a core group of five regulars, along with drop-ins. Participant’s ages range from 13 to 16, and there are no snacks or prizes. “They just meet and talk,” said store owner Lanora Hurley. And sometimes the mother of one of the regulars participates.

Next Chapter’s YA club was started by a guidance counselor who built up the program via word of mouth. At monthly meetings, the group picks the next month’s selection, which is then promoted on the store website, in its newsletter, and in the in-store Book Club section, where all of Next Chapter’s book club selections are displayed.  

Hurley said the YA book club has been running for about two years, and though it isn’t a big moneymaker in the short term, it serves the bookstore’s mission. “It’s important to be community bookstore,” she said. “It’s also important to encourage literacy in young readers, and doing the YA book club creates lifelong readers and lifelong customers.”

Another indie bookseller, who is considering starting a YA Book Club, recently asked Hurley for suggestions. Her main advice was to be patient. “It took us a long time to build our club,” she said. “The first time we held it, only two people showed up. It takes time for them to get to know each other, but it isn’t something that happens overnight, or in one or two meetings.”

Not Your Mother’s Book Club (NYMBC) at California’s Books Inc., which was launched in 2005 by bookseller Jennifer Laughran (now at Oblong Books), combines an author event with discussion. “What has helped make it so successful,” said Maggie Tokuda-Hall, who now runs club, is “finding the books and authors that teens are truly passionate about.”

Social media is also key to keeping NYMBC members involved and talking, she added. “We have a very active Twitter account, and are able to keep conversations going all the time.”

To bring in new members, Tokuda-Hall talks about the club during visits to area high schools. Because she’s young and often gets mistaken for a high school student, “it makes teens more receptive to a conversation with me,” Tokuda-Hall said. “But getting conversations going just about books in general seems to be the best approach, rather than immediately bombarding students with ‘I have a book club!’”

And, she added, “there’s nothing wrong with snacks. We had a mocktail party for Anna Godbersen, and we have made friends with several cupcake places. We also have prizes, swag, etc., and lots of contests on Twitter and Facebook.”

Each NYMBC is a little different. Usually the author speaks, there’s a Q&A, and then a signing. For smaller events, Books Inc. will sometimes set up tables cabaret-style and the author will spend time at each table for a discussion and Q&A.

Even with its loyal following, NYMBC has off nights. “It can be really hot-and-cold, and I’ve been really surprised by some of our events that haven’t done as well, for reasons as simple as the weather,” Tokuda-Hall said. “I guess no one likes coming out in the rain.”

Maintaining the club’s momentum demands consistency and continual promotion. “I think that, above all, a constant presence on your social media, and consistency with events and the person who runs them is paramount,” she said. “It allows teens to make a connection to someone and keep it. Inconsistency on both these fronts seems to be a real killer.”

Upcoming NYMBC events include “Revel in the Awesome” with Maureen Johnson and Steph Perkins at Books Inc.’s Opera Plaza store, and on October 10 the “Super-awesome-author-extravaganza-of-epic-proportions-not-that-we’re-bragging-event!” featuring Simone Elkeles, Michele Hodkin, Moira Young, and Becca Fitzpatrick. “At that event, we’ll have a contest where people can volunteer to say the whole event name and then say ‘whoa‘ (which is on the event poster), like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Anyone who can say the whole thing through without flubbing it will get a prize,” Tokuda-Hall said.

While books are bought as a result of NYMBC, “not every event is a gangbuster for sales,” said Tokuda-Hall. “We sell books, and of course that’s awesome, but we also make Books Inc. and NYMBC synonymous with good events.” And the better the store’s reputation for events, the more likely it is to “wrangle in” authors who have good conversations going with their fan bases, and the better the sales.

“Also, people who enjoy our events are more likely to choose us when shopping for books completely unrelated to our events, or at the very least understand the value of indies. And that, to me, is the real benefit,” said Tokuda-Hall. “This is something we can do that’s special and awesome that Amazon never will. So yes, it’s totally worth it, as long as someone’s willing to make the club and getting authors and making the events awesome their top priority. But a half-effort really doesn’t do for this kind of thing.” 

Booksellers looking for YA title and author suggestions can find some on the NYMBC blog, the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen’s Top 10, the Hudson Valley YA Society, or the Summer 2011 Kids’ Next List. Other resources include an ABA/ABC education handout on community outreach for children’s bookstores and another handout on the GenZ reader.

Watch for an upcoming Bookselling This Week article on YA Book Club for adults. Suggestions can be e-mailed to BTW Senior Editor Karen Schechner.