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Your next book club is taking place on Substack
We speak to writers running book clubs on Substack about what makes them work and why readers are coming to them now more than ever
For more than a decade,’s book club has been meeting atop London’s Hampstead Heath—a wild open parkland in the north of the city—to walk and talk about books.
In July 2020, as in-person meets started up again after the U.K.’s first lockdown, Emily launched on Substack and began combining the Sunday walking club with Monday Zoom calls.
“London is such an international place, and people had moved away, but now suddenly they could reconnect to the group,” Emily says about the shift to Substack. “I was amazed to discover that they still enjoyed receiving my emails. It struck me that there must be an opportunity to create a community across different platforms—with the walks at our heart, but reaching out across the internet to connect readers all over the world.”
It may come as no surprise that Substack publications also make the best home for book clubs. Emily regularly combines discussion threads onwith reminders of video and in-person meetings. She sees hundreds of comments in the threads, while typically 10 to 15 people show up for her Zoom book club, and the Heath club can attract up to 50 walker-talkers.
“Some readers might not feel confident sharing their views in person or online, but the newsletter enables them to plug into that communal feeling of reading together, without any pressure of having to say something,” Emily says. “I have been really struck by how many people enjoy reading along with Emily’s Walking Book Club, even if they can’t make it to a meetup, and Substack is ideal for creating this sense of community online.”
She already has books for the fall meetups decided, and hosts monthly threads to invite readers to make suggestions:
“The discussion threads have become a way to share our recommendations on a theme relevant to that month’s book, and often feature a special expert guest. These totally vary in terms of attendance, but even a handful of contributors can lead to a great discussion of over 100 comments. I’m always pleased when people show up to these threads, even after the official time slot has closed, to share their recommendations or to use it as a bank of great tips!”
Emily isn’t the only writer running a book club on Substack. For many writers who started as voracious readers first, having a space to regularly discuss books with other bibliophiles simply makes sense. Novelist and booksellersummed up this feeling in our recent Reading Room interview:
My love for books arrived pre-memory. There is no before. Books were always my stalwart companions, my escape hatches, my private joys.
Writers likeand have started book clubs along with their regular offerings for subscribers.
Roxane’s The Audacious Book Club is one of the longest-running on Substack—announced with a post from Roxane about that month’s book selection, followed by a series of discussion threads with readers throughout the month. The July book selection is Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration by Alejandra Oliva:
Laura has one of the newest book clubs on Substack, offering it to paid subscribers as a capped Zoom meeting with 15 attendees on a first-come-first-served basis. Announcing the book club to subscribers, she wrote:
The aim is to have an enjoyable conversation together, read more and encounter great writing as we go, all while honing our critical thinking skills. I’ll guide the discussion and keep things running, but this isn’t a lecture or tutorial—it’s a dynamic conversation that we will create together.
For some writers, there’s a particular book that taps into the ethos of their newsletter and community. Writer and artistof is studying Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together with readers over a longer period of time: started a book club for her community of readers on after reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, which had prompted her to reconsider her own relationship to time and productivity. She shares her thoughts about the book in a post, followed by a Q&A thread with readers that week: read Prince Harry’s Spare with her paid subscribers for her book club, in a number of posts, essays, and threads on the book:
Writerannounced the summer read for her Noon Book Club for paid subscribers to , before linking to an Eventbrite page with the details of the September Zoom book club meeting: ran a poll for readers to recommend the next book for her subscribers, offers discounts for the selected book, and will share an interview with the author alongside discussion threads. Her July pick is Substack writer ’s new book, Banyan Moon:
As Emily Rhodes reflects, based on her 10 years of hosting a vibrant international book club, it can be a great way to bring together a diverse group of people, as well as making an income for your efforts in planning, selecting, and reading the chosen book:
“Young folk in their 20s chat to people in their 90s, and everything in between. It really is one of the best multi-generational activities; books can be a wonderfully inclusive common ground between us all.”
Here are some more examples of writers running book clubs or reading books together on Substack to inspire your own project:
- and the Shit You Should Read About book club for paid subscribers “who suffer under the paradox of choice and simply can’t pick from the endless stream of new releases hitting the shelves each day.” They offer discount codes for paying subscribers to buy the book.
- started a book club in January for subscribers to her Substack, .
Book Riot’sdraws on their years of experience as North America’s largest independent book site and their team-wide expertise in the books and publishing industry to make reading recommendations.
- is billed as a speakeasy for book lovers to experience as a quiet evening with friends.
- by selects books that help parents navigate teachable moments kids are already familiar with and love: reading books together.
Writer, who also runs the Book Chat podcast, discusses how she fits so much reading into her day and shares Shelf Request recommendations with her readers.
- created a new section for her book Fat Talk to invite readers behind the scenes of the book tour and more.
- detailed his life education in books with subscribers, along with tips for becoming “well read.”
Novelistposted a reading list of Utopian literature for paying subscribers to to study together throughout the year.
You can search “book club” from our Explore page to find one that’s perfect for your reading tastes too. From space wizards to a book club for the planet, queer romance to nonfiction: find a book club or start your own to meet fellow readers in the network.
Do you run a book club on Substack? Tell us about it in the comments!