Writing Effective Book Club Discussion Questions

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By Sarah Sundin

Book clubs. As readers, we delight in socializing with book-lovers. As writers, we delight in connecting with avid readers.

Since I belonged to a book club long before I was published, I knew the importance of a good set of discussion questions. While some groups fall naturally into discussion, some don’t, and good questions stimulate conversation. I decided to include discussion questions in all my books and on my website.
In Perfect Time
Often writers are stumped when it’s time to write questions for their books. Here are some tips I’ve learned as both a book club member and an author.

1) PLEASE avoid spoilers, like “How did you feel when Reginald died?” Agh! He died? Often readers skim the questions before they read the book, and you don’t want to ruin their experience. To avoid a spoiler in my new release, In Perfect Time, the question reads, “How does the ordeal in the second half of the book change Kay? Roger?”

2) Include some generic story-related questions. Some groups meet in public places and don’t like to get personal. So use questions like, “At the beginning of the story, Kay has a ‘boyfriend in every airport.’ Why do you think she dates so many men? What problems does it cause?”

3) Include some personal questions. Many book clubs love these (like mine!), and individual readers often like to go deeper. For example, “Roger Cooper goes out of his way to avoid women. How do you handle known temptations in your life?”

4) Use 12-20 questions so the book club has a variety to choose from. I often use layered questions around one theme, starting at the story level and going deeper. This allows the group to choose their level of discussion. For example, “How are Kay, Mellie, and Georgie good for each other? How does their friendship evolve during this story? Do you have a set of friends you can rely on?”

5) Look at various aspects of your story-action, history, romance, family relationships, friendships, side characters, spiritual theme, internal struggles, and backstory issues that impact your characters. These are rich resources for discussion. If you have critique partners or beta readers, think about the questions they’ve raised, especially the “Why did she do that?” questions. These are the issues your readers will be eager to discuss.

6) If you’re writing a series, don’t be afraid to use a teaser. For example, in On Distant Shores, the second book in the Wings of the Nightingale series, the last question is: “If you read With Every Letter, did you enjoy watching Tom and Mellie’s story progress? The last book, In Perfect Time, follows Lt. Kay Jobson and Lt. Roger Cooper. From what you’ve seen of these characters, what might you anticipate?” This (I hope) drives interest in the series as a whole, as well as prompting discussion.

With insight and creativity, you can craft questions book clubs will adore!

Sarah Sundin 7-31Sarah Sundin is the author of six historical novels, including In Perfect Time (Revell, August 2014). Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children. When she isn’t ferrying kids to tennis and karate, she works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school. Visit her at http://www.sarahsundin.com.

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