When my second novel, Henna House, was about to come out, I thought about how I could make a difference in its success. Henna House had been acquired by Scribner, and I felt so lucky. Now I wanted to do my part. I wanted to know at the end of the day that I had done absolutely everything I could to get my book into readers’ hands.
I believe in grand gestures. Grand gestures make people sit up and take notice. Grand gestures set you apart from the rest of the world. So I came up with my grand gesture. I challenged myself to personally meet with 100 book clubs. I called it my 100 Book Club Challenge and put the word out on Facebook that I would meet with any book club (either in person or by Skype) that invited me. I asked people to help me reach a goal and to become part of a community of readers.
I sent my challenge out to the cyberworld, and then I sat back and waited. But I didn’t have to wait long. Pretty quickly I had my first 20 invitations. My Facebook friends shared my challenge with their friends, who shared it with their friends. At first my plan had been to visit 50 book clubs for my hardback, and another 50 for my paperback. But as the invitations rolled in, I realized that I would be able to do 100 in under six months.
As you can imagine, it was a pretty crazy six months! What happened was that for every book club I visited, I got invited to another. A book club member’s sister, or cousin, or neighbor, or sister-in-law heard about my book club visits and invited me to their book club. So when I had 20, I really had 40; when I had 40, I really had 80, and so on and so on.
I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons my challenge took off was because of my book club photos. After I visited a book club, I obsessively posted photos of the visit on my Facebook author page and on my website; I also tweeted them out. The photos helped create connections and spread the word. Even book clubs that I didn’t visit posted their own photos of when they discussed my book, just so that they could also be a part of my challenge. When I started, I pledged to travel in person to one “far-flung” book club. The librarian at the Boise Public Library reached out to me, and since I’m from Philadelphia, and I had to take two planes to get to Boise (in January!), I figured that was my far-flung.
I’ve met with book clubs in living rooms, mansions, social halls in apartment buildings, senior citizen centers, libraries, conference rooms of high schools, synagogues, and country clubs. By this point I consider myself an anthropologist of book clubs. I can discuss in detail their feeding habits (dinner or dessert, drinks or coffee?) and their mating and life cycle rituals (how do they pick new books and invite new members?).
I hosted two traveling Henna House book clubs in my house: one from Spring Lake, N.J., and another from Fair Lawn, N.J. On another day I did three book clubs. While I was in Boise, an online forum, The Outlander Book Club, opened discussion of my book. So while I was meeting with one group in person in a public library, a virtual Henna House book club was also in progress. And that night that I skyped with a book club from Connecticut.
For my original challenge, I visited 30 book clubs by Skype and 70 in person. Skype book club visits generally only take around 45 minutes, and all I have to do is brush my hair and change into a decent top and I’m camera ready. I love Skype. As the mother of three children, I love how Skype allows me to be at home at bedtime and still be able to be with a book club. I’ve skyped with readers in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Toronto, Washington, and many more places.
At this point, I’m only doing Skype visits, but I have a brand-new challenge. I’m up to 138 total book clubs. Of these, 68 have been by Skype. My new challenge is to skype with 100 book clubs. I only have 32 to go.
People ask me if I get bored having the same discussion over and over again. My answer is that I enjoy myself every single time. Just ask my Henna House book club tribe. I always show up with a smile. Having readers is my wildest dream, and every conversation has its nuances, rewards, and surprises.
Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard. She is also the director of Drexel Storylab.