Things I Learned From Moderating A Book Club Discussion

Originally entitled "The Joys and Woes of Being A Book Club Discussion Moderator"

So last weekend, I finally did it: I moderated the book club's face-to-face (F2F) discussion of Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel, The Historian. The outpouring of congratulations from my book club friends have overwhelmed me all weekend, and I am, admittedly, still on a high until now. To be honest, I didn't know how the event would actually turn out, and so hearing all those praises and greetings of a job well done make my heart so full, it's actually bursting. :)

But the journey to get there wasn't all fun and roses.

The challenge lies in the fact that I was tasked to moderate the discussion for a book that everyone was excited to read initially, but would later on prove to be daunting for most because of its sheer length. It made me wonder, not for a few times, if people knew this minuscule detail when they voted for it - and it won twice, yes - during the F2F7 and the subsequent online polls. I'm not sure if it was my responsibility as moderator to inform them that this book is actually a doorstopper, but if it is, then I'm ashamed to say that I was remiss in that duty. :(

Another challenge was the fact that, during the four weeks that I moderated the online discussion and made a reading plan for everyone to follow (which very few did), I noticed that not a lot of people were warming up to the book. A couple of friends who finished reading it way ahead of the others didn't give stellar ratings, and another friend even asked for my permission - with an additional warning - to rant on the discussion thread. Halfway through the month, I saw a trend, and it didn't look promising. I could barely keep the discussion thread alive! So, I just knew then that I had to do something in order to (1) make sure people finished reading the book; (2) convince them to attend the discussion, and; (3) entice them to participate in it. Otherwise, my F2F would totally bomb.

After November 17, I am happy to report that it didn't. These happy faces are proof, yes? :)

Here are the ten things I learned from the experience. :)

(1) You can never force people to finish reading a book if they don't want to, especially if they're not used to the genre or if they simply don't dig the story. Or if they just don't have the time to. (In my case, it's more on the former.) Well, unless everyone loves you, just like this guy and this gal love me. :D The best you can do is pray that at least one other person will have finished it - then, you'll have someone to ask all those well-thought out questions you prepared.

(2) Even if people have confirmed their attendance, there will always be last-minute cancellations. I nearly had a heart attack for every time that I received a message beginning with "I'm sorry but..." Seriously. In those instances, there is nothing you can do but understand, and then just fervently hope that there will be more attendees than absentees on the day of the discussion. Conversely, people who have initially said no would turn out to be there, after all. :)

(3) You only need to prompt people when it seems like they're drawing blanks. For example, when asked, "What are the other themes in the novel?" and no one appears to have anything to say, prod them with "Do you think that religion is also a theme in the novel?" and then let them just agree or disagree. Sort of like leading questions, in trial and litigation. You'll be surprised at the number of hands that will be raised after that.  :D

(4) People love to eat. And they will be happy if you feed them. Even if they appear to be minding the food more than the moderator. Haha. :)

(5) The success or failure of an online discussion is no preview to the outcome of the face-to-face discussion. Rants or raves online are, though.

(6) You want people to be on time? Add one hour to the schedule to offset the traveling time and traffic. So, if you want the discussion to begin punctually at 2pm, tell them that it will start at 1pm.

(7) Aside from food, people also love giveaways and goodies! They will even voluntarily answer your questions if you promise to give them a limited-edition customized mug and eco-bag. With their choice of light or dark blue color, too.

customized mug, bookmarks and eco-bag

Yes, everyone wanted one. Hehe. :D

(8) If you want to go thematic in choosing a venue, then do the scouting reaaallly early. As in, weeks and weeks ahead of schedule. You just can't have enough time to look for venues if you have a day job, and it would be a shame to miss out on a perfectly-themed venue simply because you ran out of time.

(9) Just like Ms. Honey said during one of the rare occasions I got to talk to her: it doesn't really matter if you cook up gimmicks to make your discussion unique or interesting. For as long as you gather 'round and talk about the book, that's what matters.

(10) When your book club friends think you did a good job, they will definitely let you know it. And that's the most rewarding thing - when people remember you for a moderating job well done.


This is my first time to moderate a book club discussion, and the experience was wonderful. I appreciate that everyone who attended took part in it, and that every single one willingly shared a part of their own history to everyone else.

Yes, I would do it again. Gladly. :)

Maybe for a novella next time? :D

Pictures c/o Ella, Louize and Angus.


Anonymous said…
Your discussion > the book HANDS DOWN.

You did an amazing job, Atty Monique! It was really fun and fulfilling (both for my mental faculties and, um, my stomach HAHA). Totally worth cramming almost half the novel the week prior! Hihi. Congrats again! :D
Monique said…
THANKS, Alexa! And I love you for traveling halfway around the metro just to make it! ;)
Anonymous said…
(1) In my case, it's because of time constraints. I always try my best to finish any book that I have started, which explains why I am not taking off the bookmarks and markers I put on the two books that I have temporarily abandoned. But in this case, I'm mostly motivated by my undying support and love. Nux!

(3) I also did this, especially when I wanted to draw out the answers that I had in mind (Don't you think that... How about... etc.). For some reason, I have the infamy of posing some of the most difficult F2F questions, so I had to resort to this method, hehe.

(4) I was distracted by the dishes because I was wondering what they were. But then, I just dumped everything on the pita bread and ate. The food was great, and thank you for the Middle East experience!

(6) Ohmygurrd, I'm really sorry. I think I caused the carpoolers' tardiness due to my laundry issues. Not posh, haha.

(7) I love the mug! I'm using it. But with or without the mug, I would answer some of the questions. Or interrupt others while they are answering. Or react violently.

(9) The gimmick is just icing on the cake. It's really the inputs of everyone that makes a book discussion fun.

(10) Yay! Do I need to say more? And have you noticed the waiters listening to our discussion?

Congratulations again! You were so prepared (food, presentation, bookmarks, etc.). I guess I'll be expecting a shorter book for you on the next round? :)
Monique said…
BUDDY: Thank you for your very detailed comments, haha! :) As for being prepared, I just didn't want to hassle anybody. I wanted everyone to be relaxed, especially since it felt like everyone got stressed from reading the book. Haha. I wanted it to be a fuss-free, stress-free, happy and memorable discussion.

And I did notice the waiters listening in. AND chuckling while you were sharing your POSH history, haha!

Yes, a shorter book, and not too soon! :D
Peter S. said…
Hi, Monique! I'm still kicking myself for not having attended this discussion. Based on your points outlined in your post, it looked like an awesome discussion!
Aaron Vincent said…
It's funny that I get a shoutout for complaining. Hahaha. I'm surprised that my blog gets resurrected here. :D

This could be a very helpful post for future moderators.

(2) That is so true. My heart skips a beat every time someone back out before my discussion last May. Especially when you have plans or arrangements for a certain number of people. Surprise attendees are always nice.

(3) It also helps if your questions have an introduction that will somewhat lead every one to what kind of answers you are expecting.

(4) Sorry, guilty. hehehe

(6) And guilty again! :D

Again, congratulations! It was really a fun and engaging discussion. Honest!

Like what Alexa said,

Your discussion >>>> The book.
Monique said…
PETER: Don't sweat it! I'm sure there will be other future discussions - yours or mine - where we can share our thoughts on a book. :)

AARON: Hahaha! I think it was your rant that gave the first warning bell/signal to me? Wehehe. But it's okay. If you hadn't pointed it out, maybe those who had been holding back on their honest opinions wouldn't have dared to come right out and said so. :)

And again, THANK YOU, too! :)
Louize DG said…
I always believe that the common love we have for each other and the group will never let any F2F fail or be boring. And yes, we all love to eat! :)

No discussion is not without potholes. It takes a great moderator to dig up the discussion from that pothole and bring it back to life. And that's exactly what you did! Once more, Congratulations!
Lynai said…
The posts on Goodreads and the pictures show you did very very well with the moderator job, Monique! Cogratulations!

P.S. I am COVETING that mug! :D
Monique said…
LOUIZE: Thank you so much, and thank you for your very valuable inputs during the discussion! :)

LYNAI: Thanks! I have an extra mug right here, so I'll save that for when you're here in Manila. :D
Tina said…
Late comment is late! :D

I think your discussion was awesome, just as every discussion that we had this year. :) It IS a different experience discussing things face to face than online. Even if most of us were lukewarm with the book, it's the company that matters. :) I think even if we all hated the book, we will still come together to talk about it and it makes the book just a bit better. A bit lang. :D

Congratulations again, Monique! And with this: Yes, I would do it again. Gladly. :)


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