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Start an Online Book Club

By Eugenia Williamson

In 2011, Vee Signorelli started GayYA.org. While the site offered plenty of thought-provoking writing about LGBTQIA in young-adult literature, Signorelli felt something was missing. "There were very few ways for readers of LGBTQIA and YA to connect," she says. "I thought starting a book club might be a fun way to fix that!"

To fill the void, she turned to Katherine Locke, who now hosts the Gay YA Book Club on Twitter. I tracked them down to find out how to operate a book club from the comfort of your couch.

Think Globally

"Online book clubs can connect people all over the world," Signorelli says. "Through our chats, we've had a lot of incredible discussions about the differences of being queer in different areas of the world. It's really great being able to use our love of books to develop a deeper understanding of our varied experiences!"

Mix It Up

Locke and Signorelli have found that their members respond best to books that depict strong, positive relationships. They choose these from a variety of publishers. "It's good to find a balance between big titles and small-press titles," Signorelli says. "Featuring big titles is a great way to build a community: it guarantees an audience, and can garner engagement from brand new people. Once you have that community, though, then you can find the really, really great small titles and use the platform you've built to lift them up."

That commitment comes with a little more work on the back end. "When we're discussing a smaller title, I try to reach out a few days beforehand to people who have read the book, letting them know the discussion is happening and that I would love to hear their thoughts."

Be Ready

"I always try and have an outline of answers for my own questions," Signorelli says. "Twit chats can move really quickly and make it hard to think. Having answers helps keep my anxiety at bay."

Stay Positive

"Kicking off discussions isn't always easy," Locke says. "I always start with greeting everyone, any special reminders (no spoilers, pronouns for trans characters, etc), and then asking them about their favorite part of the book. Starting off with positive comments and reflections seems to draw people into a more comfortable space."

Focus on Engagement

Any given Gay YA discussion has anywhere from five to 20 participants. "We don't require attendance, and we don't ask for sign-ups ahead of time," Locke says. "I try to focus less on the number of attendees than on their engagement, on the quality of discussion, engaging with fellow readers, and sharing a book with other readers. I love talking about my favorite books with other readers and it's the most enjoyable part of the process for me."

Cast a Wide Net

To kick-start a discussion, stick to generalities. Locke always has a few open-ended questions at the ready: One thing I really loved about [insert title here] is how it portrayed coming out as awkward rather than totally triumphant. What are your favorite ways that you've seen coming out portrayed? or "This is a science-fiction book, so none of the sexualities are labeled. How do you feel about that?"

Talk to Yourself

The thought of tweeting into a void sends shivers down my spine. But as it happens, holding a very small conversation has its benefits. "There have been a couple of times when no one has read the book, and it's just Katie and I squeeing over much we loved it," Signorelli explains. "The first time that happened it was pretty awkward but now we just lean into it! Instead of asking questions and waiting for people to answer, it becomes a joint interview. When we wrap up, there are always tons of people saying how much they NEED that book in their life, RIGHT NOW."

Be a Follower

Locke has learned it's best to measure a discussion's success by how much participants engage with each other, not with her. "I always have a handful of questions prepared, but I try to follow their lead and talk more about the relationships in the book, or certain genre or world-building aspects whatever interests them," she says.

Eugenia Williamson is Associate Editor of Digital Products for Booklist Publications.

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