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How the Girly Book Club grew into a global network of thousands of readers

AprilFeatureBookclubs_Sidebar-01Erin Woodward stumbled by accident into her position as one of the most influential book-club organizers in the world. When she moved to London in 2008 to be with her boyfriend, she found the city a tough place to meet people. But Woodward was committed to her relationship, and knew if she wanted to keep living in the U.K. she would need to make some new friends. She checked out local book clubs on the social-networking website Meetup, and when she couldn’t find one that suited her tastes, she decided to start her own. A week later, Woodward logged onto the site and discovered that 100 people had signed up for her group. “I just wanted eight friends,” she says. “But I thought, clearly there’s a need for this, so I left it open.” That was the beginning of the Girly Book Club.

London is city of transients. When several members of Woodward’s club left for new destinations, they asked Woodward if they could start their own chapters. “I never had these grandiose dreams of building a book-club empire, but I said, ‘Why not.’” Woodward helped them get started and build their own websites, and “soon there were 10 book clubs in really random places, like Oklahoma City and places I’ve never even been.” Ten groups quickly grew to 20, then 30, and now there are 52 Girly Book Club chapters around the world, including in 13 cities across Canada, boasting more than 40,000 members – more than 3,500 in the original London chapter alone. Woodward quit her job last November to focus on the growing enterprise – now an incorporated business – and its various administrative and marketing needs. While she handles all basic operations, local representatives in each city host monthly meetings and other social outings, such as brunches and movie nights.

Girly Book Club members, who pay approximately five dollars per meeting to cover basic costs such as mailing and Internet fees, connect through local Meetups, as well as the group’s central, slickly designed website and various social-media channels. They’re also united through the books: international members read the same title each month, which they then discuss with their local groups.

While setting up the Girly Book Club, Woodward – who moved from London to New York before settling back in Toronto – worked in public relations and as a freelance journalist for publications like Marie Claire and InStyle. She used her connections and insight to convince publicists to get on board, and to send copies of selected books to give away as raffle prizes and to the local chapter hosts. Woodward relies on a group of trusted publicists to help her determine a shortlist of potential titles each month, with the final title chosen by a members’ vote.

Given the number of copies required each month, the Girly Book Club primarily relies on titles from multinational publishers. “I’d love to work with the little publishers more, but access to the books is really hard,” Woodward says. Selected titles have to be new releases, and be available globally in paperback. “I don’t want people paying for hardcovers,” she says. “That would just bring down the number of people that could be involved.” In February, for instance, the club read Nadia Hashimi’s The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, published by HarperCollins.

Woodward’s ambitious plan is to double the number of clubs to 100 by the end of 2017, and launch a series of annual memberships, including a premium level that would provide subscribers with print or digital copies of books delivered directly to their homes or devices. She admits that as the Girly Book Club grows and gains more attention, there have been more questions about its name, and whether members only read chicklit or books by women (they don’t). “The most important thing we do at the end of the day is bring women together to form lifelong friendships,” Woodward says, referring to the network as a sorority. “Often it doesn’t even come down to the book, it’s really about a safe place and not a big commitment where women can meet with their friends.”


April 12th, 2017

12:01 pm

Category: Industry News

Issue Date: April 2017

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