The Joy Lit Book Club, a ~120 person contemporary romance book club, is one of the most active communities on Geneva 🙌 . For the club’s leader, Joy, the secret is simple: “it’s all about just being really good friends.”
We recently sat down with Joy to learn more about how the club got started, what sorts of things keep everyone coming back, and what goes down behind the scenes to make it all work so smoothly!
In this convo, you’ll learn about...
- Ideas for different activities clubs can experiment with (book clubs in particular!)
- Joy’s simple trick(s) for building a super engaged community
- Why it’s so important to grow slowly & thoughtfully
Ok, let’s jump in (note: we’ve edited some of the conversation for brevity and clarity’s sake!) ⬇️
Take us back to the beginning: What inspired you create The Joy Lit Club initially?
I was part of a romance forum on reddit, and I went on there one night and was like: hey, is there anyone who wants to just chat about books? And I received more responses than I anticipated from people who wanted to be “book friends” - about 30 people at first! They said, let’s start a book club! I didn’t know if a formal book club was even really something that I wanted - I just wanted to casually talk about books! - but I got talked into it! We started on Discord but Discord, for me and for most of us, is so confusing! So next we moved to a “book club” app but their chat features were lacking and it felt cluttered...And then finally, someone in our group, Sarah, found Geneva and we’ve been here ever since. It’s now evolved into this amazing community!
Had you ever run a book club before?
No! Initially, I wanted to have an in-person book club - where you go to each other’s homes, talk about books, eat and drink - but that’s so hard nowadays. It’s difficult to find people in your everyday life that read romance. One reason I started this club is because my childhood friends don’t read! And my book friends have shared the same sentiment: they didn't have anyone in their lives they could talk with about books, because the romance genre carries a stigma.
After I was persuaded into starting a formal club, I made it my goal to give my new friends a safe haven to discuss their reads, no matter if it’s a rom-com or a steamy book about a stripper and a priest. And besides, not all romance books are spicy. Honestly, all we want is a couple who gets their happily ever after!
How did you think about setting up the space and the club, and how it would operate initially? What sorts of activities did you plan?
In addition to our basic rooms for Announcements and the main chat, I definitely knew we wanted a Book of the Month and that we’d get together each month and discuss it. That’s the core of almost every book club, so I created a room for that.
We also knew we wanted to do a “Buddy Reads” thing because “Book of the Month” is only one book and we all have mile long TBRs (To-Be-Read Lists). Buddy Reads is for other books that we also want to read with smaller groups. We typically have 4-5 buddy reads every month, and everyone can decide which ones they want to participate in. While the Book of the Month is discussed via Zoom (because it’s bigger), buddy reads are discussed in the voice chat room on Geneva. They’re meant to be more of a casual meeting, but they still usually go on for 45 minutes to an hour because we can’t stop talking! We LOVE the voice chat room! We use it more than I ever anticipated and it’s definitely one of our favorite features on Geneva.
As the club grew, I started getting more ideas. I started “Choose My Next Read” where every other week people get partnered up and they choose a book for each other based on that week’s prompt. I match people based on what I know about them & their preferences and use this to occasionally push everyone out of their comfort zone.
Another thing we started later on is “Guess Who Dunnit” — we’ll all read 90% of a murder mystery book, then get together in the voice room in our home and discuss who we think the killer is. Then we’ll go finish it and chat afterwards, like: were we right or wrong? should we all quit our jobs and go become detectives? Those voice chats are one of my favorite things, and so many inside jokes have come out of it!
We also now do monthly challenges. I come up with 7 prompts people have to complete (and there are other ways to receive extra points too) and then give away a small prize to whomever’s accumulated the most points at the end.
Oh and there’s also “SYSterhood of Traveling Books”. We had this idea (shoutout Amber!): wouldn’t it be so fun if each of us bought 1 book, read and annotated it, and then sent it around to all the other participants in a circle? I wasn’t sure if anyone would be willing to do it as it does require mailing a book every few weeks, but people were so excited! There are now 24 participants, and the whole cycle is gonna take almost 2 years! In the end, we will keep the novel we chose, and have a piece of our book club for life. Stuff like this, while it’s a commitment, helps keep people engaged with the club!
Then there are other things we do that aren’t even directly related to books! We have a dedicated room for “Question of the Day” and that’s been a huge part of how we’ve all gotten to know each other so well (some of our QOTDs are book related, but many just silly or thought provoking). We play virtual board games and “Never Have I Ever” which has allowed us to form deeper connections. And we also do live watch parties - we just watched the movie 365 Days and The Summer I Turned Pretty, both of which are adaptations from books…and tomorrow we’re watching Beauty & The Beast!
And we’re even planning a trip! We’re calling it Bookcation2023 and at least twenty of of us are going to San Diego — with a few people even coming all the way from the UK! We’re gong to go to the beach, have a bonfire complete with s’mores, go out to eat, have book inspired cocktails, play board games, and have a book exchange. It’s going to be a blast!
I always ask people — hey do you have any suggestions? And I always get feedback. Most of the ideas for new things I’ve come up with and put out as experiments, then see what people like.
Your community is super engaged and people seem to love being part of the group — what do you attribute that to?
Honestly, I struggled at first when we were on the other app. I actually almost gave up on the club because I was putting in so many hours and there wasn’t much participation. But then I did two things that made a major impact.
- We moved to Geneva, which is so much more intuitive and has made chatting seamless. It has features we didn’t realize were so useful for our club.
- We held our first live video meeting. When you see each other, you become more real, more relatable.
Besides that, I think it has a lot to do with the activities we do and our hangouts in our video room. We typically have two events each month - virtual board games, watch parties, etc, and when we have our Book of The Month sessions, we don’t just talk about the book of the month — we talk about books in general, we talk about life; there’s a lot of laughing involved. None of these meetings have ever been shorter than 3 hours. If our community had a trope, it would be “found family”! I know so much about everyone — their families, their childhoods, their careers. We have gotten to know each other more intimately – and it’s mainly because of this time we’ve spent together live.
I also send a DM to everyone who joins - welcoming them, giving them a brief overview of the club, and asking them to reach out if they need anything.
And I have a really good memory so I know who in our club has read what and I’ll use that to bring people together if I know they have books or interests in common. For example, when someone introduces themself in our Introductions room, I welcome them in and ask them what their favorite book and tropes are — and if they mention a specific book or author I know someone else likes, I’ll say: Oh, this person has read that and really enjoyed it and I’ll tag them into the thread. It makes new people feel welcome, like they have an instant friend.
That's what I credit much of the activity and success of our club to — the friendships between us that come only from a smaller group. While it’s small in size, there’s an abundance of emotional support and encouragement. We celebrate everyone’s birthday, job promotions, first dates. When a friend’s best friend passed away, we sent her cookies. Same as when another friend’s cat passed. We have the most kind-hearted couple in our club. These are intangibles that keep people coming back.
Another tip I have: take your time responding to posts. I respond to most QOTD comments, and posts throughout our home. It’s important to make everyone feel like they matter; because they do. It takes time, but they’re giving you their time, as well. Reciprocate.
And last but not least, if I notice someone hasn’t been active in a while, I’ll DM them. Sometimes they’re going through a rough patch and appreciate something as simple as having someone ask “how are you?”
Some people in our group have mentioned they don’t have offline friends, and they’re thankful for the connections they’ve made in our community and look forward to interacting with us every day. It’s such a powerful thing to be a part of someone’s daily life. I never expected to be a part of such a tight-knit group, but this is what it has organically evolved into, and the group has made me cry on several occasions. They support me not only with the club, but in my personal life. I’m grateful. I couldn’t have hand-chosen a better book family. We just fit.
Any final advice for someone who’s just starting a book club, or any sort of community around something they’re passionate about?
One thing I really have to stress on: you have to be relentlessly positive. It’s so important to be kind and positive at all times, even when you’re having a bad day, because your attitude will make a big impact on your community.
You also have to identify the reasons you’re starting the club. It’s good to have a goal, but also be flexible. Listen to your group — it’s really about them, so make it about them. I try to understand what’s working for people, what’s not. There was actually a time when my friend, Simone, asked if we could have a “Meme” room in our home and I was thinking to myself: omg we have so many rooms already, how many more are we gonna add? I’m the type of person who doesn’t want clutter. But I love her, she’s one of my closest book friends, so I went for it. And you know what, people post in this meme room ALL DAY now, it’s insane. So I’m actually so happy she suggested it!
And then last but not least, I’d say: be totally authentic — don’t start a club for clout or attention. We have a smaller club, about 120 people, and there are hundreds of requests, but I haven’t really approved them because my community told me they preferred something small and intimate, not overwhelming or impersonal. So now, instead of approving 50 people all at one time, I’ll approve new requests here and there and then really get to know them. If you add 50 people all at once, you and the people in the group won’t be able to form connections. So, for us, it’s not about trying to be this huge thing on social media — we don’t even have an Instagram page or anything like that. It’s all about just being really good friends, quality over quantity.