Reading groups are on the rise. There are now 10,000 library-linked groups in the UK – and many more running independently. Both sociable and stimulating, they provide opportunities to meet new people and widen reading horizons. They also help spread the word about new or undiscovered titles. That is why Fiction Uncovered is working with the Reading Agency to get reading groups around the country reading and reviewing the eight ‘Fiction Uncovered’ titles.
At the Reading Agency we run national programmes for adults, young people and children. Our flagship programme, The Summer Reading Challenge, gets 750,000 children reading over the school summer holidays, while Reading Partners, a consortium of librarians and publishers, is revolutionising the way the two sectors work together. The latter scheme was started because we wanted people in every community to have access to author events and the latest reading promotions. These now take place in libraries all over the UK.
Reading Partners publishers often ask us to market a new book through reading groups. Sometimes free proofs or finished copies are given to groups in exchange for feedback on titles, in the form of a questionnaire or reviews. Penguin did this with The Help by Kathryn Stockett, reaching reading groups via 300 libraries nationwide. Ultimately this project helped increase the book’s sales, but it also gave readers the opportunity to have their voices heard. ‘My reading group liked the chance to deliver feedback to the publisher’, says Alison Bond-McNally, reader development librarian of Bury Library Service.
When readers express their views, other readers listen. At the Reading Agency we sought to promote the readers’ voice with ‘Mood-boosting Books’ – a nationwide promotion with BBC Headroom aimed at adults, particularly those who might have experienced mental health conditions. Reading groups around the country read a selection of books and chose the titles they felt were mood-boosting. Rather than promoting a list of books identified by a psychologist, this was a set of books chosen by readers, with readers’ endorsements.
Libraries are the ideal space for readers to meet and the Reading Agency has access to the national network of library reading groups – and therefore its diverse readership. According to Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, ‘You can find almost every niche through the public library network and find readers hungry to meet writers and discover new work.’ Although there are independent book clubs running in people’s homes and pubs around the country, libraries are a community hub bringing readers of all ages and backgrounds together. As Nick Hornby says, ‘Libraries create readers. It is becoming only libraries that are thinking imaginatively about how we create a nation of readers . . . The whole country needs readers, and we need libraries to create them’. Libraries are also the only place you get free access to books. Books are loaned as reading group sets, meaning users can borrow all 8–10 copies, rather than buying them. This needn’t be worrying for publishers, as borrowers from public libraries – and, indeed, reading group members – are much more likely to go out and buy a book they have read than non-borrowers. Reading groups are a growing force in marketing books. But they have a social benefit too. They make people feel better and are the perfect place to start spreading the word about lesser-known or new titles.
In May 2011 reading groups around the country will begin reading the eight ‘Fiction Uncovered’ books, with reviews of each title featuring on this website. Readers will recommend the books to others, creating a buzz around the titles and, once again, demonstrating the true power of reading groups to shape, and shift, reading habits.
Judith Shipman, Project Manager, The Reading Agency