Answer by Kelly Battles, avid reader:
I have been in three book clubs in my life, one for the last 18 years (we are still going strong). For context, my book club is comprised of a dozen well-educated women who all live in the Bay Area currently. We are all moms and have worked outside of the home at some point during our time together, though only a few of us currently work outside of the home. We prioritize reading and discussing the books. We read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and have generally avoided selecting books about parenting, relationship, work-related, or self-help topics.
While I can't be sure if this is the best way to structure a book club, here are some things that have seemed to work very well for us.
1) Given schedules are busy, people often have to miss, and you want a big enough group each month to have a robust discussion, start with a fairly large group. We have always had 11-12 in our book club at any one time and have usually averaged 5-6 at any specific get together (which is plenty for a fun discussion).
2) When forming the original group, make sure each individual knows at least one other person in the group so they feel comfortable early on, but also try to mix it up so there is also room to build new friendships over time. Try to pick people who don't live too far apart to make sure the logistics aren't inhibiting attendance.
3) If it is a priority (which for us it is), select people who actually do want to and are willing to read and discuss books. Make sure they know reading and discussing the books will be a priority upfront.
4) Meet monthly, rotating houses/hosts. If you have 12 people in the group, hopefully hosting once per year is not too much of a burden. In your first meeting, instead of discussing a book, spend time discussing and agreeing on group norms, and select the first few books you will read (more on this below).
5) Meet on the same day each month (e.g., second Tuesday of every month) and don't change it (unless it is a rare exception and unanimous); re-scheduling 10-12 busy people each month is too complicated, and will be a time sink. Plus if six people can meet on one day and six on another, how do you decide which day is best?
6) Use a Google sheet to track dates, hosts, availability and books.
7) A robust book selection process is key. Roughly twice a year, we each bring recommendations for one to two books that either we have already read and loved, or someone we really trust has read and loved. We go around the room and discuss our recommendations and then the group votes on their top two choices. The top five to six books with the most votes get selected. Someone scribes the list and vote count, and then schedules the book list in the google sheet. We usually keep a list of the unselected books as well in case we want to come back to them as a group or for reminders of what else we may want to read in our spare time individually. Note, I have seen some book clubs ask the host to pick the book, I think this is risky. People are busy, and expecting them to spend hours reading a bad book is not fair. While it will be impossible to please the whole group all of the time, the more robust the selection process, the more likely you will pick books that the majority enjoys.
8) The host picks the menu and serves a sit down dinner. The meal is also important - it makes sure you have good group bonding and discussion time. I have seen snacks served and this tended to lead to people being late or leaving early (because they had to grab dinner, etc). Dinner implies more investment for the host and the guests.
9) Start with lots of social / catch-up time but make sure you do have enough time to discuss the book. We usually start discussing the book over the latter part of dinner and continue through dessert.
10) In December, we don't read a book and instead host a holiday party and invite significant others. We rotate hosting over the years, and everyone chips in to help pay to have it casually catered to minimize the host's effort. We each bring our beverage of choice. This is fun and festive social time and many of our significant others joke it is their favorite party of the year. Since we don't have a book in December we usually save the longest books for the January meetings.