Monday, December 9, 2013

Creating a Discussion Guide for your book

By Lisa Lickel

Love em, Hate em, want them in the back of the book or not—discussion questions do add a new dimension to your work.

I’ve had publishers tell me they don’t want them in the book, and know of some publishers that require questions. I’ve put them in one of my books, and have designed them for several of my books as well as for other books in my book club when I’ve been the discussion leader. 

Why questions? Questions are good for personal reader reflection, but especially for a group discussion guide. I think that questions in the back of the book make your work look serious. Readers can skip them if they want. A discussion guide may mean inclusion in book clubs. Why do I want book clubs to read my book? First of all, these questions give me a place to do some explaining that I can’t inside the text; it also gives me an opportunity to point out my subtle genius points that may have been, sadly, overlooked. Think of it like watching the TV show Lost with JJ’s subtexts. Secondly, sales, library sales and borrows, word of mouth, my friends. Possible author face time. Feedback. Book clubs are always looking for fodder, and while it’s annoyingly true they tend to choose NYT bestsellers, there’s no reason to think yours can’t make a list or two.

The larger publishers like Random House often have author pages with all kinds of goodies-author interviews and background for the books, and discussion questions. Read some of them for some pointers. 
ReadingGroupGuides website is one of the top ones to go to for great discussion questions, but they’ve gone from a $100 to $200 fee to have your material placed there. However, if you can get in on other readers’ group blogs, and especially GoodReads, an Internet search will bring up your name and book. I’ve placed questions on GoodReads for my books. Don’t forget to put them on your own site, Amazon and BN author pages and forums. 

How to devise your questions for either fiction or non?

Foremost, never make them yes or no questions, or lead to obvious answers. If the questions are in the book, you can refer to page number, such as, “On page 142 Cala Lily has a breakthrough. What is it and how did it affect her feelings toward Reed?” However, it’s best not to be that specific due to readers having different versions.  

How many questions should you write? Depends—some group discussions are quite detailed, others short and sweet. Try not to lump too many unlike questions into “one,” such as, 3. “Did you like the main characters? Were they believable? Was their romance too good to be true? How would you have acted?”  

Reading Group Guides offers a general set of non-specific questions that can be your launch point.
Start with general subjects, do you like or dislike the book, the subject, the characters and so forth.
Do you, the author, want to point out something about the setting and how it affected the plot? The characters’ names? Why you wrote the genre or how the style worked?  

For non-fiction, consider the author and his or her relations to the subject. What kind of book is it and what drew you to the book? How well was it researched and what did you learn? What was the author’s attitude and yours to the topic? What did you learn and/or did your opinion change? How is it different from others on this topic? 

I’m working on a discussion guide for my novel that’s coming out in January. It will be the book of the month in one of my book clubs, so I need to be ready. I like to make between ten and twelve discussion points. Here are mine. What do you think?
  • The theme of The Last Detail is relationships. What relationships are described? 
  • Who were the main characters and the secondary characters? How did they interact? 
  • Merit and Amalia had choices to make which affected not only themselves but others around them. How did these choices change during the stages of their relationship? 
  • Both the local and the overseas settings were fictional, but near real places. How did they play into the theme of the story? How did the story of Starved Rock affect the characters? 
  • What kind of symbolism did the author use in the story? What cultural and social customs affected the relationships and the events? 
  • Why do you think Merit’s brother-n-law, Tom, choose to keep the family secret the way he did? What would have been different if he hadn’t? 
  • How were Merit and Amalia influenced by their upbringing? What secrets did they have? 
  • Pete says in Chapter eleven, “So, you think if you don’t have love, God can’t take it away.” What did he mean? What was Merit afraid of? Have you ever felt that way? 
  • What was Amalia’s reaction to the Christmas news about Bunty? Did she have a right to feel the way she did? 
  • Throughout the story there was a series of miscommunications that threaten Amalia and Merit’s relationship. What were some of them and how, or were they, resolved? 
  • What did the characters learn through their courtship and marriage? How do you handle both trials and triumphs in your relationships?
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