As currently structured, the Historical Novel Society is open to readers, bloggers, and authors. It alternates conference years in the United States and England. This often means two years between seeing friends and colleagues, pitching to editors, and otherwise keeping track of the state of the Historical Fiction genre in the publishing world. To combat that, HNS has endorsed the idea of local chapters, and I get a lot of questions about how we started ours, The Chesapeake Bay chapter of HNS. So here are my thoughts.

Define a Geographic Limit. When we first started our chapter, most of us were from Virginia and Maryland. What did we have in common? The Chesapeake Bay, which encompasses Maryland, Virginia, DC and even Delaware, and we were pretty proud of that. But we swiftly realized that driving distances made it quite impractical. We probably would have been better off calling it the Greater DC chapter. So think carefully about this so that people don’t feel left out and/or you don’t have to then split your chapter later.

Start a Facebook Group. Sure, there are lots of other places online you can find likeminded historical readers, booksellers and authors. But Facebook is the easiest and most likely place to find them at present. It’s also the best place to have a presence on social media.

Recruit. In addition to pitching on social media, send a message to libraries, book clubs, bloggers and author groups in your area. At the present time, local chapter members do not need to be part of the overall organization, so they don’t have to pay the fees. That’s a great way of pulling people into the fold without risk.

Start a Mailing List. The disadvantage to a Facebook group is, of course, is that unlike a mailing loop, members might not see every post. So you may wish to start a separate mailing list as well. We didn’t do this and we have regretted it ever since. Going forward I may propose to our Queen, Meg Wessel, First of Her Name, that we make it a condition of membership. And speaking of the Queen…

Choose a Leader. When you’re first starting a chapter, that leader is going to be you. But as soon as you start having meetings, it helps to choose a pro-active leader who will ensure regular meetings and hound the group until it happens. We decided that since we’re a historical group, an elected monarch would be great. So no presidents for us. Just the queen. And we first chose the lovely Queen Terry Martini, an avid reader and enthusiast. Next Queen Meg, a book blogger extraordinaire.

Meet At Least Quarterly. Everyone gets busy. If you get out of the habit of regular meetings the enthusiasm and the organization will die. Meetings can be anything though. Joint outings to historical meetings. Speakers. Social Hours. Gab fests at libraries and book stores. We’ve sometimes helped each other with queries and/or critiqued five minute readings.

If you’re looking to join a local chapter or found one, I encourage you to do so. And you can find out more here.