Memoir Editing Job of a Lifetime . . . My Dad’s, That Is

by Diane Rush


Diane, about one month old, and DadI have the best editing assignment ever: I’m helping my dad write his memoir. You might think this job could be fraught with various issues, and you’d be right. Suggesting changes to a family member’s creative work can be a delicate endeavor. But obviously, both my dad and I have the same goal in mind, and with a lot of hard work and a bit of humor, we’re progressing just fine.

My dad begins his description of himself with “an old” and follows that with a noun that tells what his Parkinson’s and eighty-five-plus years are dishing out for the day. I explain, “No, Dad, you’re not in your older years, you’re in your wise years.” What a good time for a person to write his or her memoir. He’s easygoing and didn’t mind when I bought a copy of Memoir Writing for Dummies for us to read and told him not to take the title personally. My dad is a great writer and has always tried to stay up on the latest in the computer world.

My first lesson learned was that teaching Track Changes to someone who hasn’t used it before requires more training than I had given. I came to that conclusion when he somehow turned off Track Changes and made all the changes he wanted. Of course, I couldn’t see any of his revisions that way. He used that parental voice that says, “You can do anything you set your mind to” when he told me simply, “You can fix this.” I gained a new appreciation for the Compare function.

What worked best was for me to keep the full manuscript on my computer and for him to start a new blank Word document every day and type just that day’s work into it (he wrote about five hundred to a thousand words each day). Then he emailed me the work he did for the day, and I copied and pasted it into the master manuscript. Via speakerphone, I read the new work back to him out loud. We went over glaring issues together, and then I did the copyediting on my own. Following that same process every day for the past seven months, we came to the last line of the story and ended up with just under seventy thousand words.

High-tech as he is, my dad has a low-tech concept of what he thinks readers will do when they get to a word they don’t know. In my case, I had to wonder while working on his draft how a cog train works and what eosinophils are and who Lyle Hess is. I suggested he provide a brief explanation for words or phrases that might be unknown to the reader. He asked me, “Don’t people just look up words they don’t know?”

“They might if they’re on an e-reader,” I told him. With a little bit of convincing that it isn’t as common anymore for readers to look up new words in a dictionary, he started adding short explanations of troublesome terms.

Some of the best parts of working with him were reading my dad’s wisdom coming through in his stories, hearing his folksy expressions, and laughing at his antics, saying to him, “Dad, you didn’t really do that, did you?” Yes, he did, and to be a respected memoirist, he wrote only what was true. For the parts that taxed his memory, he asked other family members or explained in the text that the details as recounted might not be exact, but the message is correct, or we simply left that part out. We also added a note to readers at the beginning of the book saying that his memories are to the best of his recollection.

A part of the process that was therapeutic for me was the retelling of a part of my life that I missed out on: the family’s yearlong sail through the Bahamas. In my, then, 18 years of wisdom, I told my parents, “Nope, I’m going to stay home and work.” It didn’t take too long to realize that I regretted that decision. Writing that part of the story together was almost as if I got to take the trip after all, and it was one of the most satisfying parts of working on the book.

One of the more difficult aspects of reading a parent’s life story is discovering parts of his or her life you haven’t heard before, the things you didn’t know were happening because you weren’t born yet or were too young. The flip side is that all the pieces finally come together to provide the full story.

We decided that when there were accounts that could be hurtful to the person mentioned, we would change the name of that person. We did that for a few people. We also added a line in the disclaimer at the beginning that said some of the identities had been changed to protect privacy. I believe it made it easier for my dad to write the difficult parts when made-up names were used, as if he were telling someone else’s story.

It was a bit rough for me when he was outlining the last chapter of the book: I didn’t want to hear that there would be a last chapter. I wanted to slow down the process, but he wanted to speed it up. He said he didn’t want to die before the book was finished. I joked that he better not do that, because if he did, I’d have to make up things to finish off the book.

Once we had the full manuscript completed, I gave him an expanded lesson in Track Changes. At that point, I knew he needed to go back through the manuscript on his own, at his own pace, and make the changes he wanted. As he said toward the end of that process, “Well, the good thing about all this writing and rewriting is I’m really figuring out this Word 16 stuff.” And indeed he did.

After more rounds than most copy editors would provide a “regular” client, we had a finished story. Off it went to the cover designer and formatter, and now we wait for the proofs to be ready.

Toward the end of our last proofreading round, before sending the manuscript off, my dad asked me whether we needed to make any more revisions. No, Dad, I thought. Don’t worry about revisions. You’ve led a great life . . . no revisions necessary.


SD/PEN Member Profile: Preston Hathaway

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring Preston Hathaway, a technical editor, storyteller, and poet.

How do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

I translate what engineers say about their work and products into language the target audience can understand. I bring understanding and clarity to complex, highly technical situations.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

I found myself writing and editing a great deal during the first two or three jobs I had after I retired from the US Navy. I enjoyed it and made it a career.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients or professional colleagues to remember you for?

My ability to listen, joy in the work I perform, teaching, and enthusiasm for learning about new work-related topics.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White Jr. This biography reads like a thriller and reveals the life of an American leader. As a general, the secretary of war, and eventually president, Ulysses S. Grant ensured the Union won the Civil War and slavery was abolished. He worked long and hard to uphold the civil rights amendment and protect black soldiers, their families, and former slaves from being harassed and killed by former members of the Confederacy who did not want the civil rights amendment enforced. His life story is one of continual learning, adjusting to new circumstances, and overcoming major loss—several times over.

Where would you like to go on your next vacation and why?

Our next vacation is planned. We will visit Devils Tower in Wyoming and Mount Rushmore, and then get on historic Route 66 in Carthage, Missouri, and follow it back to California. My wife and I like road trips. Route 66 is a highway that contributed greatly to migration and communication, changing various parts of the United States. We look forward to getting off the interstates and seeing new parts of the country.

Our next vacation after that: Israel and Palestine. We want to join a pilgrimage that visits historic Christian sites and places them into historical, cultural, and geographical contexts. I am writing historical fiction that takes place during the time of Christ, so this pilgrimage would contribute to story backgrounds.


SD/PEN Member Profile: Mika Ono

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring Mika Ono, editorial director at the University of Redlands.

Mika_Ono_headshotHow do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

I’m a terrible networker, so I’d probably say, “I put out the alumni magazine for the University of Redlands.” I’m actually involved in many projects in addition to the magazine, including executive communications, web content, brochures, and social media. In the time I’ve been at the University of Redlands, I’ve found it to be a real gem—offering a genuinely warm community and commitment to personalized, student-centered education.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

I love working with words. Text is like a puzzle that can be taken apart and put together again in just the right way to make a piece strong and meaningful.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

I try to be most proud of whatever project I’m working on at the moment—currently, the next issue of the University of Redlands alumni magazine, which explores how technology is reshaping so many areas of our lives, including politics, education, mapping, pop culture, and music.

I’ve also found my book projects particularly rewarding. I co-authored San Diego Book Award-winner Ancient Wisdom Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life (Da Capo Press) and worked on memoirs with some remarkable individuals, including a former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist minister who spent his career serving communities throughout California.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

I recently finished The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Cornerstone Publishers), which chronicles a conversation over five days between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I not only appreciated the two men’s insights on the human condition, but also the way their conversation illustrated commonalities between Christianity and Buddhism.

Another book I enjoyed was Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta (Simon and Schuster) by Richard Grant. This delightful chronicle tells of the writer’s experience moving from New York City to the Mississippi Delta, describing the culture, challenges, and people of this part of the South with fresh eyes.

Describe one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I’m a morning person with a vengeance. My most productive hours are between 5:00 and 9:00 a.m.

SD/PEN Member Profile: David Gaddis Smith

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring SD/PEN board member David Gaddis Smith, a writer, editor, and Spanish-to-English translator.

David-Gaddis-SmithHow do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

I’m a former San Diego Union-Tribune foreign editor and Mexico columnist who has reinvented himself as an editor and Spanish-to-English translator of books and articles about Mexico, in addition to being a long-distance editor for the Middle East website and writing about Mexico.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

I am most proud of my work that helped show the innocence of four men falsely arrested in the 1994 assassination of Mexican ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in Tijuana. Mexicans were so convinced that there was a conspiracy behind the killing that they came to false conclusions that resulted in the incarceration of these men, and it unfortunately took far too long for logic and justice to take their course and for these men to achieve their freedom.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients to remember you for?

I would like my clients to remember me most for my accuracy and for the perspective I help provide in seeing the larger picture. I had no corrections my last five years at the San Diego Union-Tribune and have caught error after error for my clients since. God (or Allah) only knows why it all too often seems that I have better knowledge about the 12 Imams than the Shiite Muslim writers I edit.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

A book I bought with a gift card I won at an SD/PEN meeting (there are great benefits in attending!) is The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin (2014). Chapters such as “Organizing Our Home” and “Organizing Our Time” have helped me clarify what to do next. I now use 3x5 cards as an organizing/to do process as recommended by the author, who calls this a brain extension system that “builds on the neuroscience of attention, memory, and categorization” (p. 74).

Where would you like to go on your next vacation and why?

I would like to go to the Copper Canyon in northern Mexico. A good friend whose Canadian-born wife introduced me to my Canadian-born wife, Louise, wants the four of us to take a train trip to see what is often described as the "Grand Canyon of Mexico." It just has been difficult scheduling four people to do this trip amid family deaths, illnesses, weddings, births, work, remodeling—you name it!

Describe one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I have become quite a handyman. The internet, which has made me a far better editor and translator, also provides a wealth of knowledge that was not previously readily available and that allows the average homeowner to do a decent job at home repairs and projects. Internet research also helped me once become the Toastmasters humorous speech champion for the state of Baja California with my talk “La Historia de México en Siete Minutos.”

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always have had wide-ranging interests and got into journalism when I was in high school by being a sports correspondent. I thought that if I took a job at a newspaper after graduating from the University of Florida, I would meet people from all walks of life and then figure out what I really wanted to do. Turns out I never left journalism; more than half my working hours are still devoted to the craft.

Diversify Marketing Efforts to Find Freelance Editing Work

By Katie Barry

Katie_Barry_Finding Freelance Work blogI wish I had the secret to finding editing work as a freelancer. If you take this one magic step, clients will line up at your door! They’ll throw money at you, and you’ll never have to look for work again.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. The past few months, however, have reminded me of one of the greatest marketing lessons available to freelancers: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In the past few months, I’ve added three clients to my roster: two ongoing and one project specific. I found each client a different way.

Client A: The Cattle Call

A job listing appeared on an editorial organization’s job list. I applied. I got it. It all happened within the space of about two weeks. I’ve been working with them for almost four months now. They don’t send a large amount of work, but it’s steady, interesting, and they pay promptly!

Client B: SD/PEN Member Services Directory

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by an author who found my member directory listing on the SD/PEN website. We exchanged some emails about his book project, and I’ve since completed editing his manuscript. At the end of the project, I referred him to David Wogahn of AuthorImprints, who spoke at an SD/PEN program meeting last November, to help with the author’s next steps (including obtaining an ISBN). The author was easy to work with and passionate about his subject matter, he paid promptly, and, again, the work was interesting. Being able to pay it forward with a referral to David made the work all the sweeter.

Client C: Colleague Referral

I’d been hearing for a while now about a colleague’s great client. The client was interested in expanding their network of freelancers toward the end of last year, but they ended up being too busy to go through the process of hiring someone at that time.

Out of the blue, a few weeks ago the client contacted me to see if I was still available and interested. I was. They are now a source of ongoing work. Again, the work is interesting, diverse, and although my first payment hasn’t come through yet, I am confident I’ll be paid on time, as the client has a long track record with my colleague.

Inquiries Don’t Always Pan Out the Way You Expect

I’ve also had inquiries via LinkedIn, and a couple of others through the SD/PEN directory recently. Although these specific inquiries haven’t turned into work for various reasons (in one case, the author wasn't ready for the book to be edited; in the other, I wasn't interested in going back to full-time, in-office work), I’ve made more connections, and there’s no telling where they may one day lead.

Last year, I applied to a cattle call and didn’t get a response to my cover letter and resume submission—until about nine months later. That client had kept my information on file and contacted me when they needed more help. That client is now part of my regular client base. Another prompt payer with interesting work. And nothing that I had planned for.

The Lesson

The only secret to finding work is to constantly be looking for work—and to look for it in a myriad of ways. Five years after launching my freelance business, I have a great network of clients and colleagues, and know that there might be a surprise in my inbox on any given day. I wish the same for all of you!

Click the following links to read other blogs by Katie Barry:

SD/PEN Member Profile: Kathleen V. Kish

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring Kathleen V. Kish of Kish Academic Editing.

K.Kish.Portrait-2017How do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

My company offers a range of editing services, including copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, proofreading, and publishing advice. Specializing in literary and cultural studies, Kish Academic Editing has also collaborated with scholars in the social sciences, as well as with practitioners in fields as diverse as medicine and English grammar. English is not the first language of a good number of our clients. The direct contact between author and editor is the hallmark of Kish Academic Editing. Together we rejoice when the author’s project—be it thesis, article, dissertation, manual, or book—becomes a finished product to be proud of.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

After taking early retirement from my position as Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at San Diego State University, I wanted to continue to be active professionally. An online UCSD Extension course, “Editing as a Business: How to Succeed on Your Own,” illuminated a pathway that would allow me to put my particular editing expertise at the service of scholars at a range of levels, from graduate students to seasoned academics. Besides offering technical advice to my clients, I could apply the store of knowledge acquired in my academic career to assist them in their work. And, best of all, I would always be learning.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients or professional colleagues to remember you for?

I am humbled, but also gratified, by remarks made by clients in the Testimonials section of my website. I like that they singled out my “nimble, expert, and kind editing,” and that they mentioned my moral support and my care in helping them to find their own voice, jump-start their independence, refine their style, and enliven their scholarship. I appreciate that they see me as a thought partner and a respectful writing coach, always available for consultation. I am proud of each and every one of them and pleased to share their joy in their accomplishments.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

I enjoyed reading Roots and Wings: Growing Up in Apartheid South Africa by Shoshana Kobrin, who was selected as featured author in October 2016 by the Published Writers of Rossmoor, the California East Bay retirement community where I now reside. This slim volume of beautifully written stories held special meaning for me because of my own experience in South Africa on a research, speaking, and writing trip in 1976. I missed the Fourth of July bicentennial celebrations in the United States, but I did witness some of the fallout from the Soweto uprising that same year.

Describe a volunteer activity or cause you are involved in.

I strongly support efforts to enable worthy students to follow a path to higher education. I continue to contribute to the Bridges Academy Scholarship program at the University of San Diego. I also take an active role in screening young women seeking Tech Trek scholarships. The Danville-Alamo-Walnut Creek branch of the American Association of University Women, to which I belong, sends about a dozen rising eighth-grade students for a Tech Trek week in the summer to Sonoma State University.There they join other scholarship recipients to focus on math, science, and engineering. I have also helped to evaluate applications for Cal Alumni Scholarships, a program from which I myself benefited as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.

Describe one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I once won a trip to see the Yankees play in New York City and left directly from the ballpark of their farm team in Greensboro, North Carolina. The club’s manager said that they had never before had a winner ready to leave right away. The promotion was called Suitcase Night; I was so convinced that I would win that I showed up at War Memorial Stadium packed and ready to go. And my intuition was right!

SD/PEN Member Profile: Lynette M. Smith

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring Lynette M. Smith of All My Best Copyediting and Heartfelt Publishing and Good Ways to Write.

LMS-HdShot-BizCasual_300dpi_500pxSqu_FacingLHow do you describe what you do to someone whom you’ve just met at a networking function?

I help authors copyedit their best effort at a final draft, addressing matters of spelling, punctuation, grammar, clarity, usage, and flow. And later on, when the book designer has presented a printer-ready PDF layout for approval, I can proofread it—that is, flag layout and content errors so the designer can correct them. In fact, I’ve even published an Amazon Best Seller handbook, 80 Common Layout Errors to Flag When Proofreading Book Interiors.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

My interest in words started in the fourth grade when I titled a composition notebook “My Book of Homonyms” and added to that A‑Z collection for the next three years. In school I always enjoyed spelling, and in my nine-year secretarial career I enjoyed fine-tuning my bosses’ written communications. Next, as the sixteen-year owner/operator of Qualitype, I discovered that while people first came to me for word processing services, they returned because I improved their writing and corrected their mistakes. After directing a trade association for five years, editing its sixteen-page newsletter and curating its collection of manuals, in 2004 I decided to specialize in copyediting and established All My Best.

Which quality or qualities would you most like your clients or professional colleagues to remember you for?

The business names and taglines I’ve used over the decades answer this question. When I operated Qualitype Editing & Word Processing, the Qualitype name promised good work, and the tagline, “Personal Care and Attention to Detail,” told what else clients could expect. Those same qualities persist in my current business, All My Best Copyediting and Heartfelt Publishing. Today, the All My Best name not only indicates a high standard but fits perfectly with my primary publishing theme of letter writing; and the tagline, “Building Results, Respect, and Relationships,” shows authors and aspiring gratitude-letter writers what they’ll experience when working with me or reading my reference books.

Describe a volunteer activity or cause you are involved in.

Inspired by my son and daughter-in-law’s generous gesture of presenting their respective parents with framed letters of appreciation when they married in 2008, I now have a life purpose: to get millions of people to write heartfelt letters of appreciation so they can establish, enhance, and even rebuild their relationships and in that way change their world. In furtherance of that goal, I published the comprehensive reference book on writing over 150 types of gratitude letters, How to Write Heartfelt Letters to Treasure: For Special Occasions and Occasions Made Special. I also get interviewed on radio and TV, write guest blogs, and conduct workshops showing others how to write a heartfelt letter of appreciation. More information is available at

Describe one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

I’m a dinosaur nut! In fifth grade, I wrote and illustrated a report on dinosaurs that I still treasure. In the 1990s, I was enthralled with the fossil beds at Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah, and read a fascinating scientific study proving not only that birds are descended from dinosaurs but that some species of these reptiles (mostly predators) had to have been warm-blooded to move so quickly. More recently, I’ve been excited to learn that many dinosaur fossils show evidence of feathers along with their scaly skin. I love all the Jurassic Park movies, watch every dinosaur-related documentary I can, and revel in museum exhibits of dinosaur fossils.

SD/PEN Member Profile: Gail Miller

Each month, SD/PEN selects one of its members at random to profile his or her background and experience. This month we are featuring Gail Miller of Gail Miller Editing.

Gail Miller ProfileGail, please tell us a little about your editing work.

I collaborate with my clients to bring out the best in their writing. I’ve helped clients with a variety of projects, ranging from a young adult novel to a resource manual for oak woodlands disease management. The bulk of my current work is with high school students, teaching them the art and mechanics of essay writing, and editing their essays. An educator at heart and by trade, I welcome the opportunity to teach writing skills as part of the process.

What made you decide to become a professional editor?

At a point in my life when I was looking to change directions professionally, I was asked to edit the scientific abstracts and research papers written by a university professor. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of editing his work, and that opportunity led me to enroll in the professional editing certification program offered by UC Berkeley.

What accomplishment are you most proud of professionally?

Editing a resource manual for oak woodlands disease management was an exhilarating challenge! The project entailed editing a dense and scientifically technical document, one filled with obscure terminology, and making sure that the language was such that a layperson could understand it and utilize the information.

Tell us about a book you recently read that you would recommend.

Like many of us, I’m always in the midst of reading more than one book. A friend recently gave me the book The Submission. This is a provocative, yet sensitive, novel that engages the reader in the broad political conversation that is all around us today. The characters are complex, the writing is absorbing, and the topic is all too timely.

Describe your ideal weekend.

An ideal weekend for me is all about simple pleasures. A hike with my family through the woods to a quiet place where I have never been, a candlelit dinner of farm-to-table fare, and an absorbing book to end the day—these would all play a part.

An Editor Rediscovers the Joy of Reading

By Chris Zook

eReaderAs much as many of us would sooner forget 2016, I will always remember it as the year I rediscovered the joy of reading. That probably sounds odd coming from a professional editor. But before this year, reading was primarily a means for pursuing my joy of learning or something I did as part of my job; that is, not an activity I necessarily enjoyed for its own sake. I’ve, of course, loved many, many books over the years, particularly those that inspired me and helped me become a better person. And I’ve always enjoyed learning about language and grammar.

It wasn’t until February of last year, however, that I feel I became a reader (of fiction, in particular) and began anticipating my next free moment for reading—and not solely because whatever I happened to be reading was so binge-worthy. So, similar to what Katie Barry discussed in her recent blog post about joining a book club, I’ve expanded my reading horizons in ways that my work and marketability as an editor can only stand to benefit from.

How My Reading Habits Evolved

For most of my adult life, starting with graduate school, reading fiction seemed like an unproductive use of my time: when I read, the material needed to be educational in some way, be it for my academic studies, self-improvement, health, or professional development. If I wanted to be entertained, there were plenty of two-hour movies that would get the job done in much less time. Not to mention that constantly reading for school or work made me less inclined to want to spend any more time reading when I wasn’t “on the clock.”

The few times over the previous 25 years that I did read fiction, it was because I was interested in a particular book’s message or because I was in a situation where I couldn’t do anything else, like sitting on an airplane or train (pre-smartphone era, of course).

What changed? The process started a few years ago with book recommendations from a longtime author-client and mentor, who is a voracious reader. During our meetings, he would sometimes hand me a nonfiction book that read like an adventure story, such as Born to Run and Into Thin Air. When he started recommending novels he enjoyed “just for fun,” out of my respect for him as a knowledgeable reader, I decided to give them a shot.

After my client retired from writing three years ago, I was no longer in regular contact and getting his latest book recommendations. At that point, my concept of reading fiction mainly revolved around books tied to a favorite movie or TV series. And I still hadn’t developed a regular pleasure-reading habit. In fact, it took me the next two years to read the five-book A Song of Fire and Ice series (aka A Game of Thrones), thinking it was quite an accomplishment at the time. But once I had completed it, I was left wondering what to read next.

Two months later, I finally got around to visiting a favorite used bookstore (whose fiction section I had never bothered to look at). There, I discovered a number of new series in the science fiction/fantasy section, including three by an author whose books I had read quite a bit of when I was a teen. Thinking back on my teen years, I realized that was probably the last time I experienced the joy of reading for its own sake.

Due to the used bookstore’s incomplete inventory of some series, I quickly rediscovered a venerable institution that had dropped off my radar: the public library system. This opened up an even larger world for me—one filled with three decades’ worth of award-winning titles in my favorite genre, as well as recent literary fiction, classics I had never gotten around to, graphic novels, and a surprisingly expansive (and free!) collection of ebooks and audiobooks.

As I watch my Goodreads “To Read” shelf steadily grow, for the first time in my life, I feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for reading. And as an added bonus, whenever I sit down with a book, I know I’m developing myself professionally—to one day break into editing fiction, which I’ve only done on a very limited basis thus far, and mainly for friends. However, this kind of reading never feels like work, even when I’m looking up a word I don’t know or highlighting a typo, plot hole, or inconsistency in my e-reader. Ultimately, I may very well be in the process of reinventing myself (at least as an editor) by doing something I love—a common refrain of many of the self-improvement books I've read over the years.

My Book Club: Start-Up Basics and Personal Benefits

By Katie Barry

book-club-reading-cropEarlier this year a group of my neighbors and coworkers formed a book club. We weren’t entirely sure what a “book club” would mean for us; only one person had ever been in one. I read all the time, so I joined primarily as a way to get to know these women better (our group happens to be all women). I got much more out of it than I expected.

Here are some defining elements of our book club:

  • There are six of us. The group isn’t too big nor too small. We can all participate in conversations, but still enjoy breakout moments in smaller groupings.
  • The evening’s host picks the book. As not everyone likes to read in print format, we look for books that can accommodate everyone’s reading preference (e.g., Kindle and audiobook format).
  • We read both fiction and nonfiction. We didn’t set any guidelines beyond the host making the choice, but in the past six months, fiction choices have outpaced nonfiction by 2:1.
  • We meet at 6 p.m., with the evening’s host providing a main dish and beverages. The rest of the book club members fill in the blanks with appetizers, salads, desserts, and more drinks!
  • Our actual discussion time ranges from just a few minutes to longer periods for a more in-depth exploration of the characters and themes. Some months we talk more and some months we talk less depending upon how the book—and the evening—moves us.
  • We meet monthly, generally on a mid-month Monday.

What’s been fun for me is reading outside my norm. During the day, I edit nonfiction; think marketing collateral (e.g., advertisements, press releases, executive summaries), business (e.g., leadership, technical), and educational content. In the evenings, when I primarily read for pleasure, my taste tends toward mysteries and novels, with a good biography now and then. This book club has moved me beyond my comfort zone into novels and a memoir that I wouldn’t have selected—and I’m the better for it!

In case you need some inspiration for your reading or your book club’s next choice, here are my book club’s selections thus far:

  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
  • Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

I’ve always enjoyed reading, and as much as a cozy mystery is right up my alley and a variety of news magazines keep me engaged in the world, I’ve been in a reading rut. (It’s a quite enjoyable rut, but a rut nonetheless.) My book club partners expand my horizons, which I feel is improving my ability to read and synthesize information, making me a more versatile editor.

Ours is an informal group and suits us. But there are many other ways to approach running a book club. Some other common books club elements include the following:

  • Invite a guest who is somehow related to the book or topic. Take the discussion beyond the book itself.
  • Be prepared to disinvite a member who dominates choices or discussion. Mixing a number of personalities is a crap shoot—the first grouping won’t always be the best grouping.
  • Take turns so that each person is ensured time to have his or her say.
  • Meet outside a home—consider a library or church with meeting rooms.
  • Make use of book club question/discussion prompts provided by certain titles—check online if they aren’t included in the version at hand.

Have you been part of a book club? Do you find it’s changed your reading habits? Has it improved your writing and editing skills? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.


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