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.


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

30 Years of SD/PEN

Compiled by Katie Barry

sdpen-square-large-whitebgThis year marks SD/PEN’s 30th anniversary. As hundreds of members have come through our “doors,” we thought it was an appropriate time to seek out the memories of some of our long-term members and leaders. Their reflections give us cause to celebrate the origins of this organization, its storied journey, and our bright future.  

Shirley Clukey, First Board President
I joined SD/PEN because I wanted to get to know other editors and learn from them after completing UCSD’s copyediting certification course back in 2001.

The person I remember most from my first few meetings is Maggi Payment Kirkbride. Her friendliness and enthusiasm put me at ease, something all newbies need. Sometimes it’s even harder for older newbies, because others assume we’re old pros. Maggi never made me feel silly for asking beginner questions.

In 2011, I joined SD/PEN’s Steering Committee, which later became SD/PEN’s Board of Directors. I’m proud of the role I played that year in getting SD/PEN’s legal nonprofit status established. Maybe I shouldn’t have worked so hard, because by 2012 I was elected president of the board, a challenging but fulfilling two-year tenure, a time filled with appreciation and admiration for the other board members who worked so hard and were so much fun to work with.

Our board obtained insurance to protect SD/PEN from liabilities, set up policies to guide SD/PEN smoothly through future transitions in leadership, established full- and half-day workshops, and instituted an annual drawing prize.

Jackie Estrada, Co-founder
It’s amazing to me that SD/PEN is still around after more than 30 years. Those of us who gathered in my living room on March 5, 1986, just wanted to come up with a way for editors in the San Diego area to talk about our profession and to socialize with like-minded individuals. That first meeting grew out of an idea suggested by Kittie Kerr Kuhns (director of publications for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the time) and freelancer Julie Olfe. They were lamenting the fact that they had no one to chat with about such things as the fine points of editing and the difficulties of dealing with authors. We could never have known at the time that the seeds were being sown for an organization that would produce publications and workshops, create networking opportunities, host guest speakers, or even have a website.

It was great getting to see many of the members from the group’s early years when we held the big 25th anniversary celebration five years ago. That may have been my favorite SD/PEN event. But mostly I’m just glad to have met so many great people through my involvement with the organization, and I’m glad it continues to this day!

Kathi George, Longtime Member and Frequent Program Presenter
The educational programs that SD/PEN offered were the most valuable part of my active 25-year membership. I was honored to be a contributor to presentations, workshops, and panels on fiction editing, book production, and bias-free language. I had great fun writing a column about typos for DELETE that I called "Misspelling Cincinnati." I served on many years' worth of steering committees and program committees and made some close friends inside our association of professional editors. Congratulations on 30 years, SD/PEN!

Andrea Glass, Longtime Member and Frequent Program Presenter
I joined SD/PEN more than 20 years ago to network with others in my profession. I've enjoyed the programs that helped further my education in my field. I've also enjoyed being a presenter and sharing what I've learned. Through my membership, I've attained clients as well as a long-term teaching position with UCSD. My favorite time was the anniversary party a few years ago when I reconnected with many other longtime members and enjoyed meeting new ones, as well as some of my students.

Melanie Astaire Witt, Immediate Past President
When I became president of the board in 2014, I thought I had experienced all there was to SD/PEN. During my previous two years as a director, I had found a great group of like-minded people seeking educational experiences in editing and business. Beyond finding other editors to learn alongside, I had built strong professional and personal relationships. I had also attended many great program meetings, super workshops, and delightful celebratory networking parties. But we’re a strange breed we work-alone editors, and as such, we really need other editors in our lives. So I’m most grateful for those members whom I call my friends and for their availability to chat when a lonely editor needs a lift or for their input on an editing dilemma.

Chris Zook, Current President
I’ll never forget sitting next to Hilary Achauer at my very first SD/PEN program meeting in 2007. She graciously answered all my newb questions about her work and SD/PEN. Eight years later, I reached out to her to ask if she would participate in a panel discussion—the very first program meeting I organized as SD/PEN’s new board president. That well-received program on job bidding was greatly enhanced by Hilary’s insights as well as those of longtime member Lynette Smith and past member Anita Palmer.

I am very grateful for the continued involvement of SD/PEN’s many current and past members and leaders. SD/PEN could never have grown the way it has without everyone’s support and dedication.

The Troth of Writers

by Carol Ann Mëjdrich


Writing can be such a lonely undertaking. Writers are, after all, living on the outskirts of our modern age. It’s hard to get people to appreciate well-written . . . anything . . . when “r u gng 2 th parT” is an acceptable form of communication. Most of the people I know under the age of 18 would actually consider that a sentence.

“Text speak” is not the only form of communication that has, in my opinion, degraded our language and the art of using it. It’s only the newest form of pseudo language. Think about signage, labels, and other marketing means of creating catchy slogans for cereals and such. Froot Loops has been around for over 50 years. What about the dog treat called BonZ? Ever sit in a Kozy Korner?

Even the arrival of the computer has detracted from the respect that good writing once commanded. Perhaps, through the ease of composing on a computer, some of the value of that skill has been lost? But what many people don’t know, or don’t appreciate, is that it takes more than a spell-checker to create good writing.

It takes a solid knowledge of the form, fit, and function of language itself, and the skill of juggling rules of grammar, punctuation, syntax, and context with the art of presentation. Those really good writers are the ones who have moved past the mere utilitarian usage of such parameters and have gone on to manipulate them to their advantage. They communicate clearly, concisely, beautifully. Their writing is easy to read and understand. They delight the reader.

There are so few actual writers left. In our fast-paced world, the gods of Convenience and Speed seem to rule over everything. Writers are given new rules—often at odds with the real rules of writing—that they must follow to satisfy a schedule, a customer, or even a political agenda.

What happened to The Art of Writing? Only a hundred years ago, writers were respected, even revered. Names like Frost, Twain, Hemingway were breathed in a kind of hushed whisper. They circulated among the crowd of cinematic, financial, and political stars. They gave us timeless classics that demonstrate, even today, their skill at using The Word and a deep and abiding knowledge of the human spirit.

There are some of us that still maintain our devotion to The Art. We are scorned by today’s illiterati, those who consider themselves educated and literate, but who possess only a thin veneer of literary sophistication. We are often judged by them as being difficult and old-fashioned because we cling to concepts of good writing. We use style guides instead of preferences to guide us when we have questions. We actually edit what we write. We strive to educate clearly and entertain with ease.

Good writing—really good writing—means you have communicated clearly with the reader. So clearly, in fact, that readers can see what you want them to see, feel what you want them to feel.

How can you possibly do that with text speak?

Contribute to the SD/PEN Blog!

Working at LaptopThe San Diego Professional Editors Network has a new blog, and all current SD/PEN members are encouraged to submit articles (preferably unpublished) they have written on the topics of editing, writing, grammar, language, publishing, book sale promotion, or marketing a freelance business.

Blog contributors are given a prominent presence on the number one website in the region for editors, and their byline will be linked to their listing in the SD/PEN online directory and/or a personal or business website.

In addition, new blog articles on SD/PEN’s website will be posted on our social media channels and be featured in an upcoming issue of the bi-monthly member newsletter.

Members who are ready to send in a submission or have questions should email us at Note that we reserve the right to copyedit blog submissions and cannot guarantee that every submission will be accepted. We may also suggest revisions.

How My Trip to the EFA Conference Paid for Itself

By Katie Barry

Photo of Empire State Building taken by Katie Barry at EFA ConferenceIn August, I attended the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) conference in New York City. There, I was able to network with colleagues, meet new friends, and learn how to improve my skills as both an editor and a business owner. Immediately upon returning, I successfully applied one of those business-owner lessons, which is paying big dividends!

The EFA conference was a rare opportunity for freelance editors at any stage of their careers to learn and develop new skills while meeting peers. Breakout sessions each day featured a range of topics, including

  • Get More than Money from Your Pricing
  • Inclusive Language
  • Copyediting Fiction
  • Brainstorming to Bring in Better Business
  • Editing for Self-Publishers

The first of those sessions, Get More than Money from Your Pricing, with Jake Poinier (aka Dr. Freelance) was the first breakout session I attended. It also contained the first nugget of wisdom I’ve put into practice since coming home.

Jake asked us to think beyond the rate sheets about four aspects of pricing:

  1. What you need to earn
  2. What you want to earn
  3. What’s the market willing to bear
  4. What’s the value that you deliver

The last point sunk into my brain. I have a long-standing client (Client A) who has been underpaying me for a while. When I started my own business, my need for a steady client (in terms of providing work and promptly paying) justified the lower rate. But as the years have gone by and I’ve gained other clients, my rate for Client A grew more out of line. It had bothered me for a while, but I’d been too timid to force a renegotiation.

Jake reminded me that although it’s fine to assess each client individually, it’s also important to keep in mind the value that you deliver. I know I’ve delivered a good product—for a long time—and that value needed to be recognized on my bottom line. Jake’s session empowered me to not only stand up for what I believed, but also be ready to face the consequences—I might end up with one less client.

The day after I got home from the conference, I drafted an email to Client A saying that although I was grateful for our relationship, I needed to bring my rate for them more in line with that of my other clients. I explained that I hoped we could discuss something that would satisfy both of us. Within the next 24 hours, I am happy to say, we agreed to a new rate (that included a significant bump for me), and we will continue to be partners.

I share this story for two reasons. One, yay me! It took a leap for me to send that email. The fact that I sent it and the story had a happy ending? Icing on the cake! Two, this may not have happened for quite some time had I not attended the conference.

Professional development is something that I believe strongly in. I take courses in writing, editing, marketing, etc. to keep my skillsets sharp. Attending this conference was another piece of my continuing education. In this case, a 1.5-hour session transformed a bitter-turning client relationship into a renewed relationship. My spirits are higher, my savings account will be happier, and that conference will pay for itself within the month.

The next time you’re wondering if that class or workshop is worth your time, stop wondering and GO! The payoffs may not always be as clear and immediate as this experience, but my guess is you’ll find your own piece of wisdom.

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


If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

Beware of Online Job Scammers

By Adrienne Moch


online-scammer_cropChoosing to be a freelancer is a bold step, especially if you don’t have an entrepreneurial bone in your body. While you may have great talent—as an editor, for our purposes—you may find the marketing side of the business to be rather challenging. For that reason, when you receive an unsolicited offer of a job, you tend to do a happy dance.

Unfortunately, scamming seems to be rampant everywhere on the Internet, so those who choose to secure work from online (and unknown) sources best beware. Those of us who’ve been around for a while—and perhaps have even fallen for something that seemed too good to be true—can usually spot a faker right away. For those of you who are newer to the industry, or are still too trusting to a fault, here are a few things to look out for in email solicitations:

  • Sparse signature. Beware when getting an “out of the blue” job offer from “Stan” or “John,” etc. You’re left with no way to vet the sender. Someone from a legitimate company is going to provide full contact details.
  • Extremely poor writing. Sure, this potential client is allegedly coming to you with editing work, but emails that are close to unintelligible are likely from scammers. Couple this with no contact information, and you should definitely move on.
  • A huge payday offer up front. Like the headline says, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Vague job details with a request to commit right away—especially when the sender ignores your request to schedule a phone call to discuss specifics. Serious clients will be happy to speak with you about their project.
  • Email solicitation isn’t addressed specifically to you. If someone really visited your website and was impressed with your work, that person’s email should start with your name, for example, “Hi, Adrienne.” If that’s not the case, it’s likely a faux job offer sent to scads of people.

Also, don’t let your guard down when screening potential clients through online job boards like Thumbtack. While that service is pretty good at weeding out frauds, some do get through once in a while.

How to Protect Yourself

When you have the chance to do business with a new client who comes to you via the Internet, you must complete thorough due diligence. Here are some things you should do to help protect yourself:

  • Get the contact person’s full name and company so you can check out his or her website. Plus, search to see if any fraud complaints have been filed against the person or the company.
  • Make sure the email address being used seems legit ( or even, for instance).
  • Ask for the person’s phone number and suggest discussing the job on a call. Many scammers will ignore this request, and you should consider yourself lucky that you didn’t waste any time on them.
  • NEVER provide tax information (like a W-9) or banking information (for direct deposits) to someone you haven’t thoroughly vetted.
  • Use your common sense and run, run, run if something seems fishy to you. Unfortunately, there are plenty of less-than-scrupulous people out there who would like nothing better than to give you grief—and it’s not personal; they’ll try to scam anyone.

SD/PEN Blog Coming Soon!

The San Diego Professional Editors Network is preparing to launch a member blog in the coming weeks. SD/PEN members are encouraged to submit articles (preferably unpublished) they have written on the topics of editing, writing, grammar, language, publishing, book sale promotion, or marketing a freelance business.

Blog contributors will be given a prominent presence on the number one website in the region for editors, and their byline will be linked to their listing in the SD/PEN online directory and/or a personal or business website.

In addition, new blog articles on SD/PEN’s website will be posted on our social media channels and be featured in an upcoming issue of the bi-monthly member newsletter.

Members who are ready to send in a submission or have questions should email us at Note that we reserve the right to copyedit blog submissions and cannot guarantee that every submission will be accepted. We may also suggest revisions.

1 2