Category Archives: Professional Development

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:

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: