Skip to main content


October 28, 2009

Emilie Richards: A Writers' Book Club

Posted by webmaster
Emilie Richards, today's guest blogger, talks about her love of reading and why her discussions with her online book club have been the most important educational experiences she has had as a writer.

Emilie's most recent novel is
Happiness Key, the story of four women who have nothing in common...or so it seems. She is also the author of the Ministry is Murder series and the Shenandoah Album series.

Who are the most prolific readers you've encountered? Would authors qualify? Guess what? Not so much.

In conversations with my author friends, I'm always surprised at how rarely many of them read. One friend has a paralyzing sense of doom when she reads work she perceives to be better than her own. Another is fulfilled at day's end by her own stories, and feels little need for more. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We're not tired of sentences and paragraphs. If asked, we blame a lack of free time, often coupled with a fear we might subconsciously borrow from another writer's work.

Because I once read voraciously, I understand the problem too well. By the time I was in kindergarten, I began reading my way around the children's room in our small local library. I survived adolescence and family crises by escaping into somebody else's world. Later, as a young mother, I nursed my sons with a book nearby so that when they finally drifted off to sleep, I could rock them and read, both of us supremely contented.

Then I began to write. Worse yet, I began to write for a living. Suddenly I had to fight insurmountable obstacles to open a novel. There had never been enough hours in the day, and suddenly there weren't any. At night if I made it through three paragraphs before falling asleep, I was lucky.

More than ten years ago, a group of mystified writer friends tried to come up with a way we could change this. We decided to discuss books together. Since we rarely had time to meet in person, we quickly took those discussions online. Other writers joined us. Members dropped in and out, and now, although we're larger than ever, I'm the only original member. But what a group we are.

In many ways we're a typical book club. With a few guidelines we take turns choosing books. Since we write fiction, we read fiction. We agree to participate as often as we can. Having an assignment and others counting on us makes a difference. Used to fulfilling commitments, we step on board and do just that.

In other ways, we're not typical at all. We're never face to face, no shared meals or book swaps. Because all of us have many writer friends, we make certain that nobody in the group has a personal problem critiquing a particular author's work. Our discussions are confidential and often intimate. We're interested in the reasons authors do what they do, and just as interested in the reasons their editors bought the manuscripts and readers put them on bestseller lists --- or didn't.

Not only do I now make certain I have time to read each month, our discussions have been the single most important educational experience I've had as a writer. They've also been the most freeing. I've learned a hundred important things, but one stands out. Ten years later, I have finally internalized the primary message I've heard book after book, discussion after discussion. It's this simple. The best books have their detractors. The worst books have their fans. Nothing we write will please everybody.

In the immortal words of Ricky Nelson: "If you can't please everyone, then you have to please yourself."

These days I do please myself, both as a writer and a reader. When I fell in love with cozy mysteries, I began the Ministry is Murder cozy mystery series about a free-spirited minister's wife in a small Ohio town. When I realized I missed having more time to quilt, I wrote the Shenandoah Album series about quilters in the Shenandoah Valley. When I wanted to write about women's friendships, Happiness Key, my latest novel, was the result, to be followed by two more.

Hearing so many different opinions from writers I deeply respect has freed me to stop worrying about the way my books will be received. Now I know I write for readers like me. I please myself and hopefully them.

Just as important, ten years later, because of the book club, I've read more than a hundred novels I might never have picked up. I've been introduced to new authors who are now among my favorites. I've made good friends with women I can count on to tell me the truth as they see it.

If you're reading this blog because you're in a book club, I bet you have, too. Aren't we lucky?

---Emilie Richards