Survival guide for a writer in a book group

My book group met last night to discuss The Paris Wife, which is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage.  When I read this book last April, I was intrigued by the marriage, but even more, as a writer, by the ups and downs of Hemingway as he struggled to be published.  I was one of those who had pushed this book when we chose our 2011-2012 list last June, and the discussion was terrific, validating the choice.

My book group started 24 years ago.  I was a fledgling author back then, i.e., I was a reader-member before I was a writer-member. I love my book group and they love me.  Well, most of them do.  We disagree sometimes on the merits of buying hardcover (my choice) or paperback, reading mysteries (their choice) or vampire books, and peeking at the last pages first (me, always – I don’t like suspense).  We agree, though, that having a writer in the group brings a different perspective to the discussion.

That said, it’s a tricky thing – oh so easy to go on and on about publishing and assume everyone wants to hear.  But this book group is not about me.  It’s about the group and the books we pick.  I’ve had to learn that, sometimes the hard way.  So, if you’re a writer in a book group, here’s my advice.

Listen first.  Hear what the group has to say about the book and its author before offering your own opinion and then, talk in as general terms as possible.  In other words, don’t be catty.

Don’t pretend you know more about books that the other members.  Chances are they actually read more than you do.  After all, you can’t read at all when you’re writing, which is what you do month after month.

Be open to books you might not otherwise read.  The most unlikely suspect may provide the most literary inspiration.

Talk about publishing only when asked.

Talk about your own book only when asked.

And finally, do not hand out bookmarks, fliers, or advance reading copies.  Do not ask if they’ve read your new book.  And never, never let your group pick your baby for discussion.  I did that once, and it was actually a terrific conversation.  But several members didn’t attend and, to this day, given the curse of a writer’s imagination, I wonder why.

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