|Chapter Twelve: Networking with Other Writers|
The art of writing is, on the whole, a particularly solitary occupation. But the science of publishing what you have written tends to be one where publicizing yourself and your work and networking with other writers and with agents, editors, and publishers become necessities if you want to have any chance at success.
Books sell well because they somehow manage to create a buzz in the world of readers. Not only do their titles and "hooks"—the succinctly worded something special in plot or characterization that make them unique or that make them similar to other books that are selling well—reach the attention level of readers, but they also are enjoyed enough that those who have read them go on to recommend them to others, opening up an ever-widening net of knowledge of and interest in the books. In most cases, this buzz is produced because the authors have published before and their earlier books have attained a large readership. New authors, however, need to create this buzz from scratch. It can be produced naturally and almost whimsically, wherein the popularity of books such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series almost inexplicably spread across the landscape like a raging wild fire, or authors can find ways to heighten their own public profile and that of their work by vigorously networking.
Happily, ever-increasing opportunities exist by means of both the World Wide Web and community participation and exposure for authors to cheaply and effectively enlarge the public footprint they and their writings set down in the publishing industry.
An added benefit of such networking is that these activities all provide means to help you strengthen your development in the writing field. Mastering the art of networking, both in the cyber world and in face-to-face contact, can benefit the writer in what is naturally a solitary pursuit in more ways than getting works sold and developing a reader base. Writers can both learn a great deal about the craft through interaction with other writers and obtain the support they need in what can be a very unforgiving and cruel industry from those who are best positioned to give it—from other writers who either are facing the same obstacles and uncertainties or who have already faced and surmounted them.
The Internet offers vast access to information and people. Among those people are kindred souls (writers) with like-minded goals, disappointments, and joys they are willing to share. There are those who have mastered steps and are willing to share with you what they learned, what pitfalls to avoid, and what you can do to improve your chances to succeed. The Internet even offers sites, such as http://writing-world.com/, that provide online courses covering the gamut of fiction, nonfiction, and screen/play writing.
Like any community, the Internet has its bad elements as well. Writers must be on guard for the nefarious cons gushing praise and encouragement, but gleefully separating the unsuspecting from their money. They come in the form of publishers, agents, publicists, and book doctors/editors. Find out who they are so you won’t be taken in. The best-known writer-friendly sites where you can check the authenticity of an agent, publisher, or editor are Preditors & Editors at http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/ and Writer Beware at http://www.sfwa.org/beware, although look carefully at what the watchdogs say as well, because, on the whole, they are self-appointed and can have their own favorite agendas and aren’t formally trained in consumer advocacy or protection responsibilities and techniques. The Predator Editors site has a huge directory of writing professionals from every facet of writing and promoting. It posts warnings on many of those to steer clear of. The Writer Beware site is filled with information and articles about agencies and publishers to avoid—and why. They also have a contact person you can e-mail if you are considering signing a contract with someone in the publishing world. She will let you know if any negative feedback has been received on that person.
The negatives aside, joining and actively participating in the Internet community can be real pluses in developing writing techniques, in marketing yourself, and in connecting with others in similar circumstances to yours. Networking with other writers offers many benefits. It is a way to get advice, receive positive feedback for a job well done, or even to get a well-placed cyber boot when needed. Authors are often more than willing to share book marketing ideas and new places they have discovered to place information about their books. A couple of the more active writer’s discussion boards can be found at WritersNet (http://www.writers.net), Writer’s BBS (http://www.writersbbs.com), and Writing.com (http://www.writing.com).
Our own experiences in networking on chat lines, message boards, and e-groups have shown that writers and authors, for the most part, are very giving people. In analyzing this, several possibilities come to mind. Nearly every author has battled through the stages of writer’s block, of rejection, of rewrites and more rewrites, so they can relate to others going through the same things. Another reason might be that writers look at things around them with a bit more intensity that gives them a better insight to the quirks and nature of others. What is heartening is that they are so willing to help what in most other business sectors would be defined as competitors.
Writers must develop a thick skin and learn to roll with the rejections, glean what they can from those rejections, and strive to improve—always strive to improve. An easily discouraged person shouldn’t venture into the writing business; writing for pleasure with no expectations for monetary profit is fine. Experienced writers will give you praise, but they will also be frank if they think you need to strengthen certain aspects of your writing. They won’t hesitate to point out your writing flaws as well as your talents. But will be a lot of varying opinions of what those flaws are, so learn to sift and glean through the advice you get. Use what you want, but try not to be defensive. Do what you want, but always keep an open mind. It takes years to learn the craft of writing.
Often writers are misunderstood, sometimes by people in their own families and by friends and neighbors, because they spend so much time honing their skills and doing what for them is a passion that can only be attained by self-belief, self-discipline, and endless hours of typing. New writers, especially, need encouragement. If they can’t find it at home or among their friends, the Internet community can provide it.
Some chat communities become like extended families. Genuine joy is there when someone finds success; encouragement is there for those who are struggling. Because the net is open to the world, an experienced writer will always be available to offer advice on a particular subject (although you have to learn to be careful about the quality of advice, because there also always is someone willing to give you advice who has no experience on which to base this advice). If you have a suspense novel coming out, go to a few online writers’ communities or chats and ask if anyone has any ideas about how and where you can market it. Don’t just pop in and out. Stick around and get to know people and let them get to know you.
One marketing idea coauthor Carol Kluz had was to become well acquainted with people online and develop friendships there. Then, when one of her books came out, she asked a few discussion board friends if she could mail them some bookmarks with pertinent information on her book so they could pass them out at coffee shops or give them to their coworkers in their cities. You should also have something to offer in return. Let’s say your specialty is writing about the stock market. You could search the Web and construct a file of URLs pertinent to that subject and announce that you will send it to anyone interested. Always include your URL at the bottom of any e-mails. If you have learned marketing tips, offer to share them. At this point it is you who you are marketing—and this in turn will help you sell your book.
The important thing when trying to settle on one or more online communities to frequent (these, of course, can be addictive and time-consuming) is to shop around and decide exactly what benefits you need. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes you can get a wealth of information by asking a simple question: "Is there anyone here who can give me some ideas or information on . . . ?" There is a certain comfort level in knowing you have support that is so easy to access. There is also a sense of satisfaction when you are able to help others. Online networking is a means to help you hone your skills, to communicate with others—and maybe even to make a few friends in the process. It can be a win-win situation so long as you stay alert and don’t fall for any of the scammers lurking about. Someday you will be able to offer advice. That can be very rewarding—helping newer writers just beginning the long journey into the writing world. It’s similar to the circle of life, where experience is passed on to those taking their first steps.
Some fledgling writers prefer to hone their skills with other like-minded people by attending local writer workshops or classes offered through colleges and adult education programs on creative writing. They prefer the hands-on critiques and discussions of groups. Writers can also take advantage of their local communities to help perfect their works and to publicize them as well.
Writers Groups and Conferences
Participation in a writers group—especially one that includes writers farther along in development than you are and facilitators who are well grounded in the fundamentals of good writing—can do you a world of good in your writing development. Not only will such a group provide access for you to good writing principles and habits, but it also will give you a venue to useful critiques of your own developing work and will help train you to critique the works of others (which, in turn, will help you view your own work with greater objectivity and skill). You can usually find such a group to join through local university and community education programs. If these are not available where you live, you should be able to hook up with an online version of one through a good Internet writing Web site.
If you live in a small town with no writers group, you also can start your own. Some people meet several times a month at one another’s homes. Start out with small projects. The purpose is to learn, not cram. In the meantime, study through reviewing books and other sources. Fiction writing might be your desired premise for a writers group to work on, but it needs to done with step-by-step procedures to succeed. For example, in the beginning, everyone could keep a journal in which they write whatever inspires them on a daily basis. It could be a few sentences about a statue in the town square, a complete character sketch on three strangers, sounds around them, smells, or emotions—in short, about anything that strikes their muse. These daily exercises teach them to put their senses into writing and to add imagination. From there, use an outline showing exactly what the learning steps will be. Most important, encourage each participant in the writers group to read as many short stories or novels as they can in the categories or genres in which they hope to become proficient. This is an absolute necessity, because the reading writer will learn the patterns and guidelines used in specific genres. Those who refuse to read what others are writing and selling, using the excuse they want to do their own thing, will have a lot tougher road to travel as far as marketing their work.
Here is an example of such a learning-steps example, to be completed in three parts of the work being examined, the beginning, the middle, and the denouement (the resolution of the book’s conflicts):
A. Characters by name (main, good, evil, and secondary)
Physical description, including gender and age.
Personality quirks such as giggling when nervous, being quick tempered, etc.
Protagonist(s) and role(s) taken
Nature of the conflict
There is much more you can add to such means of studying how works are constructed, including exercises in setting, tone. and voice; in understanding and developing POV; and in learning how to add suspense and twists so readers will enjoy the work.
If you want to be part of a writers group, don’t be hesitant. There may be others around you wishing the same thing. A small ad in the classifieds should do the trick once you have your plan mapped out.
Writers conferences and book expos are excellent ways to network with other writers and with agents, publishing house editors, and other professionals in the publishing field. Conferences generally offer workshops in specific subjects by proven authors and writers. A comprehensive listing of over 1,300 international writers conferences, including dates, places, and contact information, can be found at http://writing.shawguides.com.
Involving the Community in Your Work
Don’t overlook the benefit of involving the community around you both in the development of your work and in helping to create a buzz for marketing the work. The development of a short story collection by coauthor Gary Kessler can be used to illustrate this point. The short stories, which were focused on a specific historical community’s city center (and, not incidentally, which were released in book form at an annual regional books festival hosted in that city), were fine tuned during reading programs at a couple of senior centers and within the contexts of local high school- and university-level creative writing programs. Two area photographers who were connected with news outlets contributed photographs for the book (and, no doubt, also helped in getting it publicized), and the book not only was released during a regional book festival, but it also debuted in conjunction with an art exhibit that shared the themes of the book. Such use of different, but overlapping networks can have a synergetic effect and help create that highly desirable buzz (if localized) for book sales.
A wealth of help on networking in the publishing industry is available on the Internet. Some comprehensive Web sites are listed here, but careful keyword searches on a good search engine such as Google.com will bring up innumerable information and discussion sites on almost any writing-related topic and writing specialty you could imagine.
http://www.writingclasses.com/ provides online courses covering the gamut of fiction, nonfiction, and screen/play writing.
Watchdog Internet sites on agents and/or publishers can be found at:
Preditors & Editors at http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/
Writer Beware at http://www.sfwa.org/beware
Agent Research and Evaluation Service at http://www.agentresearch.com/
The professional agent’s association (AAR) at http://www.aar-online.org/.
Writer’s discussion boards can be found at
Writer’s BBS (http://www.writersbbs.com/)
United Authors Association at (http://groups.msn.com/unitedauthorsassociation)
"Voices" Network: for writers and poets of all ages. "Voices" publications, games, forum (http://www.voicesnet.com)
Writers Write: The Writer’s Resource (http://writerswrite.com/)
Absolute Write (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php?)
Writing Forums (http://www.writingforums.com/).
A comprehensive listing of over 1,300 international writers conferences, including dates, places, and contact information, can be found at http://writing.shawguides.com.