This talk is about the value of the writing community. I’ll explain how it’s helped me, look at three key problems facing writers today and what resources are available to tackle them.
I’m a founder member of Triskele Books, which is a European author collective of five authors To all intents and purposes, we operate like a small publisher, ensuring that every single book we publish deserves the Triskele logo.
The difference is that we each keep our own rights, and 100% of our own profits. We’ve published 21 books between us and we stand for five key principles: high quality writing, professional presentation, a strong sense of place, ethical operations and support for other writers.
We publish a literary magazine for writers – Words with JAM
We operate a review site for readers – Bookmuse
Run events such as The Indie Author Fair – a farmers’ market, but for books.
I’m co-editor of The Woolf Quarterly, Zürich’s literary ezine, whose aim is to keep the English-speaking writing community connected, entertained and informed. We also organise WriteCon, an annual writers’ workshop weekend each spring. Next one coming up this May.
I’m also the Swiss Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors. This is a global organisation supporting self-published authors. ALLi offers connection and collaboration, advice and education, advocacy and representation to writers who want to self-publish well. Our motto is Working together to help each other.So you can see why I’m passionate about the benefits a network of writers can offer.
Writers face three problems these days. And I’m not talking about backache.
One, creativity is undervalued. The availability of so much free content means an expectation that we should all be pouring out words for the privilege of exposure.
Two, the task of writing is a solitary occupation. Just you, in a room with your imaginary friends. Unlike many creative endeavours, writing is something most of us do alone. Which can be lonely.
Three, and this may sound contradictory to the previous point but I believe it’s a contributory factor, TMI. Too much information. The Internet is awash with advice for writers and publishers.
Others, however, can be confusing, erroneous or agenda-driven.
How can a writing community or network counter these problems?
My advice would be to find your tribe.
For example, you can join an organisation which represents your genre, such as the Romantic Novelists Association, the Historical Novel Society, the Crime Writers’ Association or SCWBI – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has an excellent section called Writer Beware, which flags up unethical competitions, service providers and so on for all writers.
There are broader organisations such as ALLi, the Society of Authors or the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ). My colleague Catriona Troth put together a comprehensive guide to useful professional organisations, the reasons for joining, costs and entry requirements called Where Do I Belong?
Or make your own. Find a critique group locally or set one up. (The members of Triskele Books met as we graduated from one online critique group to the next.) Form your own collective – pool your skills and play to your strengths. Short-term or project-specific alliances often bring about greater than the sum of its parts results. One team of seven indie authors collaborated on a limited-time boxset, containing one novel from each member. A group of traditionally published historical fiction authors I know offer themselves as a ready-made panel of experts to festivals and events.
Refine your information sources. You can’t keep up with all the developments in the publishing word, so filter according to your priorities. Subscribe to blogs which provide the kind of content that interests you, such as agent Andrew Lownie’s informative site or the Self-Publishing Advice blog from ALLi. Get the digest from The Bookseller or Publishing Perspectives to keep your finger on the publishing pulse. Seek out specialist resource sites such as DP Lyle for crime forensics, or if you’re seeking authentic speech patterns from The Old Bailey archives for historical crime.
Get out there. Join workshops, meet people, introduce those who might help each other and be altruistic about it. Networking is not a dirty word. Support other writers. Authors who view each other as competitors are missing out. I write crime and consequently read a lot of crime novels. Just because I recommend Sheila Bugler’s Hunting Shadows or Chris Curran’s Mindsight doesn’t mean I’ve shot myself in the foot or lost a sale. Readers buy more than one book per year.
And one last thing. Writers are readers too. If they’re not, they have no business calling themselves writers. So see the writing community as colleagues, potential collaborators, sources of information and support, valued creators, storytellers and maybe even future readers of your work.
I have a whiteboard beside my desk, cluttered with all kinds of precious round the edges. But in the middle, there is a white space containing three words I interpret differently each day.