After a long wild weekend of chatting with other authors. In person and online the topic of groups and what we subscribe to and what we avoid like the plague seemed to be one I saw, heard, or participated in many times over the past three days.
I belong to Romance Writers of America and have off and on for the last twelve years. I thought it was thirteen I was a year off. Anyway, why do I continue to pay the monthly dues for a writers group that really doesn't do much for me has been a question I've asked myself many times over the years. And for a few years when RWA chose to make e first publishers non-recognized as publishers I left the organization. The same mentality ran through my local chapter at the time as well and I couldn't see why I was continuing to give my money to a group that says my publishing credit is little more than vanity publishing and not real because my book wasn't sold in bookstores or some such nonsense. That was years ago. Things have changed inside RWA. Not much granted. They are still very focused on NY and traditional publishing but have grudgingly allowed e first pubs to play in their ball pit. E first books can now enter the Rita if the book is in paperback form, because all entries must be sent in the form of six (I think it's six if I'm wrong sorry) bound copies to be distributed to judges, never to be returned to the author. And if you've ever seen the mail room photos around Rita judging time you'd sit here and go Holy Fuckballs Batman. It's supposed to be impressive. To me it's a waste of space, time, resources, and money. Because I can send a non-DRM copy of a book to anyone for free to me with no storage space or other shipping needed that can be forwarded to the correct judge within a blink of an eye. But that's too simple and all those boxes of dead trees is impressive....but us e first pubs can now play in that ball pit IF our publisher has a print copy available in time or at all or if we would like to pay out of pocket to have the copies made through a POD publisher, with permission from our publisher of course. And there is the yearly conference held in strategic locations around the country where we can mix and mingle with publishers and other authors. For the cost of a mortgage payment plus travel, food, and lodging. I get a magazine every month with the same articles rehashed by a new contributor of something I read in that magazine ten years ago. Timely advice on how exercise is essential to a writers well being. And how to craft query letters and etiquette when looking for agents. Things of that nature. You can almost tell what theme the mag has based on the time of year and the calender the NY pubs set. Misinformation abounds. Self-pubbing is still kinda sorta, you know acknowledged but the cons out weigh the pros...I mean those of us who self pub are chasing the almightly buck over legitimate...wait what now? I thought we were all chasing the almighty buck because I can pub this crap on my blog for everyone to read free of charge and to forward and copy and paste to their hearts content if I wasn't looking to you know make some money as a writer.
So why if RWA is so evil do you keep giving them your money?
Because, for one they are the only organization out there where publishers, agents, and authors can make an informal connection. Because the org. does put on that conference and maybe one day if I decide to write something NY is looking for I can walk into a room with an editor or a publisher and come away with a book contract instead of going through the query or slush pile obstacle course. Because even if they are slow to get going, once they do get going on the right path they've managed some really good things. You just have to beat them over the head to get them on that path. Because they have a network of sub chapters that are very useful, sub chapters that aren't as trapped in the dark ages. Because there is a local group of real flesh and blood people that I can go visit once a month who've been where I am or can commiserate with me on some level so that I don't feel as if I'm the only one out there. Because new ideas come from strange places. Because just because dammit. I belong to the Gulf Coast Chapter of RWA or as we're known GCCRWA. We have a small conference on the beach every other year. And we sponsor a contest for self pubbed and indie books. I also belong to Rainbow RWA. And one of my books finalled in The Passionate Plume contest, which is sponsored by Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA, and one of the only full book contests outside of the Ritas for published authors. It's called networking. Which I suck at, so I pay to be in groups where I can meet people, and put the loop emails on ignore because I hate getting hundreds of emails a day and....you get out of it what you put into it I guess.
Other than that I'm a bit stand offish when it comes to groups. I try to avoid those private FB groups after being burned a time or two in them. Anywhere a small group of people get together to further their own agenda usually turns into something petty and friendships can be destroyed over something stupid.
Critique groups and partners. I don't have one of those. At all. Now I'm not saying they are evil, because they aren't. Someone to read your work and offer advice is a real godsend. But the wrong partner can do more harm than good. A friend who just wants to read your work isn't the best choice of a CP. A writer friend who is a hard core grammar Nazi isn't either. One will just kiss your ass for more books, the other will demoralize you. A good mix of the two would be ideal, and if you can find one let me know. I'm loathe to critique for anyone because I have a set idea of how to construct a book based on working with so many editors. I've taken all nine previous editing experiences and go with the elements each one has in common. Head hopping, POV change, chapter change, how to spot when something needs to be rewritten, fleshed out, or cut completely for a better story, based on working with editors. Does this mean I get my own shit right every time? No, of course not, because I'm too close to my story and I can't see when something is missing or when I've over used something. I depend on other eyes to help me get my work into some semblance of a final draft, that will ultimately still have errors. So I critique with an eye to how I want to be critiqued and that has cost me friends. Am I a hard ass? No. I'm usually very worried that I might have said something to cause some one to stop writing, usually the changes I suggest are very small but it's taken personally. And well. I don't critique except under very rare circumstances anymore. And back to finding a good critique partner. You need someone who can read your work with an unbiased eye. Someone who can spot potential trouble spots and suggest ways to fix them. Not your best friend or your mom or your great aunt Gemma who just loves a good romance novel but doesn't know one thing about how to construct a novel or how to sell one once it's finished. That's wonderful sweetie you'll make lots of money with it. Is not the advice you want from a CP. Neither do you want a group who will critique everything that makes your book unique out of it. Figure out what you need from a CP but never lose sight of what you want your book to be.
I do, however, use Beta readers. There isn't much difference between CPs and Betas really. Just a name. I do everything I can to get a book ready for submission before I send off to Betas. I use a couple of readers who have some expertise in the area I'm writing. And this could be a friend who knows nothing about writing. Someone who you want to read for accuracy in a certain field. Like in Let It Go, I chose a friend who as a kid and young adult was a barrel racer. She read for the limited rodeo and horse information and suggested changes based on that world to make it more realistic. I gave Complicated to a friend who works in a mental hospital as an RN and she helped me make the scene toward the end more accurate. Because I write male/male sex scenes and I dabble in the gay world I have a couple of actual gay men read my work. Because gasp, I figure because they are gay and have had that kind of sex and live in that world to some extent they can call me stupid all they want. When I'm at the Beta stage it's about accuracy it's about motivation it's about flow and continuance. It's about making sure Peter who starts with blue eyes doesn't become Paul with green eyes. Or that chicken sandwich on one page isn't a tuna sandwich on the next page. It's about why is this character even in this book. It's the dot the I s and cross the T s portion of the program.
Hive mentality exists. You can't do that because nobody does that. You shouldn't write that book that's going to get you banned. You should play it safe. Don't make waves. Don't speak out. Don't go against the group. This is not how we work. Yes, there is serious hive mentality in writing, just as there is in every aspect of life. Groups exist for support and if you're really lucky you'll get that support and if you're a decent person you'll give back. But groups become cliques and factions form. I avoid the hell out of groups for that reason. I join, I give what I can. I take what I need. But in the end, I am a solitary witch and a solitary writer. I practice in private venturing out when I feel roots sprouting from my ass. This is how I work best. ME. There are so many groups out there to choose from, so many options, too many ways to volunteer to mentor. Take what you need and give back what you can. Look for what works for you. How you write, how you socialize, how you publish...there are as many paths as there are people in this game. Choose what works for you avoid what doesn't. That's my advice for this week and as always, take it with a grain of salt.