Today I am pleased to welcome Sharon Boothroyd back to The Contents Page with a guest blog post on how to set up your own writing group. It isn’t always easy to get to writing groups to get feedback and achieve the growth and confidence in your writing that you need. Online writing groups are an amazing resource that allow you to connect with fellow writers at times that work for you. Sharon started her own online writing group, Fiction Addiction, in 2011 and it is still going strong. If you haven’t found a group that is right for you, what about starting your own? Sharon is going to tell us how.
HOW TO SET UP AN ONLINE WRITING GROUP
By Sharon Boothroyd
Setting up an online writing group needn’t be difficult. I established my own critique online writing group, Fiction Addiction, in 2011 – and it’s still going strong today. Work and messages are sent via email.
Here’s 13 tips to run your own successful online writing group:
1. Why was there a need for an online critique group?
It was proving difficult for me to find honest opinions about my work from other writers, and I couldn’t afford to pay for professional critiques all the time.
Plus, on a recent creative writing course, the tutor didn’t know anything about the women’s fiction magazine market, which was the market I wanted to write for.
Also, some writers can’t find a creative writing group in their local area, or can’t get to one because it’s too far away. If, like me, you haven’t got a car, it can be difficult getting there and in winter it’s not pleasant hanging about in the cold and dark waiting for buses.
2. Online is easy to fit around daily life
An online group offers more flexibility than a normal writing group. There’s no set time or place to meet, and no hurry to post feedback on work.
There’s no laptop or paperwork to carry either and no copies to give out.
There’s no bad weather to contend with, no car parking hassle, no child-care to organise, no buses to catch, no worry about members not turning up and no tea and coffee making duties to carry out either!
Then there’s the global appeal.
My group, Fiction Addiction, has reached across the world, as well as the UK. We’ve had members from Singapore, South Africa, China, France, New Zealand, Germany and Australia.
Saying that, I’ve had members who have lived near me too – in fact, we met up and became off-line friends!
3. Choose a genre for your group
Fiction Addiction is specific – we focus on fiction for the women’s magazine market. (Womag for short.)
So consider setting up a group that focuses on a specific genre, such as horror, thriller, crime, sci-fi, ghost, chick-lit or children’s fiction.
And will your group cater for stories or novels?
To recruit members, it’s a good idea to target writers who are not just interested, but deeply passionate about your chosen genre and market, because, ideally, you’d like members to stay in your group as long as possible.
4. Recruiting members
Back in 2011, I decided the first thing I needed to do was recruit members.
I wrote an appeal (I kept it brief and to the point) and asked writer Kath McGurl if she would publish it on her very popular womagwriter blogspot. (This blog is now run by womag writer Patsy Collins.)
She did, and writer Sally Jenkins very kindly featured my appeal on her blog later too.
You could post information on Facebook or Twitter, or offer to be a guest blogger and give it a brief mention.
Find sites that feature your chosen genre and politely ask the webmaster to publish an appeal on their site.
The online writing community are usually very willing to help.
5. Have open membership
A lot of online writing groups are closed, and don’t accept new members.
It’s a great pity. From my experience, I think this policy makes a group stale and dull.
New members bring a fresh perspective. Plus, more members mean an extra pair of eyes that can often spot things amiss.
6. Be prepared for an onslaught!
At the start, I was expecting just one or two enquiries, yet I was delighted and surprised with requests from over 20 people wanting to join Fiction Addiction.
Be aware that running an online group can take up a great deal of time – for you and the members.
Make sure you allocate at least thirty minutes a day to catch up with messages, work and feedback.
7. Get a website or Facebook page
As time passed, I realised that I needed to keep all the information about the group in one place.
My husband had already designed a website for me, so we decided to put the information on there (www.sbee.orgfree.com).
To keep costs down, we decided to pick a free website.
Of course, you needn’t bother with a website. An alternative option is to post your group’s details on a Facebook page. In fact, you could run it completely on Facebook if you prefer.
Fiction Addiction is not on Facebook and Twitter, because I like to the keep the group on an email basis only.
8. Pick a suitable name for your group
‘What will we call our group?’ was a group member’s first question.
As I hadn’t anticipated a lot of interest, I hadn’t thought of a group name.
A former member gave us the name Fiction Addiction and I’ve stuck with it. I suggest that you keep your group name short and snappy. It’ll be easy to remember and easy to search for online too.
9. Have a clear goal
The idea behind Fiction Addiction is to ‘test’ our work on members before subbing it to the magazines. We offer support, feedback, advice, encouragement and motivation.
Messages, work and feedback are sent in a ’round robin’ email to all the members at the same time. So new members need to set up a Fiction Addiction email contact list.
But members can correspond separately and send different work to each other for feedback if they wish, e.g. comp entries, serials, pocket novels, etc.
I do expect members to contribute.
If I haven’t heard from a member in a while, I will ask them to drop out (and re-join again when they have more time) because it’s not fair on any of us.
It’s pointless sending messages and work out to someone who isn’t going to respond.
10. No guarantees
There’s no guarantee that every member of your group will comment on every piece of work – members are often away on holiday, moving home, ill, caring for others, or busy with their jobs, families or a longer WIP (work in progress).
Then there’s the technical aspects – dodgy broadband connections, email server problems and work getting lost in the usual pile of emails!
11. Set guidelines
I thought it was important to set a few guidelines, such as try to be kind but honest when giving feedback on work. This can require a fine balance. I also created an FAQ page, as I was getting so many enquiries!
12. Set a limit on posted work
When Fiction Addiction had a lot of members, stories were posted for critique on an almost daily basis. It was difficult for me and the members to keep up.
So I set limit of four stories max, per member, to be posted per month.
Bear in mind that some stories can run to 2,000 words and over. These take more time to read.
13. Has it been worth the effort?
Yes. It’s been great fun!
Seven years on, it’s still lovely to read work and receive warm messages every day.
We can commiserate or congratulate and we all understand our passion to succeed.
We’ve had lots of successes when a writer has tweaked a story after receiving feedback from members – and this includes me.
My life has become richer because of my online writing group – and I’m sure that yours will be too!
Thank you so much for guest blogging with us again today, Sharon, it has been a pleasure. We hope to see you back again soon.
I hope that you have been inspired to join or even start your own online writing group today.
For more information about Sharon’s writing group, Fiction Addiction – which supports writers of the womag market (women’s magazines) – then please visit Sharon’s website: http://sbee.orgfree.com.
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