One of the problems with being in a rural area is that you often have to build your writing skills using the Internet – in other words, writing boards and websites to not only learn more about da Biz, but also to talk with other writers. It’s a powerful thing, this Internet – but it’s also filled with potholes and problems for anyone who doesn’t know the ropes. And unfortunately sometimes the only way to know the ropes is to get trapped a few times in a few tangles.
Writing boards are the best way, I think, to find out what’s going on in the industry. Authors chatting back and forth about anything and everything from Tai Chi to politics as well as sharing thoughts and experiences on writing can make your day a whole lot better, especially if you can’t make it out to a writing group in-person too often. My personal fav is the Absolute Write forum over at http://www.absolutewrite.com . There’s legitimate agents there and authors with excellent credentials that will help out the new author trying to find the right way to write that query letter and how to make it work, as Tim Gunn would say.
Unfortunately not all writing boards are equal. I was recently a member of and them banned from a writing board that basically consisted of nothing more than social chit-chat – hardly a bad place to be, but when you attempted to discuss writing in more than general terms it would deteriorate quickly into a cesspool of hostility. Why? Well, the majority of the authors there had been published by PublishAmerica, AKA a vanity press, and didn’t want to hear about the publishing industry from those in the know. In other words, anyone who hasn’t been scammed by PA.
Now, I’ve got some decent credentials – I worked as an Editorial Assistant at Penguin Books Canada about twenty years ago as well as put in time both in the warehouse and as a bookstore employee – so while I may not be the most knowledgable person around I sure as heck know the difference between returns and royalties. And I’ll easily step aside for those who know way more than I do in a second.
But this board, again, didn’t want to hear from authors discussing publishing or publishers. They didn’t want to talk about bad publishers or how to self-edit or how the system worked – all they wanted to do was discuss how many of them had been ignored by the “big NYC houses” as part of the “conspiracy” to keep new authors off the market. BTW, it’s not true – take a look at any decent publishing information and you’ll see new authors being signed by agents and publishers daily. They can’t all wait for King or Grissom to put out new books, really.
However, if all I wanted to do was chat about recipes or the latest diet craze, it was a great board. But as far as a writing resource went, it was filled with disinformation and misinformation – when members pointed a new visitor towards PublishAmerica as a valid publisher I had to leave, obviously.
What’s the moral of the story? Well, first – find writing boards that actually talk about WRITING if that’s what you want to do. There are literally thousands of boards out there on any topic imaginable and a lot of them will meet your needs if you just want a social network. And that’s great for the house-bound writer. But if you’re looking for information and networking with authors who want to do more than navel-gazing, do your research before investing your time and taking advice that may be less than truthful. If the board seems to be pushing one publisher more than another or one agent, check out who’s behind the board – just as with writing conferences, there may be a sponsor looking to manipulate visitors one way or another.
There are plenty of writing resources out there on the Internet to help you improve your skills – but also plenty of places that will drag you down. As a great person once said: It’s hard to Soar like an Eagle if you’re Flocking with Turkeys.
(btw, “The Second Line” is slated for pre-release next week… stand by for updates! Squee!)