Potholes on the Road to Publication - Comrades at the Keyboard/The Competition

Traffic sign warning not to step in the poop

All writers need to belong to a community, to find a group that supports their efforts.
Text I received from a multi-published author who wishes to remain anonymous … because of the second line in her text (below).

Writers are a weird bunch. (And I often wonder if mystery writers are the weirdest … I mean … we sit around plotting ways to kill people … that can’t be healthy.)

Young girl with glasses writing with a quill in a large book

We love being alone with our imaginary friends, writing their stories. But when we’re not writing we worry about absolutely everything related to the business of writing.

Finding like-minded nutcases is the only way to stay sane. Finding a community that supports you and shares their knowledge of the industry and craft is vital for your psyche and your professional success. And, added bonus, spending time with living breathing human beings isn’t just fun (most of the time) it’s also a great way to do some people watching for future characters.

Guy typing at a computer with a wacky look on his face

There are literally thousands of writers’ groups and organizations, most of them open to new members; published and not. I’ve been a member of several and, boy oh boy, have I ever had different experiences with them.

I joined one organization that regularly scheduled public readings for their members. I signed up for one of those nights because I wanted to meet some of my fellow members and thought it would be a good way to also help promote my newly published book to the public in a supportive environment. Unfortunately, no one from the general book buying public showed up. The chairs were all filled with other writers, at various stages of their careers.

Three authors read before me. Then it was my turn. (I was so nervous … gulp!)

Freaked out woman with hands on head

I’d barely started reading when someone in the crowd shouted out – “You have to speak more loudly! The people in the back can’t hear you!”

Man in hat with hand up to ear to hear better

Um … a friend had come with me and he was sitting in the very back row. Neither he nor anyone sitting near him were having any trouble hearing me and the person who shouted that was in the front row.

Two paragraphs later I was interrupted again by the same person – “You need to enunciate better!” Um … not once during my many years as a reader in the CNIB recording studios had my enunciation ever been questioned or criticized.

A few paragraphs later the same person interrupted me again – “Your 5 minutes is almost up!” I knew that I had to keep my reading to 5 minutes maximum … and timing things to the second was something I got pretty good at when I was producing television shows. I’d practiced my reading several times before that night and knew that, without interruptions, my reading would come in at 4 minutes and 37 seconds.

picture of clock with text that says “Time’s Running Out”

I finished my reading and forced myself to walk, not run, away from the microphone.

Not one other author was interrupted during their reading. Some were great readers. Some not so much. Some spoke loudly. Others softly. Most kept to their allotted 5 minutes. One, who I’ll call Primus Interuptus (she was the Supreme Being/head of that writers’ organization), went on for almost 10 minutes.

Primus Interuptus wasn’t done with me when she finished her reading. Before leaving, she made a point of coming over to ask me about my background in television. I explained that I’d produced television shows, movies and documentaries. Primus Interuptus asked which production company I’d worked for. I said “You probably wouldn’t know it. It’s closed now.” To which Primus Interuptus said “Yeah, all the crappy little production companies usually go out of business.” Um … the company I worked for produced more content than any other company in the country at the time and our shows were purchased and aired in too many world markets to list. The friend who’d come with me that night had been a production co-worker of mine and had gone on to be a senior production executive at a very well-known and multi-award winning production company. His jaw dropped as he listened to Primus Interuptus’ incredibly rude and belittling assumptions. The production company we’d worked for closed when the owner decided to retire and sold all his titles to a distribution company. I didn’t bother saying any of that, though. I didn’t feel the desire – or the need – to prove my production credentials.

I left that night wondering what the heck I could have done to make that person instantly dislike me so much that they went out of their way to make my reading a thoroughly miserable experience. I’d just met them moments before the reading! I couldn’t have annoyed them that quickly by simply saying “Hello” … could I?

It wasn’t all bad, though. Several people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed my reading. (Apparently, they had no trouble hearing me.) Those people took some of the sting off of that night. And I have become very close friends with two other authors who were members of that organization. I use the past tense deliberately – they’ve both left the organization and stopped paying membership dues because they never felt included. They, too, weren’t welcomed with open arms or friendship. They, too, were treated like usurpers who were somehow threatening the executive clique … I mean executive committee.

I’ve since joined two other writers’ organizations – one in Canada, one in the UK – and the members of both have been, without exception, friendly and supportive. I’ve picked up all sorts of good writing and promotional tips and, more importantly, I’ve made more friends.

I’d still recommend to all new authors, or about-to-be-authors, that they join a writers’ group or organization. The only thing I’d warn them about is that some writers’ organizations aren’t about support; they’re about crushing any perceived competition.

“The trick is to find one that doesn’t make you feel like you’re a dog turd they stepped in on the way to the Giller awards ceremony where they expect to win first prize.”
Multi-published author’s second line from the same text as above.