A Writer’s Community

Eric Mertz, writer

Guest Blog by Erick Mertz

One of the most difficult things for writers to achieve is that sense of community. Yet, regardless of what “level” your writing practice may be, professional ghostwriter or newcomer, finding your tribe is critical to success.

Sure, writers are by nature solitary creatures. Often we write in quiet rooms with the door closed. If we’re lucky, our loved ones will  give us that necessary time, explaining to friends and family that, well, it’s just what they do.

It’s OK. They’re happy in there.

As writers, sure, we’re happy to have that solitude. It is a necessary element in the process of creating narrative art. Perhaps only the muffled din of a coffee shop can rival silence for the writer at work.

But as much as we require solitude while in the process of writing, creating a community with other writers is critical. Solitude gets that good writing down on the page, but a vibrant community, helps get the page out to the world.

Modern networking has allowed our sense of community to evolve beyond “in person” scenarios. Sure, in person handshakes are a part of it (and we’ll go into that in just a bit) but writers are no longer forced to mingle, body to body with their fellow scribes in stuffy hotels.

Here are three ways to effectively network with other writers.

Facebook Groups

Social media is a part of our lives, for better or worse. Logging into your Facebook or Instagram profile the most time efficient way to keep up with your Uncle in Austin who ties flies, as well as your close-but-not-too-close friends and how they’re getting by as members of their local PTA.

More and more, however, Facebook Groups are becoming the preferred way to network on the world’s biggest social media platform. These groups are great because they are laser focused on a single topic and, unlike the basic platform, are governed by administrators who make sure content stays on topic.

Tired of the political morass on your feed? Then joining a Facebook group around your specific writer niche is the way to go.

Also, what defines a “niche” is fairly broad. Just for me personally, I’m part of groups geared toward the professional ghostwriter, local feature writers, as well as my unique brand of paranormal mystery fiction.

If you can dream it up, there is probably a group in there for you.

Direct Contact

This may sound too obvious to believe, but it bears mentioning here. Writers and authors have websites or Facebook pages. On their sites are contact forms or buttons to send emails.

If you like someone’s writing or have something in common in the terms of subject matter, contact them. Send an email. Fill out the form. I’m amazed at how many times I meet people in person and they tell me they were on my site and they shyly defer, saying they weren’t sure about sending an email.

Send the email… Writers may be (largely) introverted, but that just means that they are probably sitting there, on the other side of the computer, waiting for an email to come through. So many of my professional and personal writing connections have come from simply sending a cold email. Many of the companies I work with as a ghostwriter, as well as colleagues in the mystery-writing world, all came by reaching out.

Direct contact has always worked and will continue to for the rest of time. Regardless of how big and nuanced the digital wall becomes, people are always going to feel good about someone reaching out to say hello.

Writers Conferences

All right, you caught me.

I know, I know, I started this blog out by saying you didn’t have to go out and rub elbows. And you don’t, I promise…

But, if you’re feeling up to really going for it, I highly recommend the writer’s conference experience.

People tell me I’m an extrovert – I’m not. But when I get around a room full of writers, another side of me comes to life.

Other writers are, for me, a genuine source of inspiration. Everyone has a unique project they’re working on and are passionate about taking to another level. In that, you automatically have something in common.

I could write another half-dozen blogs (and have on my website) but I firmly believe that the writer’s conference experience is a little slice of heaven. There is nowhere better I can think of to go and eat mediocre hotel catering, catch classes on niche topics in your specific medium and meet other writers.

What makes the writers conference environment so helpful for me is that you get a chance to see writers of all stripes. You meet everyone from those just starting out, all the way up to authors at the top of their game.

It assures you of where you are and gives you something to aspire to.

Most importantly though, you get to meet a lot of very cool people. By the end of the weekend, my pockets are always stuffed with business cards of new contacts, connections and friends.

And, yes, at the end of it all, I get to close the door all over again.

Erick Mertz is a ghostwriter and editor living in Portland, Oregon. When he is not writing manuscripts for other clients, he enjoys cooking, spending time with his family and writing the paranormal mystery series, The Strange Air.

Progressing as a Writer

Guest blog by Dan Sherman

Few things can match the satisfaction a writer feels at capturing, in words, their mind’s vision. Even the description of an actual place or event gives a kind of permanent record through which the author’s style and insight shines through.

For these reasons, and perhaps as many others as there are writers, a great many of us find pleasure in writing. Some will simply record daily events to keep the juices flowing, but most who partake in this endeavor have gripping stories to tell. The stories may be short or long and of any genre, fiction or non-fiction. All the same, each tale is told in the unique voice of the author.

Unfortunately, many writers never pursue their craft. Some might make an initial stab, but wind up shelving it, unsure how to proceed. How many writers have the intention to “get back to it at some point? Sadly, they can put this wonderful endeavor off until retirement, or forever.

So, how does one walk down the road as a writer? If you follow the path I give, you will both develop your craft and have a body of finished work to show for it.

Determine your medium

For some writers, determining their medium is a simple matter. They always think in terms of a grand plot that will take at least a couple hundred pages to give its due; or the reverse, of shorter and separate plots, each its own work. A specific genre, such as action or mystery, may even be preferred.

The purpose here is not to limit you. If you look over the careers of your favorite authors, very few novelists do not have at least one collection of short stories, and the best short story writers have tried their hand at full-length work. And who is to say that a novel would not also make a good theatrical play or a good screenplay, or vice versa?

No, the purpose here is to get started. Examine your ideas. Choose the vehicle that best places them on the written page. Be sure you are familiar with the medium you select – an old-fashioned trip to the library brings one to the best teachers, whether of novels, short stories, screenplays, etc.

Outline a project

Depending on your project’s length, and depending on your own style, your outline will vary in length and maybe format. At the very least, it is important that you delineate what will happen in each chapter or section of a book. This will remind you what to include as you write, as well as guide you on your path of the plot.

With short stories, treat each as you would a full-length novel, even if you wish to complete a good many. Give each one its own heading in your outline, along with any notes you think necessary.

There is no need to follow a formal structure, as the outline is a communication from you, to you. You just need to draw your road map, so that you can write your book without interruption.

Complete your writing project

This advice may seem comical in its apparent simplicity. Now, we’ve hit the pen to the paper phase. This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. There’s no way around it, you need to convert your idea into words; it’s the great make-break moment for any writer. Have no fear though. You have your outline, your vision for the course your story will take.

If you find you never have the time to complete your book or you struggle to make productive use of the time you allot, please refer my wife’s article, Writing Tips: How to Avoid Distractions. She gives a lot of good advice on how to keep on a steady path.

The bottom line is that you’ll need to sort out your own ways of handling challenges you encounter. Under what circumstances do you produce the most? When you find yourself getting stuck, what frees your mind up and gets you rolling again? Those will be your go-to strategies.

Continue with the project you have outlined until you are finished. If you must change elements of the plot as you proceed, or even find you must go back to alter some earlier portion, do so. Just limit these impulses as much as possible. Remember, the goal is to have a completed product.

Where to go next

Once you complete your first draft, you will feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Many experience a huge feeling of being unburdened. Save editing for a later time; give yourself time to enjoy the moment: you’ve completed your first book! The process you just went through of developing a plot, creating and resolving a conflict, and describing your ideas in words, has improved you as a writer. No dissertation on the subject can substitute. After a week or two, take the time to review the manuscript for edits and begin that whole process.

When you have completed your book, I’m sure you’ll have a few new projects ready to consider. Every step, from the initial spark of inspiration to the final written word, will become more grooved in with experience. You are well on the path to creating a good body of personal work.

Dan Sherman has been a ghostwriter for two decades. He specializes in fiction and memoirs. He welcomes emails from all his readers.

Three Ways to Avoid Being Scammed by a Publisher

A flair for writingToday I asked Donna Erickson to share her thoughts on self-publishing. Donna is the author of No-Hassle Publishing: An Author’s Guide to Today’s Changing Industry and the owner of aflairforwriting.com, a writing/editing/and publishing service. She has 25 years of experience in the industry, and her company offers a full array of quality services for authors who are self-publishing.

By Donna J. Erickson

Many new authors are opting to self-publish their print books and e-books because it’s much quicker and easier than trying to break into traditional publishing. Self-publishing also allows the author to have more control–especially in the areas of cover design and publication title. When new authors begin exploring their options, they often conduct an online search for companies offering self-publishing services, which leads us to this critical question: Are the most popular listings for self-publishing companies on the Internet necessarily the best?

The answer to that question is “no.” The companies on the top of the list have simply paid the most to appear there. These companies pay top-dollar to pay-per-click search engines to get to the top of the list. Does that make them better than the others? Absolutely not! They are just paying more money per click to have you visit their site.

In fact, some of these big-name companies (also known as vanity presses) have been sued and found liable for not delivering what was promised. And many authors have brought their nightmare stories to Internet discussions. So how can you avoid becoming the next casualty? Here are some red-flag suggestions on what to watch out for:

  • Beware of Offshore Affiliates

Many of the big names outsource their customer service to the Philippines, India, and other remote locations. Authors have complained that these individuals are often not knowledgeable, inaccessible, and hard to understand. This could be a sign you’re headed for trouble. A credible company should have in-house services with a qualified and helpful staff to assist you. Some companies may have in-house customer service that disappears once they have your money. Try to get feedback from other authors who have done business with them before you give them your money.

  • Beware of Poor Quality Editing

All editors are not alike. A less-than-reputable company will hire inexperienced editors who will work for low pay. I’ve heard of an instance where an author ended up with more mistakes after the editing process! Find out about your editor’s background, location, and level of experience. Ask to see a before-and-after sample edit. If they refuse, walk away.

  • Beware of Inflated Pricing

Like any major purchase, you need to shop around. If Company A can provide the same services as Company B, why are they priced twice as high? Company A may not care about you or your book. They may just want your money. Some of these outfits are really not about publishing books; they are only about making money. If a company accepts any manuscript–rather than being selective in their process–that sounds like a scam.

Before you give any money to a publisher, make sure you research their background and policies–especially on contracts and refunds. For more detailed information, you can read my book, “No-Hassle Publishing: An Author’s Guide to Today’s Changing Industry.” I’ve uncovered some facts that could save you a lot of grief. Read actual testimonials from other authors. Check discussion boards and join social media groups (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) for comments and feedback. You don’t want to become the next victim with a “horror story” to share about vanity presses.