Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writers' Groups and the New Era

I've been an active participant in one or more writers' groups for over ten years because I think the benefit on both "sides" of the roundtable is worth the time and effort involved with submitting my work for review and reviewing the work of other writers.
During that decade, the publishing industry has entered a period of upheaval in which the gatekeepers of the legacy monopoly have lost their stranglehold on printing and distribution. The eBook and advances in print-on-demand technology have altered the landscape forever as indie publishing sheds the unsavory implication of vanity and proves that quality is not the exclusive purview of legacy.
Although I was late to the party, I have an excuse. Eighteen months ago, Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler had not yet made the publishing news headlines. But once they did, and in the same week, the rate of change in the industry accelerated out of control. It seems as if something noteworthy is occurring every day. Keeping up with it could be a full-time job, and most writers already have one of those that unfortunately doesn't involve writing.
 In April, 2011, one active member of the Novel-In-Progress (NIP) Group of Austin had begun the trek into the unknown wilds of indie publishing. As of today, six more have joined her with about 20 titles among the group, and it's obvious that the previous emphasis on submitting material to legacy publishers through literary-agent gatekeepers no longer reflects the new reality of indie publishing.
This last week I assumed NIP moderator duties, and to use an imperfect anology, the transition feels a bit like that of a new CEO facing a period of declining revenues. Attendance and roundtable submissions are both down at a time when it seems that the relevance of writers' groups should be on the rise. Indie publishing offers a realistic option to the current tumultuous environment of legacy, and for those writers who have not yet considered it, the collective experience of fellow group members is a valuable resource.
Looking ahead to the future of NIP, I fully realize that my role as moderator endows me with no more power than that of an arbitrator or mediator. The group belongs to the members and should reflect their common objectives.
How can the group best serve those who are actively submitting as well as those who are not, or those who have embraced indie and those who still seek a legacy publisher? These are questions I feel need to be addressed as the year comes to a close with the last three roundtable meetings prior to the holidays.
A bit of math illustrates the core issue, that of the time available to engage with other writers exploring the craft, and in the new era, how to think like a publisher.
NIP meets twice a month with the exception of Easter weekend and the holiday season in December. That's no more than 21 two-hour meetings, each of which at best provides 1:30 of rountable and what we call free-for-all discussion. The rest is devoted to our "icebreaker" question, announcements, passing out the submission for the next meeting and any shorter "probes." This equates to less than 32 hours per year to engage with other writers. Compared with the hours any active writer spends in the solitary world of the creative fictive dream, that's not a lot.
Time will tell whether the group is satisfied with the status quo or wants to explore ways to enhance our vitality, relevance, and possibly even our ultimate longevity.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at