You might think my biggest fear is that the group gets hijacked by authors who pop in to post adverts then disappear again, but actually my biggest fear is that the group becomes an echo chamber.
What do I mean by that?
Echo chambers are places where eveyone agrees with everyone else. Where everyone pats each other on the back and says "congratulations - because you did it OUR way."
From the very beginning, when we founded ROSA, we wanted it to be a place where all writers feel welcome. Irrespective of whether you choose to submit to traditional publishers or whether you want to self-publish, irrespective of whether you're a complete newbie or a multi-published author, you're welcome in ROSA. But I am actually going to add one condition to membership (there had to be a catch, right?)
In order to be a member of the ROSA community, you need to be open to learning and to constructive, calm debate. ROSA isn't just about tolerating those whose paths are different from our own, it is about constantly striving to improve our writing and to up our game.
Even our most established writers tell me that they give back to this community because through giving back they learn. As I've discovered through working as a writing coach, mentors learn as much as those they mentor. No matter where we're at in our journeys, we are open to learning.
This is why it horrifies me to discover just how many writers out there have no interest in learning. They just want to be told how talented, how clever and how right they are. They don't want constructive feedback, they want a pat on the back.
Example: recently, in one of those many Facebook groups I belong to, someone posted that they really struggle with writing synopses, so do they really have to do them? The answers flooded in: "No, of course you don't", and "don't do anything you're not comfortable with", and "how can you possibly sum up your novel in one page?", and "don't query - just self-publish."
The original poster them commented saying: "Thank you all. The last group I was in, they told me if I wanted to get my book published I really needed to write a synopsis, so I left that group."
That seems to be the number one answer in many of these groups: if you don't want to do things the established way, then self publish. And if they tell you something you don't want to hear, leave the group.
An editor asked you to revise your baby? "They just don't understand you. Self pubish!"
A critique group said your female characters are too hard and unlovable (a criticism I often get!), then "who needs that kind of negativity? Leave that group!"
An agent didn't love your book? "What do they know anyway? Self publish!"
I have self-published. I love being a self-published author. I love the amount of decision making control it gives me over my own career, but it is not the answer to all problems. The books I self publish are the equal of the books I've had published by HarperCollins. The only difference is that I chose to self publish them. They still follow all the rules of good writing that I learned over many years of working with editors at traditional publishing houses.
If the quality of your writing is not yet equal to that of your favourite authors, then self-publishing will not save you. It will crucify you. Readers don't care if this is your first book or your 90th (unless they're your friends and family, but are they the only audience you want to reach?)
The readers leaving reviews on your books probably also read Tessa Dare, Alisha Rai and Debbie Macomber, and if your books don't match up to their level of quality, the readers will point it out to you in ways that will make you want to curl up in a little ball and cry.
I promise you, it is way, way better to receive advice and criticism from a small and supportive group of authors who want to see you grow and succeed, than to receive that feedback from the feral reviewers on Goodreads.
So the advice I'd like you all to take forward into this new year is this: stay open to advice. Even if you disagree with that advice, or decide not to take it, at least listen and give it some thought without bashing the person giving it.
If a more experienced writer tells you "you need to learn to write a synopsis", or "romances need happy endings", or "books should have a beginning, middle and end", or if an editor says "you need to make your heroine softer and less aggressive" or "your characters need to be more pro-active; things shouldn't just happen to them," they are not telling you this to be negative. They are not trying to box in your creativity with rules or make your writing formulaic. There might just be a reason they are giving you this advice. If you're not sure what that reason is, ask!
If you are at the beginning of your writing journey and open to learning, and if you are looking for a safe space in which to discuss writing and publishing, please consider joining ROSA. We have a lot of established writers who are willing and eager to pass on what they know - because they're looking to learn from you too!
In our next post, we'll be sharng tips on how to write an effective synopsis, so watch this space!