As an aspiring writer, I worked on a book until I dared to think it might be ready for the world…unfortunately, I didn’t really have a world other than immediate family to share it with. While my friends and family had kind words to say, I realized I needed a community of writers, editors, agents, and readers with which to commiserate. But where does one find such a pack besides the local bar and/or recovery meeting?
This modern world gives us many ways to reach new people with like-minded hopes and dreams, and depending on an author’s age, background, and economic status, any number of paths can help forge long-lasting bonds. Certainly, no size fits all, but here is a list of options to consider when looking for your own tribe:
- Trade publications. Whether it was a subscription to Written By or Publisher’s Weekly, my first real exposure to the world of professional writing was through reading about other authors’ paths to publication. Not only was I inspired by writing prompts, but I also learned bits and pieces of the traditional submission process, found a decent overview of the author-agent-editor relationship, and grew familiar with the terms traditional, indie, and self-publishing.
- Higher Education. I didn’t come into the novel until middle age, so the idea of applying for and enrolling in an MFA program that focused on fiction wasn’t in the cards. However, I know many an author who left their well-known MFA programs running full-speed into the traditional halls of publishing. If you have the means and time, why wouldn’t you take two years to focus on your craft?
- Craft Conferences. Since the MFA path was out for me, I used the notes I’d made reading trade publications (See Item #1) to research local writing conferences, particularly those that emphasized craft, rather than panels from published authors. There are many fine craft conferences in the US and the world over. Lucky for me, I happened upon the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, a week-long event I could drive to. Not only did I get to hear prize-winning authors speak every night, but I was able to wander from workshop to workshop, exploring prose, story structure, read and critique sessions, poetry, journalism, and the ins and outs of the publishing world, all alongside authors in various stages of publication, from aspiring to best-selling. Plus, they offered manuscript critique, agent pitch sessions, and editorial services. Was I ready for publication at the end of the week? Not hardly, but I walked away with a list of email addresses and social media contacts. The next year, those addresses were beta readers. The year after, they were good friends.
- Genre Associations. Once I neared the doors of publishing readiness, I learned about the various associations, both local and national, comprised of working authors in my genre – crime fiction. All have their own strengths, weaknesses, and membership requirements, but I’m a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Sisters in Crime, all of which are non-profit organizations that sponsor get togethers, such as their own conferences, anthologies, and awards.
- Genre Conferences. As publication approached, everyone I’d met in my various genre associations advised me to attend genre-based conferences, especially with my debut novel, and I am glad that I did. Whether you’re considering Thrillerfest, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, California Crime Writers Conference, or any of the many crime fiction-focused conferences, you’ll definitely find like-minded friends at panels, restaurants, and bars, all ready to tell you that you belong. You also might find that friends you meet on vacation are far more likely to give you a glowing review or cover blurb than complete strangers that your publisher approaches.
- What else? Since you’ve found this post, you must be aware of Blackbird Writers, an organization of authors who help promote each other’s work under the crime fiction umbrella. Groups like these leverage the volunteer work of each member to raise the awareness of all. How about an accountability group? A book club? Classes at the local junior college? I’m sure there are Tik-Tokkers who discuss writing for those who know what that means and have the patience, and/or youth, to explore the possibilities.
One of the most important things for every writer to remember (besides writing the best books possible) is to find your tribe. Writing is solitary, but having a career as a published author takes a village – and villagers are far more friendly if you meet them at the local watering hole.