Do You Do Online Writer Forums?

Since finishing up with school I’ve joined a few online writer forums. I won’t name them because I’m going to talk smack about them. For a long time I avoided any kind of online forum/open chat room, more because of suspicion than any direct negative experience. But I was conflicted, because I like the idea of a place where we people with a common interest can gather and talk about that mutual interest.

I finally forced myself to sign up for three, at random.

I don’t recommend doing it that way. As always, you should do your research.

One group I joined is very, very quiet.

The second is filled with one-on-one personal conversation: “Hey, how you doing? I’m fine. What you been up to?” There may be useful information being exchanged, but I gave up on sifting for it.

Some online writing forums seem to be dominated by alpha-dogs.

I must confess I’ve become a bit of a lurker on the third forum. I can’t help it. It’s fascinating. The group is dominated by an alpha who rules with ruthless authority. Someone asked the alpha-poster about his credentials once, implying he shouldn’t weigh in on matters he obviously knew nothing about. A protracted and super-defensive display of credentials ensued. The alpha-poster bombarded the upstart with post after post after post, listing the arguments for his expertise in the matter. I really thought he was going to post his entire CV.

The whole experience reminded me of a recent Writers’ League of Texas panel where zombie novelist Rhiannon Frater said that the heyday of the online forum has come and gone. And she should know; she started her authorial career in online forums. If I remember correctly, Frater felt all those kinds of useful discussion groups have moved to Twitter. So I guess I’m going to have to get over my old-man-fear of new things and explore the Tweet-verse next. If you’re like me and remain reluctant to immerse yourself too deeply in the waters of social media, I offer you the argument Chuck Sambuchinomade during a small group session at the last Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editor’s Conference (Sambuchino runs the Guide to Literary Agents blog, among other things). To paraphrase, he said Facebook and Twitter (and all social media, really) have replaced the world’s newspapers.

Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino

Whether that thought terrifies you or brings you joy, I think Sambuchino’s right. Social media platforms, in all their ever shifting shapes, are where more and more of the book buying population go for their current events. If you want to make a living as a writer (whatever that means to you), you have to have an online platform. You have to learn aboutGoogle Analytics. You have to write online with SEOs in mind.

And you have to engage your readers where you find them. There’s just too much going on all the time for you to reasonably expect an audience to come to a you.

As Rhiannon Frater advised the WLT Third Thursday audience member who said he didn’t have the time to “waste” participating in the online world: “Don’t try to sell books, then.”