Writing Groups Run for Pay Are Useful…But Not the Same as No-Fee Writing Groups

After last week’s post, in which I explained how to set up and run writing critique groups and manuscript swaps, I got some feedback, and I’d like to address one of the issues that came up.

What to expect if you pay for a professionally-led writing group:

There are many writers/editors, who run critique groups for a fee – and I am among them. Usually, the organizer will do at least some of the recruitment for you, and they have genuine expertise. (Although I suggest you check on this – recently, I came upon a writer who offered advice – for a fee – to a person in a field of writing it turned out they knew nothing about. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a reference even if the person is a published writer of note. Not all writers know all fields of writing, and not all writers are good at running critique groups.) Good writing group leaders are familiar with the “writing group format” and may have a very gentle and efficient way of keeping participants on-task and well-behaved. They will often arrange the logistics of the location/conference call/whatever.

Interestingly, since participants usually pay in advance for a series of meetings, they are more likely to show up. I have a close friend who is a personal trainer, and she says her clients have the same attitude: If you pay in advance, you are more likely to show up, because you know your absence will cost you money, and yet you will get no benefit from that money. For a fledgling writer who really, really needs a fire lit under their tuchas to make them show up regularly for a writing group, this has a big advantage over a free model.

I know many, many people who have enjoyed and learned a lot in writing groups run by a paid professional. A really good writing-group-for-fee is worth the price you pay. However, I don’t classify them with lay-led, no-fee groups for a number of reasons. Examining these will help a writer decide which model will work best for them. Continue reading

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting up a Writing Critique Group or a Manuscript Swap

A little birdie told me what to write about this week.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But recently, quite a few people have either asked me how to advance their writing skills (answer: join a critique group) or how to arrange a critique group or what they should do if they cannot attend a critique group. And while I’ve discussed critique groups on the blog before, I think it’s worth a new blog post dedicated to this topic, because I’ve been helping run critique groups for nearly five (or is it six?) years now, and I’ve learned a lot.

Why Join a Critique Group?

You only will grow as a writer if you write regularly. But motivating yourself to write regularly, with no deadlines, is challenging. Getting useful feedback can also be challenging. For instance, you might have a close friend or relative read it, but will they be objective? And you could take a class, but that might involve spending money. (Note: I think it can be worthwhile to take writing classes – but I don’t have much spare change and won’t assume you have it either.) You can remedy all these problems with a single solution: the critique group.

How to create a critique group:

Continue reading

Reading is for everyone, even those with no bookshelf

In The L.A. Times, I just read a touching article by YA author Amy Goldman Koss about her efforts to offer reading material to the homeless. Her program is in a Glendale, California homeless shelter, but I was reminded of the role libraries play in the lives of the homeless, as well.

In local libraries, I’ve encountered the homeless on nearly every visit. Continue reading

Try this wacky avatar hack!

As part of a course I’m taking through Carol Tice’s amazing website Make a Living Writing, I received the following homework assignment: put an avatar up on Gravatar to pop up whenever I comment on blogs, etc. Now, I could use a photo, but that would just be no fun, so I decided to create my own Gravatar.


Me, in black and white and nothing on my head to cover my hair. For shame!

I started off by googling “free avatar tools” and discovered a lot of nifty links to different programs to help you make your avatar. The best site I found was Digibody. The results of a picture created with their Avatar-Maker tools look much nicer and more professional than those created with other programs, I found.

However, that left me with a small problem. Or rather three:

  1. The pic was black and white. I thought color might be more eye-catching and engaging.
  2. I don’t leave my house without a hat or headscarf on my head. There was no way to put a hat or headscarf on the picture using Digibody’s tools.
  3. I don’t leave my bed without my glasses. (2 a.m. trips to the bathroom don’t count.) No one would recognize me without some glasses on my face.

Here’s what I did:

becca avatar with color

Thanks to Microsoft Paint, I added my headscarf, glasses, and a touch of color.

  1. I saved the image to as a jpeg onto my computer.
  2. Then I pulled it up in Microsoft Paint (how I wish I had Adobe InDesign or something fancier, but alas, no) and started sprucing up my avatar.

This is my DIY avatar. It’s recognizably me.

What do you think of the end product? I’d love some reviews in the comments.

Can you trust the reviews you read?

I mentioned briefly in last week’s post that authors have been hiring other writers to review their books and sometimes even to bash the competition. (This happens for reviews of all types, in fact, from hotels to toaster ovens.) Media coverage of this issue has been growing lately–see this revealing expose of the practice and this equally eye-opening explanation of how to detect faux reviews for details.

Since Judaism has an idea of geneivat hadaat–misleading knowledge as a form of theft–you’d think that the Jewish book world is immune to it. However, Jewish publishers and authors do buy reviews. Often, the review appears on an “advertorial page.” Perhaps this isn’t deceptive after all–it’s marketing, not true reporting–and so permissible under law, Jewish or otherwise, but the casual reader usually doesn’t know the difference.

Why is everyone making a whoop-dee-doo about this? Because people look at reviews for guidance about how to spend their money. Consumers expect reviews to be sufficiently objective to weigh the pros and cons of the product in question. Can you count on a review being objective if the author received money for it?

On the other hand, if an author sends you a copy of their baby (ahem, I mean “book”), then it’s clearly hurtful to turn around and bash the book publicly. If they are making the effort to market themselves, they want to protect themselves (hence payment offered for positive reviews). I can understand that authors are afraid to gamble on whether the people they ask to read their book will heap praise on it or tear it to shreds. However, we still get knocked back to my point above–consumers expect reviews to be trustworthy.

I’ve been approached recently by several different people to write reviews of their books, partly because I’m an author, partly because I’m a blogger, and partly because I (briefly) used to be paid by a magazine (not an author, not a publisher) to review books. Some have offered money, some have not. I’ve reviewed a few of these books, but I made some rules for myself so that people can trust my evaluations.

Rule #1 – I will accept money from a magazine or newspaper that prints a review, but not from the author or the publisher of the book.

Rule #2 – If you provide me with a free copy of your book, either in print or digitally, I will read your book. That’s all I can promise.

Rule #3 – If I like it, I’ll review it positively. If I don’t, I will not backstab you and write a bad review. However, I won’t write a good review about the book either–I just won’t review it at all. (So far, I’ve only refused to review one book sent to me this way.)

Rule #4 – If I have more than a passing acquaintance with the author, I’ll state it in the review.

I hope that others will adopt these rules, or similar ones, so that people can trust reviews again. After all, I’m a consumer, too.