I’m on a number of writing forums, and I’m a little torn on how useful they are. I found them a lot more useful back when I was a beginner writer (maybe because I didn’t know better), but these days I see more and more stagnation within a group.
Perhaps this as partly because the group I was on the longest has recently had a change of moderators and the new moderator has a bit of a stick up his butt, rejecting posts of mine that were perfectly within the rules of the group, for violating made up rules of his own. I had to make him check with his supervisors, and get the ok to post it. But I’ve kind of given up on any really deep, intelligent discussion on that particular group.
Because the other thing I’ve noticed is that the published authors – they don’t stick around. There are dozens of published authors who used to hang out in that group, but they’re not there anymore. They’re not chiming in with their opinions on answers to questions from beginner writers. Instead, the questions of beginner writers are being answered by members who have been vociferous for years about their opinions. Members who speak in a very authoritative tone, but are not necessarily validated by professional publication.
And then sometimes I see noob questions being answered by the stalwart and vociferous members, where it seems like very old ideas are being cemented – truisms that I have seen (on blogs of professional writers) refuted, many times over. But in these forums of near-exclusively unpublished writers, these sort of things that amateurs stumble on are not receiving the same educated answers I see coming from professional writers. Because the professional writers *are* out there answering these questions. On their own private blogs.
Instead these questions are being answered in the forum with “Well, in my novel (which the poster doesn’t mention is unpublished and therefore this opinion is not validated to be successful) I did it this way.” There’s the occasional “I like it when an author I’m reading does it this way,” or “So and so published author did it this way” but those are shockingly rare.
And it seems, as soon as people get published, they disappear off this forum. Maybe it takes a year, or maybe they post something every few months for a while and then disappear. But they’re not contributing on the same level they used to.
Is this because their opinions are getting trashed by the select few in the forum who think they know better than anyone else? I don’t know. I do know that when I see those noob questions being answered with a million variations of “I do it this way”, I’m not even tempted anymore to chime in, because I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t believe that anyone there will pay attention if I direct them to a professional author’s blog, where their question is answered, or to a book where the technique is used, or the problem they’re dealing with is worked around. I think my comment will be lost among a hundred other comments of varying value.
I dunno, maybe this is a sign I’m settling into my own style and way of doing things. There’s nothing wrong with amateurs sharing ideas, it’s just that I see so much of a couple of people pushing their own way of doing things. A little like the critique circle phenomenon of eventually everyone in the group writes in the same style.
Anyway, the last time I tried to post something that was publishing related, and not “writing related” (because apparently publishing is not writing related? wtf?) I was directed very cutely to one of those tiny little forums called blogs, where I can post whatever I want. I think that’s where things are going though. That forum is dying, and I’m enjoying having my own blog, and following other author’s blogs – being able to control who I see posts from, and see more posts from actual published writers. I think that’s the way things are going to go.
I think it might still be worth you directing people to a professional writers site, or to a relevant book. If you backed up the recommendation for example saying something like:
‘Ms Y to whom I am directing you, has had twelve novels published over fifteen years and she’s sold 20 million copies’
Then I for one would think ‘okay this person has been successful I’d value their advice in this context’.
Maybe general forums are always going to suffer from the fact that unless really successful authors are given space and are billed as experts, they will go because the only reason they might be there now is to give, rather than receive advice, and maybe they just don’t want to do that.
If I was a professional author with a number of succesful titles behind me would I go to a forum to get advice? Not sure I would, maybe I might want to put some material out there anonymously, but I don’t think that’s where I’d go to really improve my style.
I’m beginning to wonder whether general advice is better picked up from a book. I want to hear what Stephen King has to say about writing, and I can read that in a book I’m prepared to pay for.
I think there is room for some small group training, and certainly room for giving and receiving critique, on line or in person, but again it has be to given in such a way as it’s genuinely valuable, and the person giving has to be prepared to commit some time and effort to be contructive, insightful.
Here’s the thing – on the forum I’m most referring to, any post with a link in it gets actively moderated, and a lot of those get rejected, again, for the mod’s made up reasons. Namely, we get grilled on whether or not we personally stand to gain financially from promoting said author, to the point that I’ve just given up on it.
Critiquing, of course, is completely different – that’s direct feedback on your work. And obviously more experienced authors are going to deliver more valuable feedback, most of the time, but even a complete noob will often have something valuable to say.
The whole “are you gaining financially” thing does sound tiresome. By all means he can put it in the T’s and C’s but after that I’d just let people get on with it, he could always investigate any complaints…