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Joining the Club
by S. G. Birch

The query acceptance letter allows one month to meet the deadline. As I browse over the guidelines I see the words "Kill Fee 50%". With only a vague grasp of this concept, I head to my fastest resource: my favorite online writers' club.

"What does 'Kill Fee' mean exactly?" I type. A few minutes later I open my in-box to two detailed explanations.

I joined MomWriters, an online discussion board for mother writers, with a year's trudging through the publishing world behind me and seven published pieces to my credit. This morning, about ten months later, I added the 37th invoice to my folder of paid work.

Certainly a more devoted work ethic contributed to my improvement, as well as an organized workspace and a closer familiarity with the ways of the publishing industry. But it would be remiss of me to deny the role that online writing clubs have played in my progress.

What are these remarkable benefits I speak of? Well, there are the obvious ones like immediate feedback on language-related questions and a direct connection to a critique partner. Certainly it is preferable to pose questions about contracts, copyright and what-the-heck-is-a-sidebar to friends, rather than the editors you are trying to impress. There is also the camaraderie of keeping in touch with like-minded individuals, finding encouragement when the rejection pile starts to niggle at your esteem and sharing those great high points with other writers. Shelia Jordan, author of "Lakota Star" says that seeing the successes posted up in her writers' club gives her the "umph" to get busy and write. After all, what's more motivating than seeing that with a little work it can be done? But the benefits of a good online writing club go even further.

In such a competitive field, it might surprise some to know that writers are generally willing to share information. Whether it is current market info, passing on those hard-to-find guidelines or providing full names of editors, what you can learn from other writers might mean the difference between an acceptance and another addition to your rejection pile. Radical changes are routine. Editors change places, markets that were once non-paying become paying and vice versa, changes occur in payment procedures, monthly themes or even their focus audience. Imagine the advantage of knowing before you've sent that submission that the company you're submitting to is filing for bankruptcy?

As well, the friendships that one can form online can lead to help in other fundamental aspects, such as acquiring stamps from different countries for International SASE's, getting immediate interviews for articles or direct connections to expert sources, and even finding technical help to learn how to print the address directly on to your envelope or properly prepare and attach digital photos.

Remember also that for every writer who gleefully announces another published piece, the link that they leave to their work provides a new market to readers who might not have considered, or heard of, this publication. In my first few months with my online groups, this, as well as browsing through writers' online resumes, was the most effective way to find new markets.

This isn't to say that everything you'll learn from other writers will be helpful or accurate. Most groups have members that range from unpublished to wildly successful, and one must keep this in mind when seeking advice. Nevertheless, if an individual claims that they haven't been paid by a particular publication, it might be worth considering when planning your submissions.

Is it the anonymity of the Internet that inspires writers to be less competitive and more supportive than we might expect? In fact, not all online groups are equal, and for the sake of one's sanity and self-esteem, it's important to do a little research before jumping in. Sharon W., mother of two and author of Overworked and Underpaid advises new writers to ask for recommendations, not to pick a group at random. She says that an unsupportive online group can have a big impact on a new writer; possibly creating feelings of inadequacy that could inspire them to give up altogether. The right group, Sharon says, will make you more than you thought you could be.

Searching markets, finding guidelines and hashing out query letters can be a demanding, and somewhat solitary process. In the midst of the workload, scrounging for a lost e-mail address, wracking your brain for a particular word or trying to remember how to convert your file can be a great nuisance. With cyber friends at your fingertips, and a little give-and-take, we can all use our time more productively and watch our portfolios flourish.

Whether your interested in journaling, science fiction or technical writing, here are a few places to start looking for the online group that is perfect for you.

http://groups.yahoo.com/dir/Entertainment___Arts/Humanities/Books_and_Writing/Writing

http://www.forwriters.com/groups.html

http://www.writerswrite.com/groups.htm

http://www.wellfedwriter.com/WellFedWriterLinks.htm

© Copyright 2003, S. G. Birch

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