Friday 8 May 2015

Guest Post: Sharon from Fiction Addiction


Why did I set up my own online writer's group?

Because it was proving difficult for me to find honest opinions about my work from other writers, plus I couldn't afford to pay for professional critiques all the time.

My local writing group didn't focus on commercial short stories and on a creative writing course, the tutor didn't know anything about the women's fiction magazine market either, which was the market I wanted to write for. (In 2015, it still is!)

Back in February 2011, I decided the first thing I needed to do was recruit members. Membership would be free and always open. A lot of online writing groups are closed and don't accept new members.

It's a great pity. From my experience, I think this policy makes a group stale and dull. New members bring a fresh perspective.

I wrote an appeal and asked writer KathMcGurl if she would publish it on her very popular womagwriterblogspot. (This blog spot site is now run by Patsy Collins).

She did do, and writer Sally Jenkins very kindly featured my appeal on her blog in March 2011 too.

I was expecting just one or two enquiries – yet I was delighted and surprised with requests from over 25 people wanting to join!

I was kept very busy for an awful long time!

In fact, I ended up splitting members into 2 groups, which didn't really work – I ended up bringing everyone back together in one big group.

A former group member gave us the name Fiction Addiction.

Because of the daily enquiries, I realised that I needed to keep all the information about the group in one place.

My husband kindly designed a website for me. I created the guidelines and a FAQ page. I wrote all the website text myself as well. To keep costs down, we decided to pick a free website.

The idea behind my online writer's circle is to 'test' your work on FA members before subbing your work out to the magazines. We all offer offer support, feedback, advice, encouragement and motivation.

I do expect members to contribute, even if it's once a month. If I haven't heard from a member in a while, I will ask them to leave (and re-join again when they have more time) because it's not fair on any of us. It's pointless sending chat and work out to someone who isn't going to respond.

Of course, it hasn't all run smoothly!

Feedback - and the over- use of the red pen - has been a problem for some. It's not really a group for academics, intellectuals, professional proof readers or editors, yet we have had some members who like to go through every single document with a fine tooth comb, correcting all the typos, ect

While I appreciate their time and effort, to me, the most important part is what members think of the story itself and its intended market.

Most magazines have fiction guidelines, and members can request these - all are sent free of charge.

Presentation of work is covered there, as different magazines hold different requirements.

For example, a lot of writers insist on using indents in their work, yet the fiction editor of Take a Break's Fiction Feast magazine asks writers to take these out on any accepted work.

Another drawback is waiting for feedback.

I'm usually quite patient and have waited for a response, even though I've been happy to send the story off to a magazine straight away.

There's no guarantee that every member will send comments on every piece of work – members are often away on holiday, moving home, or simply busy with their day- to- day jobs and families.

Christmas, summer, half- term holidays and Easter are naturally quiet times for Fiction Addiction.

Then there's there's technical problems – dodgy broadband connections, server hitches, PC's and laptops giving up the ghost....

It can be very tempting to say to a member 'This is how the story should be written' and give out heaps of advice – even re-draft their piece for them! Yet every writer is different and I expect members to respect this, instead of pointing out faults. A better option is to offer suggestions of plot lines and endings.

My advice is to be kind but honest, which I admit can be tricky!

It's entirely up to the writer what they do with feedback- they don't have to use it.

Most of us has had had fiction published in the womags – I'd say we're all at semi- pro writer level. We're not earning enough to make a living from it, yet we do manage to sell our work, even if it's only a letter in a national magazine!

We look at competition entries and first chapters of novels, too, plus re-drafts of stories.We also share details of fiction competitions and online projects, and any other snippets of interest, such as writing awards and possible new markets.

As time passed, we've had members leave and new members joining. Four years on, it's still lovely to read work and receive warm messages. We can commiserate or congratulate and we all understand our passion to succeed.

We're not on facebook and twitter, because I like to the keep the group on an e-mail basis only.

Fiction Addiction has reached across the world – we've had members based in Singapore, South Africa, China and Australia.

We've had lots of successes when a writer has tweaked a story after receiving feedback from members – and this includes me!

One the first stories I sent round Fiction Addiction was an office girls story called The Game.

After lots of re-drafting, I sent it to PRIMA magazine. It won their short story competition and was published in the May 2013 edition.


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