Tip # 4: Membership Behavior and Expectations
How are members expected to behave toward one another? Enforcing rules for politeness, though not often needed, can quickly eliminate people only interested in starting trouble.
Rules on appropriate posting can also be helpful. While there may be sections for open discussions, the areas dedicated to writing should not be filled with off-topic debate, forcing the reader to wade through material to find something helpful.
Some sites require people to do a certain amount of work (such as critiquing others) to remain a member. If you join such a group, make certain that you’re not required to critique so much that it interferes with your own writing.
Members should be required to honor the copyrights of other authors and artists and not make pirated material available in the community. Links to legitimate online sites and short quotes are acceptable, but writers should always respect the copyrights of others.
Tip # 5: Who are these people?
Some of the Internet writing communities are very large and they can seem intimidating at first glance. However, always remember that no matter what the size, you will only deal with a few members at any given time. Usually your interaction will be limited to reading posts, and possibly answering them, or joining in with a smaller number in a critique circle.
There are other considerations when looking over a community. A writing group that is primarily twenty-something college students is rarely going to suit an older writer; a group of romance authors will not be much help with genre specific questions for a science fiction writer. Enquire about the makeup of the site but don’t just go with a clique that you seem best to fit. Be open to groups with a membership that is diverse in age and genres.
The members do not have to be professionally published to help each other — after all, everyone starts out with none of those elusive credits. A site with a blend of people at different levels of publication, however, can offer the best mix for answering publishing-related questions. On the other hand, a small, intimate group of writers sharing the same goals and genre can help each other through comradeship.
If you have the time, there is no reason why you cannot belong to several groups. But again, remember that your writing has to come first and while the company of other writers is often fun, it can also drain the energy and time better used in completing a manuscript.
Tip # 6: Take Your Time
Take your time and look around at the different sites. Join in some of the free ones and get a feel for what they offer. There is no harm in finding that some don’t quite suit you and dropping out.
If you find yourself interested in a site that charges the writer to join, make certain that it offers enough to warrant the expense. Contact other members and ask them not only what they think of the site, but also what sort of writing and help they found there. Your needs may not be the same as theirs.
Writers need no longer be alone in their attics, guessing at writing-related answers that are available just a few clicks away. Nor do they need to feel alone in their work when there are others who are on the same path and more than willing to share the experiences they’ve had along the way. The Internet has created a new, exciting world for writers and the networking possibilities can save years of frustration.
Lazette Gifford has been published in many online and small press venues. She is also the owner and administrator of Forward Motion for Writers, a community of more than seven thousand members at all stages of publication, and the editor of Vision: A Resource for Writers.