Not all readers read a book’s front and back matter. Most writers do, however, and if they are like me, they read every word of the acknowledgements. I am always heartened when I read well-known and successful authors thanking their writing groups, often naming names. Many have been together for years, even from the start of their careers.
Writing groups are, in my experience, invaluable to an author. I can list the umpteen benefits but for now, I’ll just address one, and for that, I need to tell you a story—it’s about Pitch the Publisher at Word on the Street:
Word on the Street is an annual event taking place in most major cities across this country (Canada), and I’m pretty sure in many other countries too. It can consist of bubbling publishers’ booths laden with their latest releases. Of those very authors standing by to sign and smile and pose for selfies. And illustrators, agents, booksellers, in fact anything and everything remotely related to books. It’s an important time in a writer’s diary.
Because there is an opportunity for you, the aspiring author or poet, to ‘Pitch the Publisher’. Your chance to bravely step out of the shadows and sell yourself and your work. It gives you three minutes to ‘pitch’ your book proposal.
About twenty years ago I booked my three-minute slot. I rehearsed in front of a mirror. I recorded myself. Because, yes, I felt I had a book to pitch.
Three minutes isn’t long. You need to get to the essence of what you have on offer without it being rushed or garbled. I’d also rehearsed with my writing group. Their advice as to what to chop out and when to breathe (or smile) was a Godsend.
So, picture the scene. Five publishers/editors sitting up on a platform before you—looking down on you. You: fumbling for your notes—finding empty toffee wrappers instead—suddenly getting one of those throaty tickles—wishing you’d worn something more authorish, rather than the wrap-over pumpkin orange clingy blouse. Well, you get the idea.
I pitched my Dirt Watchers Guide to Freedom—no don’t google it—it ain’t out there. I ditched it soon after the pitch (and it was handwritten—you know—Sheaffer-fountain-pen-to-unlined-paper), which went something like this:
“My self-help book, The Dirt Watcher’s Guide to Freedom, has liberated me to many more hours in the day to write my novel.”
That took less than 10 seconds. I looked up.
They were grinning—yes grinning. “Sadly, we don’t do self-help”, they said, “but do let us see your novel.” I took the business cards they offered and sat, bewildered, feeling in my pocket for a toffee.
I listened to the next budding author. He struggled through his three minutes. The publishers asked him, “Do you belong to a writing group—like the previous pitcher?” Oh my gosh—did they mean me? Their advice to the guy was: “Either join or form a writing group. By the time we receive a final copy from an author who belongs to a writing group, we know it has had multiple pairs of eagle eyes and diverse minds on it.”
All those years ago I belonged to a smashing local writing group. We met twice a month, we reviewed and critiqued each others work, we shared information and opportunities and, through this group, I learned a valuable skill: how to review and critique work by others. I’ve never not belonged to a writing group since. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers supping Fuller’s Ale in the upstairs room of well-known riverside pub in London I frequented in another life, no, we met in an upstairs room of a local supermarket and drank tea. But much of my success is thanks to the members of those groups.
If you don’t feel like reading the rest of my rambling – here is a link to The Last Goon Show of All which illustrates what the coming together of diverse talents can create:
In conclusion—just one of many benefits of belonging to a writing group is this: publishers can tell. They darn well know that many eagle eyes have scoured those pages, they know that the work has been chewed over long before they receive the submission. It makes their job a whole lot easier.
My books all carry an acknowledgements page. Members of my writing groups were, and still are, instrumental in all of those books coming to fruition. Those eagle eyes and diverse minds are very much thanked.
And I’ll leave the story there, but do feel free to add more benefits below.
Next time I might talk about my very few experiences of pitfalls of writing groups. Or maybe… how writing groups can differ from knitting circles…