ow do other groups function?  Here's an example:

 

Interview with Hollie Snyder, current editor of CSFWG

This writers group operates quite differently from the Alternate Historians.  Read this interview for a different view on how writers groups can work and be successful.

What prompted you to form the writers group? When was that?

The Colorado Springs Fiction Writerís Group was formed in 1996. My husband and I were spending so much money on college classes that we decided to join a writing group instead. However, after researching the groups in our area, we couldnít find one that fit our needs. They tended to be either genre-specific, usually a genre neither of us wrote, or were lecture-based, something neither of us needed after 6+ years of college classes. So, we decided to form our own and design it closer to a workshop format rather than just critique or just lecture.

What was the original purpose of the group? Is that the same purpose today?

The original purpose of the group was to offer an alternative to genre-specific critique groups and primarily lecture groups. That is still our purpose, though we are slowly expanding into a networking hub for the Colorado Spring region.

Why do you have officers? How does that work (are they elected annually, how are folks nominated for positions, etc.)? What are their duties?

We have officers to ensure the group runs smoothly and to ensure that the local writing community knows about us. Having officers responsible for different areas ensures those jobs get done. There are five offices: President, Vice-President, Editor, Public Relations and Web Master. We tried having elections once and people not willing to work ended up occupying the top positions. Consequently, there are no more elections. People volunteer for the jobs and continue to hold the office until s/he can no longer do the job for whatever reason, IE, someone more qualified comes along, conflicts with other duties, or s/he merely tires of it. Interestingly enough, we have never lacked for volunteers.

As for duties, the President runs the monthly meetings, essentially getting us started, keeping us on track so we donít go off on tangents that have nothing do with the work being critiqued, giving information to visitors and answering their questions, et cetera.  The Vice-Presidentís duties are to support the President, to run the group in the Presidentís absence and to make sure events voted on by the members are carried through.

The Editorís duties are to review submissions for the monthly "Up and Coming page" on our web site, reviewing article submissions for the "News" sections and, if there are less than three new articles for the web site, the editor is responsible for either assigning article subjects to other willing members or writing the needed number of articles if necessary, in addition to writing at least one other monthly article, making contacts with publishing houses, agents and other editors, helping members ready to submit format the manuscript and help to write the query/cover letter if requested. This office also helps members find reputable agents and publishing houses to submit to. Additionally, the editor is also responsible for keeping up to date on marketing strategies, publishing demands, sales numbers for each genre and the like, and letting members know of changes so each can take advantage of trends.

Public Relations is responsible for providing the public face for the CSFWG. This involves writing ads, brochures, and letters to be sent out to those in the writing world. These people make sure that local writing conferences and workshops know who we are and what we offer. Right now, the CSFWG is in the process of putting together a writing conference for high-school aged kids in the Colorado Springs area and our Public Relations is in charge of finding businesses or individuals willing to donate prizes for the winners of the contest, low-cost services, such as the printing of the entry form, et cetera. This office is also responsible for helping to promote new publications by members, such as contacting local bookstores and arranging book signings if needed.

The Web Masters are in charge of the web site upkeep, publicity of the web site, making sure information posted is correct, research of new links and graphics.

Why do you have dues? What do the dues pay for?

We have dues for two reasons. The first, having dues keeps our attendance up, plain and simple. Based on personal experience, our organization seems to be taken more seriously if money is involved; people tend to show up at more of the meetings . The second reason is money helps keep the web site running, covers costs such as paper for brochures and letters, publicity expenses, et cetera.

What is required for membership? Any attendance rules, submission rules, or other rules members must follow or risk
being kicked out? Has anyone ever been kicked out?

There are really no requirements one has to meet to be a member other than an interest in writing. We do ask that a person attend up to three meetings to be sure our group is the right one. The only thing people cannot do during this "probationary" time is submit their own works for evaluation. This is member-only right. People can, however, take home the other submissions, read and critique them, offer opinions, participate in the discussions, et cetera. If a person does decide to join, we do have one attendance rule.

That is, if you are going to miss a meeting, barring an emergency, let an office know. That way, we can let the rest of the group know how many copies to make and help keep individual printing costs down. There is no need to waste money making 20 copies if only 15 members are going to show. We do post the expected number of members and the number of copies, plus three for potential visitors, to make on the web site.

If a member misses three meetings in one year, without contact, a warning is sent via email. If there is still no contact, then membership is revoked. We have had to revoke memberships, though in six years, that number can be counted on one hand.

As for submission rules, we do not accept pornography. The group had some trouble with this early on and decided to just not accept it anymore. All other genres are accepted, as are sex scenes. This rule is in place to avoid 50,000 words of bedroom acrobatics. We do have a 50 printed page submission limit. We also ask that members use an easily read font such as Times New Roman, Courier/Courier New or Arial and that spacing be no less than space and a half. Double-spaced is preferred to allow more room for comments, but in the interest of paper conservation, space and a half is acceptable.

How are your meetings run? Why do you have a page limit?

We have a page limit because we average two to three submissions a month and most of our members are quite prolific.

The business meetings, separate from the monthly meetings, follow an agenda, while the monthly meetings follow a more relaxed critique group format. All members have a chance to offer opinions and suggestions on the work as a whole, and on individual pages. Questions about the writing are also asked. The author has a chance to state the intent or goal of the writing and members respond by stating whether or not that goal was achieved. Suggestions for improvement are offered. Errors in content, mechanics or structure are pointed out along with corrections being given and well-written passages are praised.

Your meetings also seem to have a time limit. Is that ever a problem? Do you ever meet more than once per month?

The time limit is more flexible than it seems. Our meetings tend to run two to two and half hours, but we have had meetings run up to four hours. We try to keep a time limit on the meeting simply because we meet on a week night and most members have to work the next day. By no means are members expected to stay for the entire meeting, however. We have had members only able to attend for a half-hour. The member offers the critique on all works quickly and leaves when necessary. The important thing is the member has made an appearance and returned the critiqued work. The time limit has never been a problem.

As for additional meetings, no, the writing group only meets once per month. We do have a business meeting once a month as well, to discuss the other projects without taking time away from the writing group. In addition, we are considering offering a monthly workshop on a variety of writing-related subjects as well.

How does critiquing a book in sections work? (For background, in our group, we have a "no partial books" rule so that we can see entire manuscripts at once. That means we can critique story arc, character development, plot development, etc., in one session. I just can't see how that can be done in pieces over months or years, so I'm interested in what you have to say.)

Most of our members are concentrating on short stories right now, or are beginning writers learning how to structure a novel. For the few members who are novelists, we require a synopsis of each previous chapter or chapters. (As long as the 50-page limit is observed, more than one chapter may be submitted). In addition, we have a critique evaluation sheet on which the member makes notes about the novel including plot, character development, key events in each chapter, questions raised, et cetera, to see how the novel is progressing over time and to serve as a further reminder. By using the synopsis, which is as in-depth as the author wishes to make it and does not count against the page-number limit, and the evaluation sheet together, the members keep track of the novelís progression, mechanically and plot wise, pretty easily. Additionally, if a member does want the entire novel to be evaluated in one sitting, the author provides a diskette to willing members. (Helps cut down on printing costs). Oftentimes, however, the novel is a work in progress and the author is merely looking for opinions to make sure the novel is heading in the intended direction.

By allowing a novel to be evaluated in pieces, the work gets a much more thorough evaluation as well. In addition, most of our novelists canít tell the whole story in less than 115,000 words. With two or three submissions a month, there is no other way to offer a critique of a novel.

If a member really needs the entire work done in time for a submission deadline, usually two or more members will offer to evaluate it outside of the group as well.

What is your goal; what are you trying to achieve with your writing?

Personally, my goal is to widen the readership of fantasy/dark (horror) fantasy genres. The market is being helped right now with the re-release of classics such as Tolkienís series, and movies such as "Monsters, Inc.," but there is little in the way of new stories from new authors. The market is being mostly carried by the big names, some of which are starting to become jaded. I want to breathe new life into the genre of fairy tales, legends and monsters. Since "For the Rank of Master" has just been picked up for publication, I am on my way to achieving my personal goal.

Is this group helping you meet your goals? Are others meeting their goals?

Until recently, November 2001 to be specific, I was really the only fantasy writer in the group. Taking that into consideration, I would say the group is helping me to meet my goals as they have all enjoyed my fantasy writing, though none have widely, if ever, read the genre before. They are starting to realize that not all fantasy writing is the same, which is my goal. I have brought people who otherwise wouldnít read fantasy to the genre.

As for the other members meeting their goals? Thatís a tough one to answer. Members keep coming back to the group and keep commenting on how much the group has helped them, so I would have to assume they are reaching their goals as well.

I noticed that your group seems to have some ezine and small press pub credits. Any professional credits yet that I missed? Or is that even a goal for anyone in the group?

I am not sure what you mean by professional in this context. If you mean publication through a big house, then no, there are no members who have achieved that yet. Publication in any form is a goal for some members, but it is not a goal for the group as a whole. We do consider a small press publication a professional credit, perhaps more so than with a big house because our members are much more involved in the publishing process. They get to learn not only how to write, but what goes into the making of the book. The author gets to participate in the marketing of their "child" and can see first-hand how that creation is treated from the initial edit to the first copy off the presses. Overall, with a small press the author becomes much more intimately familiar with the whole publishing process.

Any advice for others seeking to start or join writers groups? What should they look for/avoid?

For those seeking to join a writerís group, I recommend going to as many different ones as possible before deciding. For those who canít join a physical group for one reason or another, check out some of the on-line groups. Donít be afraid to ask questions about how the group is run, how a bad critique should be handled (bad meaning no effort put into the critique or a work full of unnecessarily harsh comments). In short, I would recommend anyone seeking to join a group to ask most of the questions you have asked me here.

As for those seeking to start a new group, again attend several and see how they are run. Ask questions and take notes. Talk to the members. Find out if they are happy with the group, and if theyíre not, why. If possible, take some creative writing classes. A lot of them are taught in a workshop/critique format similar to they way a group should be run. Most of all, once you start a group, talk to your members. Ask for suggestions and help if you need it. Donít rule the group with an iron fist and donít try to run it exclusively by yourself. If you have to at first, fine, but donít keep it that way. Once the structure is established, have fun with the group. Membership requirements shouldnít feel like chores.

Whether looking for a group to join or one to start, find one that offers constructive criticism. It wonít do you any good to join a group that only points out problems and doesnít offer suggestions for fixing them. If one member didnít like a particular story, fine, but s/he should be able to say why the story wasnít well received and offer suggestions on improvement. The group members should also offer praise for a particularly well-written scene or turn of phrase. After all, positive comments are just as important. Additionally, donít join a group thatís afraid to offer real help. Ego boosts are great, but offer little in the way of constructive criticism.

If a group wonít allow contact with members outside of the meetings, stay away also. Thatís a real warning sign. Members should be approachable and helpful, regardless of whether there is a meeting or not. If experienced members arenít willing to help the inexperienced, then itís not a good group. It wonít grow. In a good group, members encourage each other.

In short, check out different writersí groups and donít be afraid to ask questions. If your "prying" isnít well-received, chances are itís not a group you want to be part of. Also, my personal experience is to try and find a diverse group. There are some that are genre-specific, but I find that tends to be more of a hindrance than a help. After all, if all you like to read and write is science-fiction, and you join a group that only critiques science-fiction, how are you going to know your work is clear to those readers who may not normally read that genre and want to try it? There are industry "norms" within each genre and readers of those genres are much more forgiving and much more willing to "read between the lines." A diverse group with authors writing in several genres will give you a better understanding of how the general public will receive your work. After all, the only way to keep your job writing science-fiction is to bring new readers to the genre. That cannot be done by assuming everyone reading your novel will know what a trans-warp space conduit is, or what a space array is. Readers unfamiliar with the genre wonít have the mental picture needed and working with a genre specific group may or may not be able to tell you if the description is needed for terms/items they are familiar with.

Anything else you can think of?

In the end, write for yourself first. If you are writing because it is expected, chances are you wonít be happy. If you do decide to join a group and it becomes a chore to attend the meetings, quit. Donít be afraid to find another group or make one yourself.