How to Choose a Writers Group

When I first started considering being a freelance writer I remember thinking…now what? I didn’t know where to start, who to talk to or how it all worked. Of course I Googled things but without a mentor to point me in the right direction I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed. After stumbling around for a while I met a freelance writer in person and she introduced me to a local writers group. I remember thinking…THIS is what I need! And you know what? It was.

how to find a writers group

Now that I’ve been around this world for a while I know there’s a lot of people on the Internet who advocate against writers groups. And their reasons are fair. If you get a bad group it can be a terrible waste of time and energy. If you’re in a group that’s not a good fit, you can feel unwelcome and competitive. If you’re in a group of people who aren’t there to be helpful, it can be a disheartening and negative experience.

But what if you get the right writers group?

Well! Now we’re talking. If you’re in a good writers group you’ll benefit from SO MANY THINGS!

Reasons to join a good writers group

  • You get out of your own head
  • You receive (instant) helpful and constructive feedback
  • You have others who believe in you and your work even when you don’t
  • You meet other writers
  • You hone your craft
  • You will be motivated
  • You will be kept accountable
  • You may even find a mentor

OK so I’ve convinced you to join a writers group. Great. Now for the next important question: HOW. How do you choose a writers group? How do you know which one is good?

How to choose a (good) writers group

Before you can choose a writers group you have to have some idea of what you’re looking for and what you need. You should know what type of writing you do, how much commitment you can make, what type of writers group you’re looking for (there are many kinds of writers groups: critique groups, mentorship groups, professional groups, genre-defined groups, non-fiction groups, freelance groups…etc.), and how formal you want the group to be. Once you know those things, here are a few ways to tell if the group is a good writers group.

  • Does the group have a clear and defined goal?
  • This doesn’t have to be engraved on a plaque but it does need to exist. If a group doesn’t know why they’re meeting it’s like a book club without a book…what’s the point?

  • Does the group have the same writing interests as you?
  • You want to make sure your writing interests are aligned. While it’s great to know writers from all sorts of genres, a writers group should have a bit more in common. If you’re a poet, find a poets group. If you’re a freelance writer, find a freelance writers group (they exist!).

  • Do the members in the writers group write more than they talk about writing?
  • Writers write. Keep that in mind. Yes it’s good and important to socialize with other writers but a writers group should be filled with people who are writing and it should motivate you to do the same.

  • Is the group committed to kind and constructive feedback?
  • This has to be a safe space. You have to feel comfortable sharing your work with likeminded people and if you encounter writers who are harsh or cruel then this isn’t the kind of group you want to be in. There’s a difference between ripping someone to shreds and offering helpful critique. New writers are more sensitive and don’t take criticism well, even if it’s well-intended. Make sure the group remembers what it was like to be new and not used to receiving criticism.

  • Do the members get along?
  • If the writers group has behaviour guidelines—even better! If you check out a writers group meeting and there’s bickering or snide remarks or shaming then this isn’t a good sign. Maybe there’s a bad egg and he or she needs to be removed from the group—ask the leaders what their behaviour policy is and don’t join a group where people don’t get along.

Of course no group is perfect and there are always moments where someone steps out of line or someone’s feelings get hurt. This is a part of being human. But if overall a writers group aims to meet these points then it is probably a good group. And I will also mention these groups aren’t always in person—there are virtual writers groups and critique groups that work better for some than in-person meetings do.

Where to find writers groups

Here are a few ideas for places to look when you’re ready to join a writers group.

  • Online. You can Google or search for “local writers groups” on Meetup and see what comes up. I’ve found groups this way and met a lot of interesting people through attending random local events I found online. You can do the same type of search on social media. I’ve joined lots of writers groups on Facebook and have found a couple I’m getting a lot out of
  • Writing associations. I’m part of a professional writing association (PWAC) and they have chapters all over Canada. I joined my local chapter and find a lot of value from my relationships with the other professional writers in the group
  • People you know. I mentioned how I met a local writer and she connected me with a writers group. I was so starved for connection and direction I couldn’t wait to go. Meeting other writers was so important to my development as a writer. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met such wonderful mentors
  • Writers conferences. Yes! Going to a writers conference is huge in itself but if you can maintain relationships with a few of the writers you meet there, even better! Join an existing group or start your own. It’s a great option.

    Before you can choose a writers group you have to have some idea of what you're looking for and what you need. You should know what type of writing you do, how much commitment you can make, what type of writers group you're looking for (there are many kinds of writers groups: critique groups, mentorship groups, professional groups, genre-defined groups, non-fiction groups, freelance groups, etc.), and how formal you want the group to be. Once you know those things, here are a few ways to tell if the group is a good writers group.

    Sometimes it feels like a lot of effort to connect with other writers and when you’re an introverted writer (as so many of us are) it can be that much tougher. I attend writers groups to stay connected and socialized as well as offer encouragement and support to the writers who I receive encouragement and support from. If you can find a good writers group I know you’ll understand why I recommend it! Why not give it a try?

Creative Places to Find Clients

There are a lot of places to find clients but the well-known places are competitive. Since I like avoiding hustle whenever possible (unless, you know, I need clients YESTERDAY) I like looking in less-obvious places for freelance work. Part of me wants to keep these creative places a secret so I’ll be the only one who knows about them but a bigger part of me wants to help other freelancers find work so here we go. Maybe there’s a new idea or two in here for you today.

creative places to find clients

Creative places to find clients

Places to find clients idea #1: From your day job

While this is an awesome place to find clients you do need to pay attention to your company’s privacy policy and it’s better if you keep your boss in the loop with any outside-of-work relationships you have with work affiliates. Assuming everything is above board and your freelance work happens outside of your day job, doing some side gig stuff with people you interact with every day makes a lot of sense. On a professional level they know, like, and trust you as you do them. And you already know you can work well together. You just need to keep the boundaries in tact so you don’t overstep in either direction.

Places to find clients idea #2: From your family and friends

I’ve mentioned this before (the best way to let people know you’re available for freelance work is by telling them you’re available for freelance work) but it’s one of those sort of awkward things so I want to mention it again. What you don’t want is to bug your friends and family and have them throw pity work at you. You also don’t want them to assume since they’re your friends and family you’ll work for a massive discount (or for free). So how do you create an environment where your friends and family know you’re available for freelance work and are happy to pay you for it? Now, that is the finesse of it. Everyone will find her own balance so the takeaway here is to put yourself out there and let people know you’re available.

Places to find clients idea #3: From places you’re a client

This is another time where you’ll need to tread with care and be sensitive to appropriate timing but there’s nothing wrong with mentioning you’re a freelancer while engaging in small talk and allowing the conversation to go where it may. I’ve had many experiences where I’m asked to leave my card behind or picked up the odd client from a place where I’m a client. I love it! Of course you’re not becoming a client in order to find clients…that’s not a hustle I’d recommend, but if it happens organically…awesome!

Places to find clients idea #4: From guest blogging

Guest blogging, guest writing (whatever), is an interesting beast. If you look around the Internet for long enough you’ll see a wide variety of opinions and teachings on why you should do guest blogging, why you shouldn’t do guest blogging, why you should never write for free, why you should write for free sometimes, etc. etc. etc. I’m not here to talk about any of that. I think you should figure out what is going to move the needle forward and then do it with abandon. Anyway, got a little off topic there. If you get into guest blogging and are choosing good partners, this could turn into a writer-client relationship. Honest! I’ve seen it happen! So keep building into your relationships!

Places to find clients idea #5: From partnerships

This idea launches from the last one—build relationships with others and form mutually-beneficial relationships. This could be an agency, a freelancer with complimentary skills, or a local business. The big idea is you share clients. No you don’t get 100 per cent of the pay but you also don’t have to do 100 per cent of the work and in some cases this is an awesome arrangement.

Places to find clients idea #6: From local events/workshops

Something I’ve noticed about freelancers is they’re out in the community a lot. Working freelance has them attending events, observing meetings, and talking to a lot of different people. So what about throwing a little extra networking in while you’re already out? Do what you’re there to do but also mention you’re a freelance writer and if it makes sense, mention you’re available for hire or pass out a business card or two.

This last point is extra exciting to me these days because I’m in the midst of building a workshop for freelancers, which developed from a pre-existing relationship, turned into a partnership and is now a collaboration. Wow. When we began building these relationships this workshop was not even a dream. And yet, here we are.

There are a lot of places to find clients but the well-known places are competitive. Since I like avoiding hustle whenever possible (unless, you know, I need clients YESTERDAY) I like looking in less-obvious places for freelance work. Part of me wants to keep these creative places a secret so I'll be the only one who knows about them but a bigger part of me wants to help other freelancers find work so here we go. Maybe there's a new idea or two in here for you today.

I hope I’ve given you a few new ideas to try here. Remember, marketing is a long game and it’s something you sprinkle into every day—while you’re busy doing other things. If you want some more tips and tricks you’ll enjoy my article on learning how to rock your marketing even when you don’t have time for marketing.

How to Write a Query Letter

My writing life focuses heavier on pitching articles than querying agents but I get asked how to write a query letter more than you’d think. For people who have a book in their head (or on their hard drive) and want to know how to get it to an agent or a publisher, you are asking the right question. If you want to publish you need to know how to write a query letter. And yes, I’ll help you figure out how.

how to write a query letter

Today I’m focusing on querying book ideas to agents or editors but much of this applies to querying article ideas and guest posts to magazines or websites.

But first, a story

In 2017 I had a goal of querying an agent with my non-fiction book idea so I had to write a query letter. While this isn’t my first query letter it is one I’m pretty happy with and will continue using.

I brought my query letter with me to a writing conference I attended but ended up giving verbal pitches rather than passing out my letter. This is normal, by the way, which leads me to my first tip.

Tip 1: When you meet with agents or editors you pitch. When you email agents or editors you query. There’s a difference

This is your first lesson: you need a query letter and a pitch. But before you stress out I have good news, the pitch is part of the query. Hooray!

Writing a query letter means you’re leaving the safe daydream world of being a published author and entering into the scary real world of selling your work. This is where you need to step back and start looking at your work as a product. Which leads me to my second tip.

Tip 2: You can’t be precious about your writing or your ideas. This is a tough industry

Writing is personal but professional writers learn how to let go of their work and let it take on a life of its own. They grow thick skin and aren’t threatened when their ideas are rejected or their writing gets shredded by critique groups or editors. Getting shredded, while painful, is good for you. It improves your writing. Because—news flash—you can always improve.

If you approach the query process with the idea that your book is 100 per cent finished and perfect just the way it is you are going to have a ROUGH time out there in the real world. So get past that sooner rather than later. Be open to edits. Be open to critique. Be open to improving.

How to write a query letter

There’s a lot of advice out there for writing query letters. What I’m outlining today is what I’ve found to be the most effective format for query letters and what I’ve heard the most agents ask for.

Think of a query letter as a one-page business letter with three paragraphs.

  • Your first paragraph is intro. You’ll list what category your work falls under, its title, and estimated word count. You’ll also explain what your work is about. Keep it brief!
  • Your second paragraph is your pitch. Here you’ll deliver a clear and immediate gist of what your work is about. The goal? Make the agent or editor want more. This is sales, razzle-dazzle, back-cover book copy magic. This is your BEST writing
  • Your third paragraph is about you. Who you are, why you’re qualified to write the book, and what you have going for you. Yes it may feel a bit braggy but if you have 1,000,000 Instagram followers who will buy your book once it’s published…you want people to know

Your query letter has one purpose: to get the agent or editor to request your work. Keep it tight, keep it simple, and keep it focused on selling your work.

While this is a great formula for how to write a query letter, you can’t just one-and-done it. Which brings me to my third point.

Tip 3: Before you send your query letter, do some research

While you can create a general query letter, and you should, you should do some research on the agents and editors you’re querying before you send it to them. I have two reasons why.

Reason one: Many agents have specific submission guidelines and you should follow them. You can find these guidelines on their website—so do yourself a favour and put in a few extra minutes of research before hitting send.

Reason two: Not all agents or editors are looking for the same things. They’ll list what genres they’re interested in on their websites, they’ll Tweet what they’re searching for (#MSWL), and they’ll tell you to your face if they think it will sell. If you’re pitching a non-fiction book to an agent looking for paranormal romance…there is no point. You don’t have a chance. Increase your odds by finding agents and editors who are picking up what you’re putting down. Respect them by paying attention and doing some research ahead of time.

At the last writing conference I attended, there was one literary agent I wanted to meet. I’ve followed her on Twitter for years and didn’t want to miss the opportunity. So I did my research. I paid attention to what she was talking about on social media in the months leading up to the conference. I tailored my pitch to the exact metrics listed on her literary agency’s website (side note, this is a great template), and I researched other authors the agency represented in case there were any similarities to what I was pitching. When I arrived at my pitch appointment I was ready. I had researched, I had personalized my pitch, and I gave it my best shot.

Was it a lot of work? Not really, although it sounds like it when I list it all here. Mostly it just meant me paying attention and putting the work in rather than mindless scrolling and wishing. Could I do this for all the agents at the conference? No. So you want to choose with care. Which agents are the best fit for you? Which ones are looking for what you’re writing? Which ones do you believe will help your career gain momentum? Pay attention to those ones.

Put yourself in their shoes

Imagine if you were the agent getting 100 pitches thrown at you at a writing conference. Yes, you’re looking for new titles and new authors but not 100. You have 200 more queries waiting for you when you get home with more arriving every day. You’re looking for reasons to say no. So who will you say yes to? The authors who make it easy. The ones who make it personal to you. The ones who have done their research and are a great fit. The ones whose books you think you can sell.

My writing life focuses heavier on pitching articles than querying agents but I get asked how to write a query letter more than you'd think. For people who have a book in their head (or on their hard drive) and want to know how to get it to an agent or a publisher, you <em>are</em> asking the right question. If you want to publish you need to know how to write a query letter. And yes, I'll help you figure out how.

I hope you feel a little less confused about writing a query letter. There is other advice out there and if you find something that works better for you, all good! But whatever you do, do your research and don’t get precious. And have fun!

Networking Tips for Introverted Writers

Are you an introvert? Are you a writer? Do you know you need social skills in order to grow your business? Me too. Here are some of my favourite networking tips for introverted writers.

networking tips for introverted writers

In November 2017, Jon Acuff stirred the introvert pot when he Tweeted “Is an introvert really an introvert if they won’t stop telling you they’re an introvert?” It was a weird thing to say but I guess he was trying to be funny about it. If you’re an introvert you understand this is a basic misunderstanding of what an introvert is.

Part of the problem is there’s a dictionary definition for introverts saying they’re shy. But it’s not that.

Introverts have these basic tendencies.

  • They enjoy alone time
  • They think best when they’re alone
  • They wait to be asked for their opinion
  • They start shutting down after too much time out
  • They are often called “too intense”
  • They find small talk cumbersome
  • Being in front of a crowd is less daunting than mingling with those people afterwards
  • They feel like phoneys when they network

The last three points are the ones I’m interested in today. How on earth do you network in a way that’s true to you when you hate small talk, making small talk with acquaintances is your worst nightmare, and you feel like a huge fake when you drag yourself out and do networking events?

Here are a few strategies I’ve implemented for not just surviving networking events but coming out of them with new relationships, clients, and boosted business skills.

Networking tips for introverted writers

Set mini goals

Networking events are overwhelming but I’ve learned to manage my stress and anxiety by setting mini goals to help me feel like I had a successful outing. Here are a few I’ve used in the past.

  • Introduce myself to one new person
  • Collect three business cards
  • Explain what I do to one person using my elevator pitch

I love mini goals because the MOMENT I achieve it all the pressure is off and I can go back to being a wallflower. Because I did what I came there to do.

Be a helper

I love learning and I love attending conferences. However, the networking and being around people part is tricky. Here’s how I turn things around: I volunteer. It gives me a purpose. When I have a purpose then speaking to people I don’t know is EASY. In fact, it’s fun.

Prepare ahead of time

Sometimes there are people-intensive things you just have to do. The best way I’ve learned to succeed in these times is to be over prepared. I research my location, the people I’ll be meeting with, the places I can retreat if I need some space. By being prepared I don’t have to worry about what to expect…I already know.

Bring a friend

This sometimes feels like a cop out but if you have an extroverted friend who loves networking events…why not ask him/her to be your plus one? You can’t use this as an excuse to stick to your friend all night but you can allow them to take the lead and help you network at your event. I’ve found this useful, especially when I’m attending media events.

Work out your anecdotes ahead of time

OK, this may feel silly and don’t go so far as writing them out on index cards unless you have to. But what if you prepared in advance for small talk? Think of opening lines, a few projects you’re working on, and some questions you can ask people you meet. When you have it worked out ahead of time you won’t stress when you’re in the moment, panicking because you know you need to say something but you have no idea what would be appropriate.

Plan an exit strategy

This can be a strategy to get out of a conversation or a strategy to get out of the event altogether. Think through what you’ll say or do so you don’t come off as rude or abrupt. “Powdering your nose” is one of those strategies, by the way, although I’ve never been brave enough to use it.

Remember, no one cares about you

Yeah, maybe that’s not very nice but it’s true! Everyone else at your networking event is just as wrapped up in him/herself as you are. Let this truth SET YOU FREE and relax.

Many introverts are drawn to writing as it's (in it's purest form) an isolated career path. Along the path of my freelance writing journey I've learned a few strategies for networking and doing the people stuff even when it's not a natural skill for me. Maybe one of these will work for you.

Many introverts are drawn to writing as it’s—in it’s purest form—an isolated career path. Also introverts find self-expression easier with a pen than their vocal chords.

However, when you’re a freelance writer there’s all this…people stuff. So much people stuff. And it’s important if you want to do anything with your career like grow it. Or get clients. Along the path of my freelance writing journey these are some of the strategies I’ve created for networking and doing the people stuff even when it’s not a natural skill for me. Maybe one of these will work for you.

Do you have any networking tips for introverted writers? I know this can’t be the only ideas out there and I’m always looking for new ways to get better at this skill.

What Kind of Blogger are You? Take the Quiz

What kind of blogger are you? Come on, I know you want to know! Take the quiz!

what kind of blogger are you take the quiz

Quizzes. I’ve thought about them a lot lately. I’ve even mused on them (on Enneagram in particular) wondering why we’re so obsessed with discovering who we are deep down.

But I also think about the not-so-serious quizzes a lot. Like what is the best breed of dog for my lifestyle (Corgi), what kind of ice cream is my personality most like (strawberry), and what Hogwart’s house am I sorted into (Ravenclaw)?

I even bring the results up in conversations. I know, I can hardly believe it myself.

In researching why we love these personality tests so much I realized this isn’t a new obsession for me—I just forgot about it after I stopped subscribing to Seventeen Magazine and Cosmo.

A quick summary

We love quizzes because they help us understand ourselves and link us to a tribe, which helps us feel understood. And talking about our quiz results is a humblish way of talking about ourselves without coming off braggy.

Yeah, my quiz said I’m 100% Minnesotan Lutheran so I guess I’m pretty solid there.

So I want to get into building quizzes. This one, what kind of blogger are you, is my first try.

What kind of blogger are you?

I’m using a platform called Interact and so far I’ve found it straightforward and fun. And, thank goodness, there are a billion templates for me to launch from so I don’t sit there staring at the screen, wondering what to write a quiz about.

Because coming up with ideas was the hardest part.

Now that I’ve built one (well, three, but I’m only showing you one today) I am starting to understand a bit about what needs to happen behind the scenes and how you come up with the topics. So hopefully I’ll get a bit better at it and start producing VIRAL HITS helping people gain profound internal insight while having fun at the same time.

Yes, that’s the dream.

OK but to swing this around a bit, quizzes are a fantastic marketing tool. They’re marketing without feeling like marketing. So if you’re wondering what on earth you can do to generate traffic or build your email list (because you can’t even think about creating an opt-in ebook or printable or whatever)…maybe give this a try. Come up with a few topics that suit your brand and see what you come up with.

A few things to keep in mind

  • When choosing a topic for your quiz, think about what your audience would respond to and write it for them
  • Make sure your title is awesome—build curiosity into it like how much do you actually know about __________ or which ________ are you?
  • Don’t go too deep with your questions; they can be personal but make sure they are ones you’d ask in casual conversation
  • Keep your tone positive and truthful

Quizzes. I've thought about them a lot lately. I've even mused on them (on Enneagram in particular) wondering why we're so obsessed with discovering who we are deep down. But I also think about the not-so-serious quizzes a lot. Like what is the best breed of dog for my lifestyle (Corgi), what kind of ice cream is my personality most like (strawberry), and what Hogwart's house am I sorted into (Ravenclaw)? And now I want to know, what kind of blogger are you?

So? What do you think about quizzes? Are you intrigued by them? Love learning more about yourself? Want to incorporate them into your marketing plan? I’d love to chat about it!

And if you want to try Interact here’s my affiliate link. Have fun!

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