10 Criteria for Joining #Online #Groups/#Communities for #Writers
What is the value of social networks in easing the loneliness of the solo writer? How do online groups/communities provide opportunities for sharing ideas? How do today’s writers, especially for those newly published or about to seek options in publication, benefit from building communities of virtual friends?
There are now thousands of online groups/communities a writer can join. Some are only available via membership in existing social media sites, such as Goodreads, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. Others are stand-alone groups that have their own websites and memberships but may also host a page on any of the other social media sites to attract and inform potential members and continue to post info to members regularly.
Then, there are the groups, chat rooms or fora one can join, lurk on and/or contribute to on Yahoo, KindleBoards, Smashwords, Bublish, Authonomy, Jukepop Serial, Wattpad, and probably hundreds more, Add to that specific professional sites’ groups, such as Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, etc., plus international groups and marketing sites and it makes one’s head spin.
If you are a blogger as well as a fiction writer, if you are a new and/or indie pub author or just one of millions who has no outside PR firm hired to market your books, you NEED groups/communities to get your “brand” known, find readers, attract followers and fans, get “pingbacks,” improve your ALEXA rating, your KLOUT or SNAP scores, get a Google Page Ranking for your website….
How does a busy writer wade through all these opportunities to decide where to plant one’s online presence “flag” and still have time to write? The discerning writer who actually wants to protect your time and keep writing while marketing effectively can use these 10 criteria to choose your online memberships.
10 Criteria for Joining #Online #Groups/#Communities for #Writers
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DECIDE whether or not to:
1. PAY or stick with FREE memberships?
Some groups are free; some start out free or have a free level but change into/have paid memberships that provide additional services or opportunities to those who pay. If you have an unlimited budget or find yourself drawn to one or more of these groups and can afford it, go ahead and become a paid (upper-level) member. Some of these groups’ upper levels really do offer services to authors that are useful; some just say they do but when you read carefully, the “services” are not much more than occasional tweets.
Beware of those that over-promise, do not deliver, or are vague about what paid membership avails members of before paying. Research them: search for the group’s hashtag or tweet handle and then privately message someone [not the leader] about specific ways that being a paid member benefits him/her.
So far, the most I have paid to “belong” to any group or purchase any “marketing” service was $15 and it wasn’t worthwhile. If you do join a group and pay your fees or dues, make sure you’re getting what you pay for and only renew if it’s worth it: no automatic renewals!
2. Participate in “review swaps”?
As a newbie desperate for reviews for seemingly invisible books, I found these groups to be so tempting. They seemed so supportive. They offer REVIEWS, sometimes in great quantity, sometimes with rankings and votes as well. But, free or not, these review “exchanges” come with several “prices,” and I personally decided the prices were too high.
For one, I am not comfortable providing pre-arranged and necessarily positive reviews (usually these swaps require/request a review rating of 4 or higher) for books I haven’t yet read in order to get the same for my own books (which the “reviewers” may or may not fully read). I “got into trouble” for daring to critique the books I read for being under-edited, overwritten, poorly constructed, badly plotted, shallow, etc.
Second, and much more chilling: if you join these groups and participate, you run the risk of having any or all of your reviews summarily removed from Amazon for not being inauthentic (some rightly so).
Third, some social media sites (Goodreads, for one) monitors members’ activities and sends messages to those members it believes are abusing the site, such as by “buying” or “trading” votes on Listopia, for example, or providing “fake” 5-star reviews to numerous members’ books. If you even get accused and especially when caught, you will discover that most sites’ TOS say they can suspend your account permanently and remove your books’ reviews, rankings, votes, etc., often with no warning and no recourse.
Although I joined some of these groups initially, I found out all of this later. Then, I removed myself within a few months of joining. I never paid to join.
If you are comfortable with the risks and conditions, go right ahead and participate.
3. Participate in Blog Hops and other “required” activities?
Some of these are great and worth doing. Others, not so much.
Look around, visit a few, comment, see what happens. THEN, decide.
4. Join a “Tweet” team or use group hashtags when posting?
This is highly recommended by some, disregarded by many. When someone posts nothing on Twitter but lists of others’ handles and the group’s hashtag, NO ONE CARES. Don’t do that.
But, if your group actually retweets, comments, replies, shares, ENGAGES with each others’ tweets or posts, that is worthwhile and those groups are worth joining.
5. Become a regular responder/poster or stay in the “shadows” (read/lurk but don’t comment, “LIKE,” +1 or post)?
I highly recommend lurking/reading many days’ or months’ worth of posts for some “Boards,” Communities or Groups before posting yourself. Get the “culture” of the group: the tone, the topics, the length, the repartee, the purposes. See if these resonate with you and your “brand” or style. If yes, go right ahead and join in the conversation. If not, move on.
Do not join a group to argue, criticize, lambast or attack.
Remember: the internet is “forever”: if you get into a “flame war,” readers/fans and publishers (and employers) can find it years later. Perhaps use a pseudonym for controversial posts.
6. Become a “help offered,” “help requested” or both type of participant?
You can become a resource to others on many sites (Quora, Ask an Expert, Reddit, etc.) or request help yourself.
Respect, assistance and expertise are admired. Whining, complaining, false information or bragging: not.
7. Join as yourself, your brand/books/website, your pseudonym?
EVERYTHING you post becomes part of your brand unless you use pseudonyms. The intentional and judicious use of pseudonyms is recommended, particularly if you write in vastly different genres (children’s books and erotica) or want to comment on controversial topics but not affect your brand.
If you become a “content curator,” offering information, help, creative/fun posts, and these are consistent (or at least not contradictory) with your brand, go for it! Join groups and comment/post frequently as yourself. Get to know/be known by the members, become a fan /follower of theirs.
I belong to several groups whose members and I are becoming virtual friends. We support each other’s efforts.
image from: http://anupturnedsoul.wordpress.com
These are the groups worth joining and continuing to be active in and are valuable even when you have little time. If you comment here with one of yours, I’ll share some of mine!
Dump the rest.
8. Join any genre-specific or topic-specific groups?
If you are a “genre” writer, then, YES: join one or more of these groups.
I belong to sci-fi, romance, paranormal, ebooks, indie pub, fantasy, “clean” indie, female-oriented, YA, speculative fiction, blogger, author, writer, marketing, science, tech, G+ HOA help and many other groups that I interact with, enjoy and learn from weekly.
Be sure to read and follow each group’s posting guidelines carefully to avoid getting disliked, kicked out or otherwise censored.
9. Offer any giveaways, have contests, provide guest spots yourself?
If you have print books or swag, go right ahead and offer it/them. I highly recommend that you think of what you have to offer and start offering (e.g., free PDFs of writing tips, samples of your writing, free passes, discount coupons) whenever you can.
I have a blog (http://www.sallyember.com/blog) and an almost-weekly Google+ Hangout On Air (CHANGES HOA), so I can and do offer guest blog opportunities and guest starring spots. If you’d like to propose a guest blog topic and date and/or be on CHANGES, get in touch with me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am also a series ebooks novelist, so I offer the first book in The Spanners Series, This Changes Everything, as “permafree,” which is highly recommended for newbies to do, once we have subsequent books for sale.
When you are doing many other types of writing and interacting regularly with several online groups/communities, you can occasionally plug your own books! Like, NOW!
10. Enter any contests or pay for reviews or marketing?
When a group’s entire purpose is to further its own ends and fill its coffers with entry fees, service charges, etc., these make me suspicious. But, I am naturally cynical.
I decided early on not to pay to enter any writing contests, not to pay for reviews, not to pay for “members’ services” and mostly not to pay for marketing. These are my decisions and not everyone agrees with them.
Some individuals offer a combination of free and for sale services/marketing, so you can decide which you want to participate in/join. I have met several great people and had excellent experiences in some groups in this way: I participated in their free activities and then did not continue when the next steps required payment since I couldn’t afford or did not need those services at that point. I do give these “helpers” regular “shout-outs” and thank them publicly for all they do/have done, actions which I hope make up for my lack of financial support to them.
The professionals left me alone when I asked them to do so. The ones who wouldn’t stop emailing and kept on when I asked them to stop or when I told them I wasn’t buying got relegated to spam and ignored.
You have to decide for yourself. However, if you are considering paying for any of these, please research the contest, reviewers, PR person, etc., thoroughly.
It’s bad enough not to win or not to get what you paid for; it’s worse when you’ve paid a lot. BEWARE!
If/when you find groups worth joining, please comment about them here.
Best of luck to you all!
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