Two weeks’ ago I blogged about Rowling’s Rejections (I’m making the most of this blog post, aren’t I?). And, if I’m honest, there’s one comment in one of her rejection letters that really annoys me. It’s a phrase I’ve seen in many publisher and literary agent rejection letters (and I’ve certainly had a few of those over the years). It usually goes along the lines of recommending the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, and then suggests joining a writers’ group.
There you go. It’s easy. Get rejected by a publisher or a literary agent and it doesn’t matter, because if you go to a writers’ group they’ll sort you out.
Er … not necessarily. I always wonder at this point how many publishers and literary agents have been to a writers’ group. They certainly haven’t been to the two I go to (although if any are reading this, and are interested, do feel free to get in touch). What annoys me about this suggestion in their rejection letters is that it implies a writers group will turn them into publishable writers. Again: not necessarily.
A writers’ group is only as good as the members it comprises. Many are voluntary-run community groups. There are some fantastic groups out there and there are some that perhaps aren’t quite as good. Some groups organise guest speakers, run workshops, get professionals in to share knowledge and experience. Others may be no more than a glorified appreciation society.
I wish publishers’ and agents’ rejection letters recommended finding a good writers’ group. That immediately flags up that not all groups are the same. I go to two groups: two very different groups. I get different things from them, but I do get something from them. I’ve always said that it’s important for a writer to find the right writers’ group for them (if they want to join a group). This may mean going to several different groups and trying them out.
Likewise, it is not every writers’ group’s responsibility to be the perfect writers’ group for every new face who walks in through their door.
So if you get a rejection letter from an agent, or a publisher, and decide that, following the advice in their letter, you want to join a writers’ group, then that’s great. But do your research. Find out what experience the members of the group have. Is it the right experience that will help you? If they’re all poets and non-fiction writers, and you want to write cross-genre romantic vampire cosy crime novels (now there’s a niche market) are they really the right group to help you?
The right group can help you tremendously. They can offer constructive feedback on your work, and perhaps point you in the right direction for further advice. But don’t just join any writers’ group because a publisher or literary agent suggests so.