How to Create and Maintain an Online Writing Community

(Originally published on http://www.stevencapps.wordpress.com/)

Thank you to my host, Steven, for having me here. First, a little introduction of who I am. I am author J.E. Feldman (more commonly known as Aris Lisvacor online) and I’ve been writing since the age of three. I write Fiction, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, Romance, and YA in the form of novels and short stories. I currently have six books published and plan to stick with writing and publishing six a year. With all of that work, how do I have time on my hands? Sometimes, I ask myself that same question, especially when my job and family get in the way of my strict writing schedule.

  1. Come up with a goal and stick with it for the entire life of the group. I created my online Fantasy Writers community on Facebook when I was fifteen because, after being in several other groups, I realized that beginner writers are always bullied by the more seasoned ones. I wanted a safe haven where a bunch of writers could be themselves.
  2. Word of mouth is stronger than advertising. It started off with a few friends (who I fondly refer to as the originals). As the first couple of years went by, it kept growing, but only by a couple hundred. Abruptly, members began pouring in during the third and fourth years. Now, at over six years old, the group hosts almost five thousand members.
  3. Understand that you aren’t in competition with other groups. Many groups after six years have well over five thousand members. I’ve been in some with as many as twenty thousand and it’s overwhelming. The fact that I have kept the group going with the same goal this entire time, and never expected to have so many members, make that five thousand seem like a million.
  4. Creating rules. As the group grew in size, a lot of spammers started entering the group. With small numbers, it was perfectly alright for everyone to post their personal pages every now and then because it wasn’t overwhelming. But with hundreds of people doing this, my little discussion group was on the verge of being turned into a silent advertising black hole. So I created a few rules and it became a non-advertising group. Some members got removed for disregarding the new rules, some left in a huff on their own.
  5. Your rules, your group. Not theirs. Don’t be discouraged when people leave your group because of your rules. Some will try to call you out on them, make you seem like the big bad guy, even manage to take a small group of people with them. Your group is better off without them. If they can’t respect the rules you’ve set for your group, how can you expect them to respect their fellow members?
  6. Compromising rules. My group went from no rules to having some. When it became a strictly non-advertising group, several of the originals left because they felt it was too strict now. This, along with a number of suggestions from fellow members, led to Mad Mondays. A designated day of the week where everyone could use a single post to place all of their personal links in. Before, members were complaining that the group didn’t care about supporting them anymore. After MMs were instilled, members were thrilled to be able to share their work with their favorite writing community.
  7. Administrators. Originally, I had planned to run the entire group by myself but when the numbers started growing, I began finding close friends to help keep an eye on the group. You have to be very careful when choosing them because one argument could send your friend to the members list to do a mass removal before you know what’s happening. I’ve seen it happen many times before. I’m mature for my age so I always choose mature administrators rather than my old high school friends. Always look for someone that understands the rules and has always followed them, will have no problem standing up to members or to you, and is someone you get along with. Understand that you aren’t always right and when in doubt, you can go to this group of people to have them vote, knowing that the outcome will be correct and final.
  8. The private admin chat. For every group, there has always been a private admin chat. Having one allows you to quickly talk about what’s going on with the group, keep tabs on members in the wrong, and to get to know your admins. Our chat is always mixed with admin duties, sticker wars, writing projects, and real life details. That’s because we are all people with lives outside of Facebook. Sometimes people forget that. If you want to keep even better tabs of members, you can also create your own Admin Group. I have also done this and it works wonderfully for Warned and Banned lists, upcoming events, etc.
  9. Events. No matter what kind of community you’re thinking of creating, you need to have events. Something to bring the members together to either work together or compete against each other. It should be fun and enticing. For my writing community, we have Best Description events where a Fantasy picture is given as a prompt and they have to stay within the word count. Using a rubric, I judge their submissions and choose a winner. This gets the members motivated to write more and to think about their writing process instead of trying to throw up words onto a page. I also used those events to choose twelve winners for the group anthology. It took a year to put together but the anthology (published this past month) is a big success. We already have annual anthologies planned.
  10. Have fun. Have compassion. I’m hoping that you’re creating your writing community because you want a place to be yourself with other people. If not, you should still remember to always have fun. Some people get on Facebook to learn new things and meet new people in a relaxed environment. In other words, they don’t want it to remind them of being trapped in a classroom. Have comical chats and on-topic meme wars. Most of all, remember to be kind to your members. Always listen, try to resolve their issues as best you can without compromising your own group, and treat them as your equal. Just because you created the online community does not mean you have the right to be hoity-toity over them. You may have created the community, but your members are what make it a community. Remember that and you’ll do great.
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