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.

Publishing Short Stories Separately: Worth It?

The answer is no. Unless you write a tiny version of a million-dollar idea or are into the Erotica genre, it isn’t worth publishing short stories outside of anthologies. You will not make your money back. I have personal experience from this and both of my stories Hazardous and Virthrandel are very successful. But they aren’t Rowling or Patterson successful and that’s the problem. I have made the money back from the novels I have published but otherwise, I would be throwing money at a hobby. My suggestion is to look into publishing companies that host annual anthologies in various genres and submit your short stories for those. That or compile a collection of similar shorts together and publish them in your own anthology. Either way, do not publish them separately. It is not worth it.

Facebook Advertising: When It’s Good, When It’s Rude

With the massive number of people on social media these days, online advertising is ideal for everyone. There are thousands of groups dedicated to advertising on Facebook and ads pop up all over the page as you try to navigate the site. In most of those cases, those advertisers are only paying a few dollars to advertise with Facebook and it gets seen by thousands. The question every keeps asking is if it brings any revenue or page likes along with the views? The answer is an astounding yes. I promoted my author page on Facebook for a total of $5. In return, I gained over 300 new Likes, sold several e-books, and a couple paperbacks. For $5! What other large social media site can you do that on?

Many people who don’t know how Facebook advertising groups work claim that they’re full of only advertisers. This definitely isn’t the case. Every day, I promote once in each of my 42 advertising groups and receive a couple of Likes here and there and some more e-book sales. Originally, I had joined several of them to get good deals on e-books and to check out new authors. It’s not as big of a return as the $5 but it’s still free.

I run a Fantasy Writers group of nearly 5k members and it just happens to be a non-advertising group. When several people who have recently joined spam the group’s wall, the posts get removed and they get banned. Whenever you join a group on Facebook with the intent of advertising, you always need to read the entire description for the group. Mine has in the first sentence in all capitals “this is not an advertising group” but advertisers still spam the group. It’s extremely rude and isn’t necessary due to there being thousands of advertising-only groups out there. Pay attention and take care where you put your advertisements because while most of the time it will gain you customers, it can also gain you boycotts who aren’t afraid to spread the word.

Chapter Length

One of the discussions that I see online from newbie writers all the time starts with the following question: How long is a chapter? To put it gently, a chapter is as long as it needs to be for your story. Before you continue with a barrage of similarly worded questions, stop for a moment and think of the stories that you have read. James Patterson has mere paragraphs for chapters. J.K. Rowling has several pages. Why? Because it works for the story they are telling. Patterson writes thrillers so to leave each scene cut off by the start of a new chapter makes the book feel more fast-paced and that need to devour the entire book in one sitting. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is geared towards a young audience so the chapters are longer due to taking the time for details and explanations.

In my novel The Dragonscale, the first chapter is 14,923 words. The second is 7,580. The third 3,606. The shortest chapter is barely over 1,500 words. That’s a drastic difference of chapter lengths in just one novel of 72,528 words. It’s written in Third Person Omniscient with four main character POVs (point of views) and falls heavily under the Fantasy genre.

In my short story Hazardous, one of the chapters is just barely over 1,000 words. If the story had called for it, each chapter could have been 500 words or less each to make up the 5,000 word book. However, the story called for longer chapters and as such, it ended up having only four.

The main point behind this post is this: stop researching every little thing, stop pulling questions out of thin air, stop spending years building a world you still haven’t written in. Stop everything and just sit down and write the story. You can only tell if it’s terrible after you’ve written the first draft.

Stop, Breathe, Action Scene

A lot of times when you’re writing a book with action, you find yourself rushing to get to the good part instead of leading up to the battle. This leaves your reader wondering why the story is rushing by so fast, especially when your action scene is only a couple of paragraphs and leaves them wanting more details. Did the character dodge that sword arching through the air? Did s/he feel the rush of air across their face as the blade whooshed past them, missing them by mere inches as they dove to the side? Did they scrape their knees when they dove? Did they grimace from the pain? Is blood now visible through their shredded pants? Is the enemy grinning at the discomfort s/he caused the character? These are just some of the many things that you need to remember while writing an action scene. Always describe the five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. The reader wants to feel like they are in the middle of the fight or as though they are the character. Remember to stop and take the time to write the imagery that your action scene deserves.

Inspiring Authors

(Originally published May 28th, 2011.)

Each writer has their own version of a ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ of Writing. An author that, with their own stories, encouraged another writer to create their own worlds for others to read. I was speaking to a friend the other day and she told me that the authors who inspire her are Tolkien and Terry Goodkind. For those of you who haven’t heard of Terry Goodkind, here is his official website so you can read a little about him (under The Rules): http://www.terrygoodkind.com/index.shtml.
My personal Lord and Lady of Writing are Tolkien and Rowling. I chose Tolkien because when I am having a hard time writing, I immediately pick up The Hobbit, read a little of it, am inspired again, and can continue writing. I love the struggles he puts his characters through because in a way, it is realistic. In life, you will more than likely find yourself suddenly in a tight corner with very few options as to what to do. It’s the choices you make to get out of that corner that matters. As to why J.K. Rowling is my Lady of Writing, I love the originality that she has. When the first book came out, many people were thinking “a book about a wizard school?” Many didn’t like it at first because it was completely different. As the books continued to be published, readers were really starting to get hooked and the fact that the books are easy to relate to, again, is a major plus.
While many writers struggle to get their first book out there, you have to remember that, yes, it will be a difficult time for you. However, if you don’t give up on yourself and have faith that you will eventually succeed, you will be very successful. It’s not guaranteed because you have to make your own choices but just think for a moment. Every writer started out being unpublished. If just one writer can get their book published, why can’t you? Even if you think you’ve just written the worst book in the entire world, someone somewhere will publish it. Keep that in mind as you leap from one struggle to another in the writing world.

Writers’ Block Suggestions from Other Authors

A long while ago, I asked a few of my fellow writers a few questions as follows: When you were a young writer, what advice do you wish you had received? What advice do you have for fellow writers who are either new at writing or have the same experience as you? If a writer gets the hated Writer’s Block, what do you suggest they do?
Caroline Laxon-Abbott replied: “Read widely, not just the genre you’re interested in. Subscribe to a writer’s magazine for a year. Keep writing. Visit your local library and check out how-to writing books (again outside the genre you wish to write in) plus it’s cheaper than buying the books (unless of course you constantly keep handing it back in overdue). Don’t just read the bits about how to write that book but how you’re going to get it published as well. Last of all, accept the fact we are still all learning the craft and no one person knows everything. ;-D”
     Ralph E. Laitres replied: “I am not young, but I wish I had paid more attention in school… especially English…… as for writer’s block… walk away for a day and do not think about the writing… forcing it will make it worst. I got serious about writing in 2007 at the age of 46. but I have dabbled since my youth… now at age 50, I can say I am going to be an author… but I am a NEWBIE. I am here to learn from those who have already walked down this road.”
     Gina Roeder replied: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I was in grade school but was discouraged from it because it wasn’t a practical way to make a living. So I guess to any inspiring writer I’d first offer my devoted encouragement. Next I’ll tell ’em to keep writing, every day, even on the days when they don’t feel like it because that’s what the pros do. A writing instructor once told me that a professional writer is like a prostitute, they do it even when they don’t want to. As for writer’s block, well, I’m experiencing that right now. I started working on something else just to keep writing. It usually helps. The key is to not get discouraged.”
     Never stick to just one genre. Spread out, learn everything you can about the writing world, and share what you learn with your fellow writers. You’re never too old to start anything, especially not writing. Never, never let anyone or anything keep you from writing. If you want to write, write. Yes, at some point in time, you will get discouraged but do not let it be a long-lasting situation. It is your life and if you want to be an author, do it! There will be plenty of people to support you, even if your closest family and friends don’t. There is always someone who will spend the time and energy encouraging you. Much thanks to Caroline, Ralph, and Gina for allowing me to use their comments as examples to encourage other writers.

Copyright © Aris Lisvacor/J.E. Feldman, Caroline Laxon-Abbott, Ralph E. Laitres, Gina Roeder

“Write What You Know”

I’ve been asked if I agree with the adage “write what you know.” I absolutely don’t believe this. First of all, as writers, we feel the need to bring to life characters and worlds that readers will fall in love with. We don’t actually know these characters or live in these worlds. Writing what we know would be incredibly boring after the first book. As writers, we have the freedom to craft whatever we want. Why would we limit it to what we already know? Look at Science Fiction stories for example. Humans aren’t traveling through space and living on various planets with trade routes, different spaceships, and amazing holographic technology. Those ideas came from the mind of writers who envisioned that. Maybe it’ll be possible in the very far future, but it isn’t known. The writers created all of those planets, spaceships, and gadgets. So don’t write only what you know. Experiment. Always ask what if and let your imagination take you from there.

Writing Resources I Use

Almost six years ago now, I created a Fantasy Writers group on Facebook to give online writers a safe haven online. There are a lot of groups filled with spam and bullies so it was easier to make a fresh start. Because it was such a huge success, I’ve made two subgroups of it that focus around World-Building and the Technical Aspects of publishing rather than the vague group of Fantasy Writers. My friend also has a very successful group on Facebook that I’ll share here with you. All of these are on Facebook so if you don’t have an account, do not be despaired. At some point, I will come up with other online resources that don’t require memberships.

Fantasy Writers – https://www.facebook.com/groups/thefantasywriters/

Fantasy Writers: World-Building – https://www.facebook.com/groups/fantasywritersworldbuilding/

Fantasy Writers: Technical Aspects – https://www.facebook.com/groups/fantasywriterstechnicalaspects/

Writers Around The World – https://www.facebook.com/groups/WritersAroundTheWorld/

Inspiration for My Characters

I constantly get asked “where do you find inspiration for your characters?” I look around me at the people that I know and the people that will pass briefly through my life. I observe what traits they have and take note of what I can tell from their personalities just by looking at them. Eventually, those things seep into the character creation that I do for each story. I want to make the characters realistic with similar issues that everyone in real life has so that readers will want to cheer them on or cry with them. The characters are what makes the heart of the story so you have to give them heart.