Monday, 11 April 2016

Writers' Groups

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.

Good luck!


  1. Maybe we need writers groups league tables to help us find good ones ... Another project for you, Simon? :)

  2. Sounds like we need a standards body: OfWrit! Mind you, I don't think I'd like inspectors coming to the groups I go to!

  3. Agree with you, Simon.

    As I'm also involved in running a writers' group I can see both sides.

    A couple of visits to a prospective group should give you an idea of whether it will help you as a writer or not. But to then get the best out of it, you do have to be proactive- enter competitions, attend talks/workshops and ask questions during Q&A sessions, or whatever options you have available.

    1. Yes, that's right - new members need to get involved in the group too! And we usually say at our the groups I go to that it's worth trying a couple of meetings, because not all meetings are the same!

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  5. Good post - I'm involved in a very different writers group now, after years of searching for something useful, and somewhere I felt comfortable.
    It's purely a critique group, with a weekly flash fiction challenge thrown in to keep us on our toes and push the boundaries.
    I go on tour for my workshops/speaker evenings etc

    I had to kiss a lot of ugly frogs though before I met my handsome prince, and I do hope no one from any of my previous groups is looking at this blog post Simon!

    1. I love the kissing frogs analogy! But it shows it is worth the effort in finding the right group for you. That doesn't mean to say the other groups were not good groups - just that they couldn't offer you what you were looking for as a writer.