When Writers' Groups Overwhelm
How much networking and promotion is too much?
A reader asks:
Okay, this is gonna sound like I’m complaining about my diamond shoes being too tight, so I apologize in advance! Ever since my book deal, I have been invited to join various writers groups, all of which are wonderful and filled with amazing people, and all of which seem REALLY IMPORTANT. It feels like everyone knows everyone, and everyone is forging very important connections, and while I would like to participate in these groups, I simply don’t have the time. Between my day job and my family and my writing, I barely have time for myself in the day, and now I find that my “me time” is quickly becoming “socialize or sink into obscurity time”. How do you manage your time? How much time should we be putting into our writing career that isn’t actual writing time? Is it enough to do it just once a week? But then it feels like I’m missing out on vital conversations! Aaaa!
First of all, Reader, I think it will comfort you to know that many, MANY authors feel this way about social media, writers’ groups, and networking in general. I do, too!
We’ve talked before about how important writing communities are. And they are. And, especially as you start seeing more and more conversations that reveal the back end of the industry, the “fear of missing out” is real. Besides, what about when you’ve seen yourself get real and important connections through such communities? What about when you’ve learned vital information about unprofessional markets, harassment, or industry norms? How do you know when the chatting is legitimately work-related?
I’ve had to work hard to balance all this, as have many writers I know, and many of us feel like we still struggle to get it right. But here are some tips:
Pick and choose your communities. I generally accept invitations to new groups but “click” with a much smaller number of those, whether it’s because the platform isn’t good for me, or because the group is more slanted toward another part of the industry, or just because of personalities. Give yourself permission to drift out of the places that are more stressful to keep up with.
Quality of interaction over quantity. Part of the reason to concentrate on the communities you click with is so you have quality interactions there. Having a deep and helpful conversation with people once a week is going to be better for you on all fronts than a daily drive-by. And definitely don’t only drop into communities to post about your book news! Try to make meaningful connections with people even if you’re only coming by at limited times.
Focusing on sub-communities can help, too. Whether it’s an individual sub-forum or a specific channel on a Slack, if the platform allows for it, hanging out in the area of it that you’re most interested in — and isn’t as overwhelming as the whole — can help you manage. You can hide or mute the rest for now.
With respect to time management, from a business perspective, writing the next book is often the most helpful thing you can be doing for yourself. Not always, but often — and by the number of forum and chat posts where professional writers admit we should be writing instead of socializing, most of us know that! Plus, it’s good to be cognizant that when we’re aiming promotional (as opposed to networking), the effort is usually best spent marketing toward readers, rather than primarily or solely trying to get other writers to buy our books. But relationships with other writers are helpful for many other reasons, and I think an extreme of cutting off all writerly networking is likely to hurt a career much more than help. After all, right here in this newsletter I’m constantly advising people to reach out to their writing communities about things, from connecting to reviewers and influencers to getting opinions on comp titles.
So what’s the ratio? I often hear writers try for an 80/20 model of 80% of their work time spent writing and 20% on promotional AND networking activities (with involvement in writer communities being a subset of that 20% — so maybe 5-10% of your total work time). Personally, I get too easily drawn in to spending too much time in writing communities — like you said, so many writers are so amazing! — so I limit my socializing there to during free time that doesn’t count toward my work. But if you’re having trouble finding time for it at all, you may have to schedule it as part of your work time, and I do think it’s a useful enough thing that it makes sense to consider doing that when you’re at the beginning of your career.
That said, there will be periods where this is more important for you. For instance, if there’s big news that’s going on in your genre that all of your industry backchannels are talking about, and you’ve never heard of half the things people are bringing up, it can be really useful to take some more time to read and learn. Or if you’ve just been invited to join a community that’s a career level-up, and reading everything is very helpful to finding your feet at this new career level you’re at. The amount of time you spend in writer communities at those points might increase, and that’s okay! Chances are, it’ll naturally slow down a bit once you have a handle on things.
Since you just got a book deal — and congratulations! — it makes sense that you might be overwhelmed at the connections that are opening up for you. Take a breath, try to be easy on yourself about it, and do what you can to participate at a level that feels educational rather than stressful. After a little time, the discussions will start to feel gradually more repetitive and recognizable.
Give yourself online breaks. It’s very common for people to take vacations from social media or online interaction and then come back. Take these breaks whenever you need to. Everything will be there when you come back.
Every so often, prune and readjust. You aren’t signing up to always participate at the same level forever. It’s totally fine to keep readjusting your community interaction as you figure out where you feel comfortable, where you want to pay it forward, and where the discussions are most useful to you.
Eventually, once you’re more established, you may even find that diminishing your online interactions drastically and using that time and emotional energy for writing is what makes sense for you. I know writers at about my career level who’ve permanently ditched a social media account or two and decided they were happier for it, and they keep up with the friends they made in those communities through email or other channels. It’s very normal for this to ebb and flow as you need more and more time to meet the obligations to your career.
Finally, beware never get so lost in chasing the online interaction that it starts to subsume your actual writing. It doesn’t sound like you’re in danger of this at the moment, Reader, but I’ve seen other writers go down this rabbit hole! And if you ever feel like you’re juggling way, way too much and some of the plates have to drop — drop these. Drop checking in on your Facebook groups, drop Twitter for a few weeks, let your Slacks get on without you, and meet your deadlines. None of this social interaction is obligatory, and barring actual rudeness to individual people or specific commitments, it’s okay to let keeping up with any of it slip to the wayside when you need to — it doesn’t make you a bad community member.
For your situation in particular, Reader — from what you’ve said in this letter, it sounds like it may benefit you to dedicate a small part of your “writing time” to this for now, rather than pressuring yourself to do it in your “off time” and burning yourself out. As you find your feet a bit, you can keep reevaluating to see if that still makes sense for you. I’m a big fan of experimenting with time management to find what ends up working for you, and you can adjust this as your career progresses.