ALLi author member Kevin Booth, who writes contemporary fiction and fantasy, explains why he finds physical meetings with other writers an essential part of his life as an indie author, despite the easy availability of interactions online.
In nearly two decades as a professional freelancer, it has been in the relatively brief periods working in-house when my knowledge of professional practice has truly advanced in leaps and bounds. My co-workers at nearby desks, or with whom I shared a coffee, were often the fastest and friendliest route to information on new and better ways of doing things. Such informal knowledge sharing occurs in many sectors, including the publishing industry.
As indie authors, having made the decision to go it alone, we often think this means doing everything ourselves and in isolation. Yet the label of self-publishing is itself a misnomer because, in fact, few succeed without collaboration. To quote our ALLi Code of Standards:
As an ALLi Author Member, I recognise that “self” publishing and “independent” authorship are relative terms and that almost nobody who publishes a good book works alone. I partner with other writers, editors, designers, publicists, distributors, booksellers and readers with courtesy, in a collaborative manner.
Yet how do we close the gap on this information deficit when we aren’t generally rubbing shoulders with other publishing professionals on a daily basis?
Alternatives to Internet Interaction
One way of beating the isolation and engaging in collaboration is for author publishers to group together as a collective, such as the highly successful Triskele Books. We are seeing more such cooperative groups forming within ALLi.
However, for many authors, the answer lies in a looser relationship, making use of our fellow members as resources, either electronically or in a face-to-face situation. In this vein, the ALLi members-only Facebook group must be one of the places with the loudest buzz on the entire internet, where no question is too basic or complex to elicit fellow members’ advice and knowledge. Orna and Joanna’s online Q&A sessions also offer valuable guidance on a range of aspects.
Though all too infrequent in our internet culture, real-life meetings also play a vital role. There’s a particular chemistry that seems to engage when a group of writers get together over a glass of something. If people find it difficult to stay on-topic, it’s because they are sparking creatively off each other and raising new questions that they hadn’t previously considered. I don’t think the online experience has yet been able to replicate this.
Other Authors' Views
I asked a few other authors what they thought about the difference between online and face-to-face interaction and how it influenced them. Here are their responses. First, Joanna Penn on beating the isolation:
I’ve been a full-time author-entrepreneur for three years now, and meeting people physically has been critical for my mental health as well as developing my creative business. When you work a day job, you see people every day and talk about things, but if you work alone as a writer at home, or in the library, you can get a little crazy! We all need support in this creative life, and often, it’s only other writers who truly understand. Social media helps for ad hoc connection, and I met most of my physical friends on Twitter first, but meeting for coffee or a drink helps me to anchor my creative life in reality. I think I would go crazy otherwise!
And Victoria Noe on our differing perceptions between an online and physical presence:
[This has] been a topic of many discussions as of late. I’ve been self-employed for most of my adult life, and the downside is isolation (and the dangerously sedentary lifestyle that Porter Anderson wrote about recently). Knowing people online is wonderful. The internet has benefitted me personally and professionally in the ability to reach out to and create relationships. But there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction. It solidifies the relationship, in my opinion.
Sometimes I’ve been surprised when I’ve met someone I’ve only known online (“I thought he’d be taller”). But most importantly to me -and something I was very aware of at BEA – is the opportunity to witness how someone interacts with other people. I met some at BEA I can’t wait to work with, and others I will steer clear of, despite how they behave online. And I expect that my experience with ALLi authors will continue to be positive when I meet you on the 2nd.
Finally, Chris West on using fellow writers as resources or for recommendations:
I like talking to other writers, especially about the business of writing, but also swapping recommendations of other writers we might enjoy. I’m less convinced that such conversations radically change the way I write: it’s such a personal business, and the best writing is about finding one’s own individual voice. But I know other people disagree!
Rather than having replaced the need for face-to-face communication, online contact seems to complement and support it. Meeting fellow authors in the flesh is a necessary curative to the writer’s isolation, and beneficial to your mental health. Meeting socially offline helps stimulate our craft, is fruitful for learning about new production or marketing techniques, and for discovering new writers – because one of the things we all have in common is a love of reading.
What do you think? If you want to join us in the discussion, add your comments below.
Next London Meeting
Or, if you’re close to London, come along to our meet-up group on Tuesday 2 September at 6.30–8 pm. We’ll be at The Star of Kings, 126 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 OAX (just up the road from King’s Cross St Pancras and convenient for parking since metered parking is free from 6.30 pm). You'll find us at the large table out the back. Future meetings will be on the first Tuesday of the month (7 October, 4 November and 2 December), venue still to be confirmed. Until then, write well and prosper!