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Opinion: Why It’s Worth Setting Up Local Author Meet-up Groups

Opinion: Why It’s Worth Setting Up Local Author Meet-up Groups

Headshot of Debbie Young in front of bookshelves

Debbie Young, snapped happy after the meeting of the Cheltenham Authors' Alliance that she runs at the Suffolk Anthology Bookshop (photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

Today ALLi's Author Advice Centre Editor Debbie Young steps up on our soapbox to share her passion for abandoning the internet now and again to get out and meet other authors (and readers) in real life.

(The irony of writing about this in a place that people can read only online has not escaped her, but it takes more than that to dampen her enthusiasm for real-world interaction.)

The Digital vs the Real World

In the internet age, authors frequently remark what a difference it makes to be able to network with other writers (and readers) online. No more need they feel isolated as they tap away at their computers in their artists' garrets. Instead whenever they need a bit of company from kindred spirits, whether to ask advice (“how many words in a novella, please?”), to seek moral support (“Help! I've lost my writing mojo!”) , or to celebrate success (“I just typed ‘The End' – hurrah!”) they can easily climb aboard the ether.

ALLi's own Facebook forum, a closed group for its members, is designed exactly for that, and plenty of members say that the forum alone is worth the annual membership fee. The forum is a dependable source of company, day or night, because ALLi's membership is truly global, so that wherever you are in the world, there will be some other ALLi members awake at the same time as you – just as with the rest of the internet. But you can't beat the benefits of getting together with other authors in person.

What do live meetings between authors offer that online contact doesn't?

  • the psychological difference of knowing more about what people look and sound like (when I meet people in real life for the first time, I'm often surprised how different voices are to how I'd imagined from their profile photos – and how tall or short they are)
  • a more personal conversation, more likely to lead to a sharing of more sensitive information including insecurities or low moods about their writing (which the meetings can then try to resolve)
  • the feeling of a more genuine, deep-rooted connection – the friendships started online are somehow deeper and more heartwarming when you've met in real life
  • better use of time – when you're not having to type or Skype your exchanges, you won't be constrained by technology

How many authors does it take to make a meeting?

Sometimes it's good – and easier – to start by meeting just one person, perhaps an author who you've realised lives in your neighbourhood and with whom you've developed an online rapport.  I have one author friend like this who I see roughly once a month, and we buoy each other up in different ways.

But I'm also thrilled to run two local meet-up groups whose membership grows with every meeting. I'm not sure of the official collective noun for authors –  a chapter? a volume? But once you gather together more than one author friend like this, it's pretty easy to grow a whole group, especially if you open it up to others on the meeting management system Meetup.com with an appropriate description. Meeting in bookshop cafes is also a great move because if you get the proprietor on side, he or she will direct new enquirers your way. (Also a great way to build relationships with local booksellers, by the way, who may then be more likely to stock your books and host author events for you.)

Group photos of authors in shop doorway

Some of the Cheltenham Authors Alliance meetup group outside our venue, the wonderful Suffolk Anthology bookshop (Photo by Angela Fitch Photography)

I've been running two such author groups in Bristol and Cheltenham for over a year now, and each meeting we gain a couple of new takers, and we all go away smiling and inspired. I know of other similar groups led by great ALLi networkers, such as Lynne Pardoe who runs a group in Oxford and Helena Halme who runs two in London, one meeting on a weeknight, the other at weekends. (I'm only using British examples because I'm UK-based and those are two that I've visited as a guest.

How to organise a meeting

As an online organisation, ALLi isn't geared up to organise and manage physical meet-ups for the membership – though its three-times yearly live online Indie Author Fringe conference series and its monthly Ask ALLi podcast series provide a great halfway house. But membership of ALLi does provide a great jumping-off point for you to set up and run an author meet-up group of your own.

Here are a few handy hints to help you organise your own real-life author meeting:

  • choose a bookish venue to make you all feel at home, e.g. bookshop cafe or library
  • kickstart it with a few local author friends of your own
  • subscribe to Meetup.com so you can advertise it to other like-minded authors
  • hold the meeting at the same time, same place each month – consistency encourages people to block that session out in their diaries for the whole year so boosts attendance
  • make all members feel welcome, no  matter how much or how little experience they have (newcomers may be especially nervous of joining and need putting at their ease)
  • give everyone the chance to do a quick intro at the beginning, which, once you all know each other, could just be one piece or news or one question each, rather that a bio
  • take agenda points and run an agenda if you like, but don't be too formal, as that discourages shyer people from participating – plus sometimes the best discussions take place when the conversation has veered off at a complete tangent

Knowing how widespread ALLi membership is – (for a reminder of how truly global we are, check out our world map of members here and hover your cursor over the different regions) – I appreciate that not everyone lives in places where it's easy to get together physically. In that case, just treat Skype as your friendly local cafe, and run the meeting online following the pointers listed above.

OVER TO YOU If you run a local meet-up group for authors and you'd like to put a shout out for more members, feel free to tell us about it in a comment.

#Authors - here's how to meet more fellow #indie #writers in real life - by @DebbieYoungBN Click To Tweet

RELATED POST – News of our next Indie Author Fringe event, taking place online, so accesible and free for everyone to attend, wherever you are in the world

 

Debbie Young

Debbie Young writes warm, funny feel-good fiction, including the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series, which begins with the bestselling "Best Murder in Show". As ALLi's Author Advice Center Manager, she also writes guidebooks for authors. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, she is a frequent speaker at other literary events. Find out more about Debbie's writing life on her author website www.authordebbieyoung.com.

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.
    I will ensure that I bookmark your blog and will eventually come back
    down the road. I want to encourage continue your great work,
    have a nice evening!

  2. Nice to celebrate real life meet ups and esp good to see Oxford mentioned as we would love more members being s very new group. I like the bookshop/ library idea though no really suitable one has appeared to replace the too- squashed Beatnik as yet! But cd do with linkimg to local library may sound them out.

  3. I admire all your cozy (cosy!) get-togethers in the UK from out here in the wide-open spaces of the US, but I’m going to meet ALLi member Karen Myers at an indies display at a nearby library during a small-town festival in a couple of weeks.

    I’ve also greatly enjoyed both NaNoWriMo gatherings in my community in recent Novembers AND an outgrowth of NaNoWriMo, a critique group called Literary Fusion that meets just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for three hours on a Saturday almost every month. We meet at noon and enjoy lunch in the meeting room of a family restaurant, then share comments on members’ drafts submitted a week or two earlier online. Usually about half of us have something to share, and three quarters of us have comments for the submission. New participants welcome!

    1. We definitely need a photo of you and Karen Myers together, Cindy – two great contributors to the ALLi community. Wish I would be there with you. Your local NaNoWriMo meetings sound great too – what fun!

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