Writer Beware: That person pretending to be a guru
in your on-line writers' group
could be a wanna-be with a lot of false bravado.
I hate to sound like a cynic. It goes against my nature. Because of my instinct to trust first and question later, I've been burned. I'm not sure what it is about a writers' group that breaks down barriers quicker than a dating site would (for me anyway), but my normal boundaries became blurred under the guise of professional sharing and peer-group support in an isolating profession.
I believed people who sounded like pros only to learn later that they either hadn't published yet or had less experience in the business than I did. Oh, but they knew the schpeel. They knew the right words to say, the tone to set, the intimidation to apply to anyone who questioned their "authority." Because they say all the right things and appear to be in charge, people who join the group look to them as leaders without doing due diligence regarding qualifications. In a world where pen names are common and where you're dealing with professional storytellers, pretenders thrive.
If you're a member of a writers' group, keep in mind that you're representing yourself as a professional even if you're sitting at home bare-assed naked. Don't let your guard down. Be smart.
That's the difference between a face-to-face writers' group and an on-line one. When meeting people face-to-face, usually at a networking meeting or local writers' gathering, it's natural for people to share their accomplishments and credentials. It's part of the game. However, online, such things are seen as self-promotion and are usually forbidden in the group rules or shut down immediately. We may click on their profile picture and read the "about" section where they can write whatever they want, but it's much easier to lie online than face-to-face. Why? Because face-to-face has body language, local accountability (my friend may know you or I may be your neighbor), eye contact, and a degree of personalization that an online cannot provide.
Sure, there are wannabes at the local face-to-face groups as well. I met a man I now call Scary Kerry at one. He presented himself as an award-winning screenwriter, a PR exec, and a PHd student---well, his screenplay did win an award in a small town in the middle of nowhere and his PR experience consisted of working concessions at the baseball stadium. So, yes, frauds are everywhere, but Scary Kerry was easily discovered because people who knew people talk and word spreads. His demeanor was off, he'd get shifty when asked direct questions--all things that are much more noticeable in person than when someone has time to construct a written response. Online groups are much harder to crack.
So what do you do? You work alone, spend all day in front of the computer, and long to connect to a peer group. Online is easy. My advice is to take everything with a grain of salt and not believe the loudest person in the group or the administrator or the one with the fanciest cover or even the one who seems the nicest--be a professional. Treat the online group as a collection of colleagues and keep your professional face on. If someone appears to know it all, check them out. It's easy to do if they are as accomplished as they claim. Check LinkedIn or Google, ask people you trust if they've heard of the person. I recommend those tactics because you can't believe everything you see on Goodreads or Amazon--anyone can slap up a page there, self-pub a book or two, swap reviews with a bunch of other shady authors--which happens all the time--and claim to be a bestseller because they cheated the system with a "box set" or "anthology". Unfortunately, I'm not being a cynic by saying that. Experience has taught me to be cautious.
In a world where pen names are common and where you're dealing with professional storytellers, pretenders thrive.
I was a wide-eyed optimist when I first entered the publishing world. I leaped at the chance to join writers' groups and soaked up as much as I could. But then I noticed that a lot of the leaders bullied anyone who had a difference of opinion or who questioned their credentials. Storylines of my published books were copied, and, when confronted, the thieves claimed things like "imitation is the highest form of flattery" and "yes, your work inspired me, I'm a fan, consider this fan fic."
I don't online date because I've always thought, "anyone can appear to be anyone on those sites" yet I readily accepted the credibility of leaders and members of online writers' groups. My bad! I admit my mistake. So, if you're a member of a writers' group, keep in mind that you're representing yourself as a professional even if you're sitting at home bare-assed naked. Don't let your guard down. Be smart. Make sure the person lecturing you actually knows what they're talking about and isn't thumb-typing from the pretzel stand at the local baseball stadium. (Yes, Scary Kerry, I mean you!)
Amber Lea Easton
(I'm on LinkedIn, too...just in case you were wondering.)
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com.