What Should Writers Organizations Do About the Digital Revolution?

At the last writers conference I went to, I had one of those moments that happen to writers where I felt like I was in a movie and the camera pulled back so that I could observe my own life. I was standing in front of a banquet hall full of writers. We were handing out awards for our annual fiction contest as we’ve done for thirty years. The camera in my head went to a fade-out and it was a few years later. I saw a bunch of empty seats and far fewer people clapping. I wondered if the whole structure that we had carefully built was already gone and we were in the last vestiges of it.

Like most writers groups of a certain age, RMFW was started to bridge the gap between writers not in New York and the publishing industry, which in the olden days meant “New York.”

The founders created the organization to learn networking, to make their work more professional, and to connect with the industry using query letters and pitch sessions.

The fiction contest was designed to:
A) teach writers about the industry standards for commercial fiction.
B) draw agents and editors from New York to sift among the best and brightest and hopefully ask for a partial and love it and ask for a full and offer a contract.

Same with the conference. Come and get a chance to bump elbows with the “publishing industry.” Pitch to an agent. Have your work read by an editor. Find out the latest trends, taboos, hot genres.

Fast forward a few decades. The digital revolution is well underway and it’s not a matter of when traditional publishing will come undone but how it will morph into something else that encompasses the new paradigm.

I’m not one of those doomsayers who predict the end of the publishing world as we know it within a year. I’m also not gleefully dancing on the grave of legacy publishing just because they rejected me forty-two times. The industry standards of excellence in writing craft, editing, book design and marketing still hold up and should continue to give us something to aim for.

But one thing is certain. The gatekeepers are no longer all-powerful and the standards are no longer guaranteed to come out of New York. What are the writers groups to do who’ve structured their whole organization on traditional publishing? How do we embrace the revolution before it makes us irrelevant?

Some thoughts:

1. Most writer’s organization have a group within of traditionally published writers who network and support each other. Why not a group for self-published writers?

2. What about a contest for the best self-published novel of the year? The winner could be presented to the editor/agent judges along with the contest entries. New York is searching the indie-published list looking for the next breakout novel. Writers groups could help winnow down some prime choices.

3. If you final in the fiction contest, how about a place in an anthology, a sampler of the finalists in each genre such as publishers put out? (This would only be after it was clear the win didn’t result in a sale, say, four-to-six months after the award.)

4. How about announcing self-published books alongside traditionally published books in newsletters, flyers and in other promotional material? Let readers sort out which books have merit.

Joe Konrath suggests having the published writers’ groups be based on sales of books instead of the method of publication. I’m not so sure about that one, but it’s an interesting idea.

What do you think? Are there other ways writers groups can change to address the new paradigm in publishing?

This entry was posted in Commentary, Conferences, E-Publishing, New Media, Publishing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Should Writers Organizations Do About the Digital Revolution?

  1. Karen Duvall says:

    Intriguing blog, Chris! You bring up a lot of great points.

    I think first and foremost a writers organization needs to define its purpose before it can address the points you mention here. For example, CIPA (Colorado Independent Pubishers Association) is clearly a writers organization that addresses the self-publishing issues you brought up. I could be wrong, but I’ve always considered RMFW an organization of support for writers in regard to craft education and fellowship, with the added bonus of professional networking once a year at conference.

    As for a group within RMFW of self-published authors, we used to have one several years ago, but its members lost interest and it faded away. A plan is currently in the works for a new one.

    Traditional publishing won’t be going away any time soon, but the business model is changing. RMFW can certainly guide members with this kind of information if that’s its goal. Redefinition of the group’s goals and objectives is worth consideration.


  2. Chris Devlin says:

    Hey, Karen,

    Thanks for your response. I didn’t realize there had been a self-published author group already. I would imagine there would be more interest now, though you never know.

    Here’s what the website says about RMFW:
    Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial novel-length fiction. To that end, the organization strives to:

    • Provide an environment of support and encouragement among members
    • Stimulate interest in and appreciation for the art of writing
    • Act as a dissemination point for information concerning commercial fiction writing
    • Bring together authors, editors, agents, and other related professionals for the mutual benefit of all

    I think all writers organizations, like the publishing industry, are in a state of self-examination, or at least we should be if we want to keep up.


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