I often encourage creative writers to join one or more private Facebook groups where they can post questions and share resources with other writers. There are specialized groups for children’s book writers, romance writers, fantasy—you name it. In groups like “Ask a Book Editor,” writers can get help from amateur and professional editors. At “The Business of Being a Writer,” people share information about self-publishing, getting an agent, drafting and revising manuscripts, and financial matters. In groups like “Scrivener Users” or “PerfectIt Users,” writers share technical advice.
Although some groups are by invitation only, typically becoming a member of a private (or closed) group is as simple as clicking on Join and agreeing to the rules. Some discussions are closely moderated, others not. The writing groups I like best prohibit ads and self-promotion and insist that conversations stick to writing and publishing topics. They provide a pet-free zone where you don’t have to see what anyone else is cooking for dinner.
Find a group that suits your interests by using the Discover feature under Groups (which you’ll find in the sidebar or menu). Facebook will show you groups your friends are in, groups it thinks you might like, popular categories of groups, and so forth. You can also enter keywords like “creative nonfiction” or “flash fiction” into the Search Groups box and get a list of related groups.
On Facebook, writers ask every kind of question. “How should I punctuate this sentence?” “Do teenagers like kale?” “How long did it take you to get an agent?” “What are some good adjectives for the colors at dawn?” “Which of my cover mockups do you like best?”
Of course, the advice you get will be mixed. Unless you know the person writing it, it’s not wise to accept the first answer to a question. But in my experience, after a query has been up for a while, the best answers accumulate a lot of loves and likes, and the fishier answers collect counterarguments. (Insults are usually frowned upon and can get you thrown out of some groups.)
On the whole, Facebook is a rich resource for writers. But it’s maddening as well. If you’ve found happiness in an alternative community platform for writers (Scribophile? Reddit? Camp NaNoWriMo?), feel free to tell us about it in a comment below. Meanwhile, here are eight ways Facebook group members can help keep the discussion productive and maximize the benefits for everyone.
1. Answer the question. This seems so simple, and yet often the person seeking advice has to wade through dozens of responses that sidetrack into unrelated topics. If you want to talk about something else, start your own thread.
2. Watch your language. By this I mean avoid throwing around words like “correct” and “incorrect” when what you probably mean is “works well in that context” or “not according to Merriam-Webster.” Unless you’re a professional editor or able to back up your answer with a source citation (and a link if the group allows them), don’t cast it as anything but opinion.
3. Read the thread. If other group members have already answered a question, read the whole thread before you weigh in. What? There are already 132 replies and you don’t have time to read them all, and you’re certain that whatever you have to say is completely different from what’s already been said? Just know that when you repeat advice someone else already posted, you don’t look smart.
4. “Like” when you can. Show agreement with someone else’s answer by clicking “Like” or “Love” instead of writing your own reply saying the same thing in different words. Liking a good answer is more helpful to the asker because the number of likes tells at a glance which answers are getting the most approval. If you repeat advice that’s already been given, it’s clear you haven’t read the thread, you don’t care what anyone else has to say, and you just want everyone to look at you.
5. Look before you type. In a long thread with nested comments and replies, pay attention to which box you’re typing in. Check whether you’re replying to the original question or to another comment. If you’re in the wrong place, it’s less likely the right person(s) will see your reply.
6. Search first. Before you post a question, use the Search box for that group to see if an answer is already there. It’s bad manners to waste the group’s time with questions that have been asked and answered recently. On the other hand, if a topic hasn’t come up for a while, it’s fair game. One has to assume that members come and go, and some topics are evergreen.
7. Don’t be lazy. Don’t ask the community to do basic homework or deep research for you. Here are a few examples of questions I’d be embarrassed to ask in a Facebook group. Even though they’re questions that most writers ask at some point, the answers are easily available all over the internet via a simple browser search. Not only that, good answers would be long and complicated. Whole books and courses are created around such questions. To expect someone to educate you in a Facebook post is to put your ignorance and amateur status on display:
“I’m thinking of writing a book but don’t know how to get started.”
“I wrote a book. Any tips on getting it published?”
“How do I get an agent?”
Mind, if you do ask such a question, there will always be people in the group who are happy to instruct you. With luck, they’ll suggest books and websites for a more complete picture. And with more luck, agents and editors in that group won’t remember you as that clueless mope on Facebook when you submit your work to them.
8. Give back. If you’ve received help on Facebook, give back when you’re able. Show support for others’ successes, answer questions when you can, and if links are allowed and encouraged, share sources you found helpful: blog posts, articles, contests, classes, or reference works.
Top image: Eight pencil tips, via Pxfuel.
Fiction+ posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press. Neither the University of Chicago Press nor The Chicago Manual of Style is affiliated with Facebook.
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