Who’s Running Your Writers’ Group? Why You Should Be Careful

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Joining a writers' group can be a terrific way to get feedback and support, and to make new friends. But what if that group isn't all it seems?

An alert Writer Beware reader drew my attention to what seems like a growing phenomenon: writers' groups sponsored by pay-to-play publishers.

A few examples--all from Meetup.com, where there are likely many more:

Onion Custard Publishing's Author Clinic is "looking to support authors who want to develop their ideas." Onion Custard also offers a suite of services for authors--all at a cost.

The Roswell Alpharetta Book Publishing Group for Authors, which helps writers "Network with other authors during your writing and publishing journey", is run by Firebrand Publishing, which provides "book publishing services at affordable rates."

PageCurl Publishing and Promotions runs two writers' groups, one in Seattle and one in Pennsylvania. Their aim: to "take the scary out of publishing." But not necessarily the cost: PageCurl offers publishing services at $45 per hour, as well as a la carte services and publishing packages starting at $3,500.

Grey Wolfe Publishing also has multiple groups, in Michigan and Missouri. They describe themselves as "a reliable pack of literary experts who will walk with you and protect you through even the darkest paths of the publishing forest!" One of those paths: Grey Wolfe's "all inclusive" publishing package, priced at $1,250. If you want, you can pay more...much more.

The writers' group offered by Zimbell House Publishing has a "missions": "to help writers become quality authors." Quality authors can also buy one of Zimbell House's publishing packages, which start at $999.

The Greater Cleveland Writers Group is a large and well-established group that "exists to provide resources for novice to published writers in order to assist in developing, editing, publishing and marketing their work." Its MeetUP is sponsored by Cleveland Writers Press, which appears to provide some form of traditional publishing, but also sells self-publishing services.  

I've received no complaints about any of these publishing services. And I have no evidence that any of them are using these groups as a way to steer writers toward their paid services.

However, it's at least a possibility--and that potential conflict of interest is one reason why you should be cautious when a writers' group is sponsored by self-publishing service or pay-to-play publisher.

The other? The misinformation that such services and publishers often provide, whether about publishing or about themselves. Cleveland Writers Press, for instance, encourages authors to believe this common and pernicious myth:
Currently, the Publishing Industry basically ignores the up-and-coming author. Becoming a ‘published’ author is nearly a Black Art. There has been little interest in developing talented writers for decades.
And Grey Wolfe Publishing devotes an entire page of its website to explaining why its "unique 'hybrid' approach to publishing" is not vanity publishing. ("Hybrid," by the way, is one of the newest euphemisms for vanity publishing, joining older deceptive terms like "co-op" and "joint venture".) So does Zimbell House Publishing. But if a company calls itself an "independent publisher" while at the same time requiring payment from authors, it's a vanity publisher, and no amount of verbiage about selectivity, partnership, expertise, or profound respect for authors can change that.

So be careful out there. Know who's running that writers' group you're thinking of joining--and if it's a publisher or a publishing service, be aware that it may be interested in more than just supporting you in your writing journey.

2 comments to Who’s Running Your Writers’ Group? Why You Should Be Careful

  • [...] • Victoria Strauss alerts us to vanity publishers masquerading as writers groups. [...]

  • Kai

    Ugh. As soon as I read them, I had a horrible memory of dealing with an editor that ‘funnelled’ people to book doctors, and other editing services, round and round when I first started writing almost 18 years ago. I wasn’t able to afford it, but I’ve spoken to people that were caught by similar. Breaks my heart, and yeah, I would be a bit suspicious too.
    Best writing groups I know of and is linked to a decent charity is the one I volunteer with – Nanowrimo. Some groups meet a couple of months out of the year (for Nano/Camp Nano), while some, like mine go year round. I’m in the UK, and we’re quite lucky in my area – several writing groups, one attached to the Uni, one attached to my stuff basically.
    Maybe they’re ok though, but I’d be super cautious encountering any group attached to a press.


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