Please welcome Kate Brandes  as our guest today! An environmental scientist with over 20 years of experience, Kate is also a watercolor painter and a writer of women’s fiction with an environmental bent. Her short stories have been published in The Binnacle, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Grey Sparrow Journal. Kate is a member of the Arts Community of Easton (ACE), the Lehigh Art Alliance, Artsbridge, the Pennwriters, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Kate lives in a small town along the Delaware River with her husband, David, and their two sons. When she’s not working, she’s outside on the river or chasing wildflowers. The Promise of Pierson Orchard  is her first novel and debuts today!
A Community of Debut Authors Unite to Help Each Other
I’ve spent most of career, not as a writer but as an environmental scientist. Sometime in my mid-thirties I decided I wanted to try writing creatively. There was one problem. I’d never written fiction, nor had I studied creative writing, and I didn’t know anyone who wrote. I quickly sensed how vast an ocean I was learning to navigate and I was without a compass. If I was going to learn to write a decent story in this lifetime, I would need to build a writing community for myself.
I did that over ten years time. And building that community—people who are serious about writing and want to support each other—was probably the single most important step I took toward publication of my first novel, out this year.
Following the first few days of ecstatic bliss after learning my debut novel would be published, I felt a bit like I did a decade ago when I was just learning to write fiction—I had SO much to learn about publication. And this time I didn’t have a decade.
Luckily, shortly after my book deal was listed in Publisher’s Marketplace in early summer 2016, I received an email from a woman named Kellye Garrett, who, along with another writer, Mary Ann Marlowe, was starting a new Facebook group of writers with books coming out in 2017. Kellye asked me to join the group so we could share experiences.
Being a debut author is a bit like driving a newborn home for the first time. There’s so much joy and anticipation (of course), and it’s also a terrifying responsibility you feel ill prepared for. A new author must learn a whole world of marketing and book promotion in a very short time. Most unpublished writers have heard about this phase, but have paid little attention, since all energy has been spent on writing and finding an agent and publisher.
Even if a writer is already set with a website and social media platform, a debut author is often trying to understand and implement for the first time things like: Thunderclap, Headtalker, blurb requests, blog posts, Canva, Goodreads, giveaways, Amazon profiles, Rafflecopter, reading aloud, press releases, promotional timelines, sell sheets, swag, TV and radio appearances, Bookbub, podcasts, early reader reviews, book club kits, interviews, book signings, conferences, book festivals, new teaching gigs, book launch events, tours, etc., etc.
It’s not that other authors who’ve already published don’t also have to do these same things and more—but they have experience. Brand new concepts take longer to think through and carry out than ones you’ve done even once before. New writers also hear that if their book doesn’t do well, they might never publish again. The work involved and high stakes can feel daunting.
So when I got Kellye’s email I was grateful to share this new publishing experience with people who were also finding it all so new and exciting, but challenging. Instead of having to figure it out alone, we could help each other.
I belong to other online writing groups, as many do. This debut author’s group is different. It’s relevant all the time since we’re looking for answers to the same questions. We all want our books to do well, and many of us don’t have preexisting connections to published authors or the publishing industry so we need to rely on each other.
Our group, called 17 Scribes, is defined as: never-before-published adult and new adult authors with novels coming out in 2017, with a publisher. So our group is open to all 2017 debut authors, except writers of middle grade or young adult fiction and self-published authors. We have a simple directive: to help each other.
Kellye and Mary Ann say they started the group just so they would have other people to talk with about the experience of being a debut author. They never expected the group to become what it has, which is a vital source of information and support for more than ninety writers from all over.
What started as a few people on a closed Facebook Group, gained quick momentum as word spread and our numbers built. Members offered ideas for what we could do for each other, given our shared goals and talents. Kellye and Mary Ann asked people take their ideas and run with them.
This is how we gained and now operate through volunteer effort our social media accounts (Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and a public Facebook page). Someone volunteered to create a file of all our authors with book release dates listed so we can promote each other in a coordinated effort. Another member with graphic design talent created a promotional group logo as well as a launch-day banner for each writer. I do author interviews. Kellye manages us on the closed Facebook group with a firm but gentle hand. Mary Ann maintains our website. Other members are working to promote and support each other by providing early reviews, sharing information, doing cooperative book giveaways, building connections, doing joint readings, attending events, and supporting each other at conferences and festivals.
I asked Kellye and Mary Ann to suggest 5 tips for setting up a similar group for new authors or another specialized writing group. Here’s what we discussed:
- As a first step, Kellye created a Facebook group that is closed. The fact that it’s a closed group gives people a place they can ask questions without judgment. We have a Las Vegas policy—what is said in the group, stays in the group. This allows people to be real and gives them freedom to ask all the questions.
- The closed Facebook group page is searchable. Members participant in conversations that have been organized into threads by topic (such as readings, book signings, reviews, etc.). So if a member is looking for specifics they are easy to find.
- Kellye started in 2016 reaching out to every 2017 debut author she could find via Publishers Marketplace, Twitter, and other connections. Mary Ann also reached out to new writers she knew. Word got around and new members extended the invitation to other new authors they knew. Starting to recruit members in mid-2016 was essential, because we’d already become a cohesive group by 2017, ready to work with each other.
- Mary Ann, who has considerable skills in communication and websites, developed the criteria for the group early on. The clear definition of who we are and our mission set the successful trajectory of the group.
- As new members offered up ideas, Kellye and MaryAnn encouraged them to take the lead. (And they did!) This has been key for the group’s sustainability over time. No one person is trying to do it all.
Do you have a writing community that’s helped you at specific points along the way? Tell us about it.