I've been enjoying a recent post exchange within my online historical critique group bemoaning the differences between 'real live' groups and 'virtual' ones. Sadly, in most experiences shared, the face-to-face groups don't get a check-mark in the welcoming, friendly, and helpful columns. On line, we all seem to be on even ground, respectful, glad to have new members, and even remember the rules of etiquette that apply.
Now don't scold me because you happen to belong to a live group that walks on water and has helped you beyond belief. I know they exist, but some of us haven't been fortunate enough to find one fitting that description. Sadly, there is a distinct division between big and small publishers that transfers over to the worth of the author... at least in the opinion of some. I experienced that uncomfortable feeling myself.
I was invited by a "BIG" author and her friend to join them in forming a local writer's group. I agreed, with enthusiasm, thinking what a wonderful way to make new friends with a common interest. In retrospect, I wish I had declined. Our first meeting for lunch went well because we were getting to know one another. But as time passed, it became evident from the friend that "the author" was in charge. Just as well, because I never could have managed to scale the pedestal that author sat on...placed there by her friend who looked at her with eyes filled with awe and wonder. But, I was still excited about the prospect.
The first meeting of the group had a good turnout for a first attempt. I believe there were six or seven us there. When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I gave my name and explained I was published by several Internet houses. The "big" author had the nerve to say..."What's Internet publishing. I never heard of such a thing. Is that self-published?" Okay...where has she been? In outer space? Didn't she listen to a thing I said at lunch about my credentials? That was humiliating, but I explained the hoops I'd jumped through to the newbies and let it pass.
During the meeting, it was decided we needed a yahoo group where we could download the critiques the week prior to the meeting. Miss Big and her friend claimed no knowledge of how to set one up, so I volunteered to do it. It's not a big thing, but it does require time and effort.
When the loop was set up, I sent a collective email to the group, alerting them and giving them the address. In return, a public message came from you-know-who, informing me that my services as moderator would not be required because she would be assuming that position...based on her reputation, I'm guessing.
She asked me to remove myself from the moderating list and give ONLY her access to make changes, etc. I tried several ways to change the tone in that email, because I'm a "benefit of the doubt" kinda gal, but no matter how I read it...condescending came to mind.
I think there was a thank you for my effort somewhere in the message, but with all her weight heaving and demeaning attitude, it got lost. I asked myself, "Do you really need this humiliation?" So, I removed my moderating privileges, my name, and I made up some lame excuse why I could no longer participate.
I can only imagine what kind of reception my critiques would have received. I wish I'd had the guts to tell her why I was leaving. that would have been the proper thing to do. People can't fix something if they don't know it's broken...how many times have I said that? But I've always avoided confrontation in my life. It's one of the hardest things for me. I'm working on standing up for myself, but taking baby steps. COWARD...yep, and yellow isn't my favorite color.
Even with the missing emotion and tone from written posts, I've never been insulted by anyone from my on-line group... or made to feel less talented or devalued in any way. I've only received encouragement that made me want to keep plugging along, even when snotty people like Miss Big made me want to fold it all up and walk away.
I highly recommend critique groups. Despite being confusing at times because you receive conflicting suggestions...you have to be wise enough to glean the good from the bad and still maintain your own voice. Critiquing is all about learning, and you can't get that type of experience anywhere else... for free.
I've learned and grown with the help of my critique buddies, and I wouldn't trade their friendships for anything. There are never enough eyes to read a manuscript and find all the errors, but a critique group is a great starting place. And, if you are in a face-to-face one and love it, good for you.
Thanks to alfocus.ala.org for posting the picture I used to yahoo clipart. Hope they don't mind that I've borrowed it to make a point.