PARTICULARLY IF YOU LIVE in or near a major city, locating a writers’ group is not difficult at all. A few minutes on Google or Meetup is all it should take to give you several to choose from.
But narrowing that field down to the groups that are right for you? That’s going to take a little research.
First, even if the group is billed as a fiction-writers’ workshop, you need to find out if it is composed of your kind of fiction writers. If you write Christian mystery, and the group you are considering is composed primarily of people who specialize in erotica … that is probably not going to work out very well. If romance writers predominate in a group, they may come with some surprisingly rigid expectations regarding the relationships in your novel—expectations that may or may not fit with your vision. And if you write speculative or fantasy fiction, but your group is neck-deep into crime novels or thrillers, then neither of you may “get it” when it comes to the other’s genre.
Ideally, you want to find a group composed of people who love the sort of fiction you love.
By far the best way to do this is to know something about the group going in. If you have friends or colleagues who participate in writers’ groups, you can ask them about their groups: what they like about them, and where they feel they might fall a little short. Or if you’re the only writer in your circle of friends and family, you can do a little research; start with the reviews or comments online, look at the group’s blog if it has one, and see if they maintain a calendar and, if so, what sort of activities they have. For instance, some groups will have published authors in from time to time to talk about their work and share their path to publication, and that’s always a nice plus.
Look at the frequency of the meetings; anything less than weekly may not give you the consistent feedback you are looking for, while a group that meets several times a week will probably overwhelm you, if you are trying to both write and hold down a conventional job.
If the group has been running for a while, what success stories does it have? It’s always good to know that several of the alumni—or even the current participants—have written saleable fiction and are producing work that is welcomed in the marketplace.
Check also to see if there is a cost. A nominal amount to cover the cost of meeting space and refreshments is not unreasonable. Some groups meet in bookstores or libraries or church breakout rooms, and so the space is free, but they ask members to chip in to cover incidentals. But if the cost seems steep, that’s a red flag—the results you will see from a writers’ group will not be instantaneous, and you want to be certain that whatever you are paying is something you can foot month after month for years.
And if you can’t find this information online, phone up the contact person for the group and ask about it.
When you find a group (or two or three) that seems promising, reach out to the contact person and ask if you can sit in for a meeting or two and observe. Most workshops will be more than fine with this; they want people who are a good fit for their group just as much as you want to find a group that will work for you.