Friday, April 1, 2011

The Fiction Writers Co-op

By Kim

Late last year, New York Times bestselling author Cathy Marie Buchanan formed a Facebook group called the Fiction Writers Co-op, a band of fifty published authors who help promote each others' work and cheer each other on. I have been aware of the FWC since its inception since many of the authors involved are among my Facebook friends, but only recently have they been receiving some real press. As many of our readers are aspiring authors, I thought it was long past time to do a post on FWC. Membership in this particular group is currently capped, but one author pointed out that anyone can create a similar group using social networking sites. With the publishing world being what it is today, I have the feeling this is the first of many author co-ops.

For our readers who simply love books, please click here for an official list of books recommended by the FWC.

I apologize ahead of time for the length of this post, but there are five authors visiting us at What Women Write today, and I want to allow them all to have their say. Without further ado, please welcome Cathy Marie Buchanan, Stephanie Cowell, Therese Fowler, Melanie Benjamin and Judy Merrill Larsen.

I will start with Cathy because she is the founder of the FWC. After that, the remaining four authors will join in. I have only listed my questions in Stephanie’s contribution to save space. (This made it necessary to slightly tweak the beginning of some of Therese’s answers for clarity’s sake.)

Cathy Marie Buchanan (The Day the Falls Stood Still)

The idea of starting the co-op came to me when fellow Harper Collins Canada author Catherine McKenzie asked me if I had any great ideas for supporting the upcoming release of her latest novel, Arranged. I was already making daily book-related posts on my Facebook author page and would of course post about Catherine's release. With shrinking traditional media coverage of books, I expected there were plenty of authors on Facebook, with large followings of readers, who would be more than happy to do the same and, in turn, have their releases similarly supported. It was the premise with which I began approaching authors about joining the co-op. About half of those I approached joined. With the creativity, hard work and generosity of the authors involved, the co-op has morphed into a group where we not only promote each others' works but also share marketing know-how and a sense of community.

Stephanie Cowell (Claude and Camille, Marrying Mozart)

WWW: What drew you to join the Fiction Writers Co-op?

SC: I knew Cathy Buchanan and joined early -- before they filled up! I thought, how great to communicate with a group of wonderful fiction writers.

WWW: Have you seen/been a part of any other groups like this before?

SC: No, nothing like this. I have been on groups that helped you with history, but they weren't sharing experiences of working and surviving in the world of professional writing.

WWW: What have you gained from the experience?

SC: I have a great sense of community and know if I have any publishing questions, ten people can give me good advice.

WWW: Have you made any special contributions to the FWC?

SC: Nothing special...sharing agent advice, promoting each of the books on my website and sometimes buying them myself -- what better support is that?

WWW: What types of things do you see the FWC doing in the future?

SC: I guess forging new paths in PR and maybe finding critique partners but, most of all, I hope we can show other writers the real world of publishing and how to navigate it.

WWW: Anything else you wish to add?

SC: I think sometimes some of us are more involved than others at different times. These days I need to concentrate mostly on my book. And I always have to be aware that though most people may have a fan page, I don't wish to and that is enough. (I deleted mine.)

Therese Fowler (Exposure, Souvenir, Reunion)

When I got the invitation, which explained what the group was intended to be and do, I thought a co-op was an incredibly smart idea. A lot of authors-helping-authors goes on informally, but to organize and cooperate formally made so much sense—it would mean the efforts weren’t left to chance or whim.

I was also impressed by how varied the proposed group would be: seasoned pros and debs, award-winners, best sellers, all from an array of genres—Cathy Buchanan had clearly put a lot of thought into the group’s composition. She also asked for a commitment up front, which told me that anyone who accepted the invitation was likely to be a reliable participant.

I have never been in a group in this kind of specific and structured way. The closest comparison might be group blogs such as Jungle Red Writers, The Lipstick Chronicles, or The Girlfriends Book Club.

The FWC is a nascent group, so it’s too early to say whether any of our books’ sales have or will be increased because of the group’s efforts—though of course we hope so. And a lot of what we’re doing is untried, so there will be some hits and some misses along the way, I’m sure.

The sense of community, however, is tremendous and was unexpected. Every writer in the group brings his or her unique wisdom and insight to the mix. When one of us has a question or problem with any aspect of writing or the writing life, the others are quick to offer ideas, advice and support.

Plus, the community extends beyond the group’s parameters because of the close connections we each have to other writers. When I was first published, the idea of authors networking was almost unheard of. There were a lot of author and writer blogs, but Facebook was “for kids” then, and Twitter didn’t exist. I could count maybe three authors as friends.

Our raison d’etre is to assist one another in outreach to readers. So while I don’t know specifically how that will manifest over time, I do know we’ll keep looking for creative ways to connect with readers that are mutually beneficial.

There has been some misunderstanding in the writing community about what the FWC is, so I’d like to help clarify if I can.

We are a group of published authors who have banded together in order to help bring our books to more readers. As any author will tell you, the biggest challenge after getting a book published is getting readers to know it exists. The group size is limited to fifty, despite there being hundreds and hundreds of fantastic authors whose work all of us would support enthusiastically; this is because each member is committed to trumpeting the other members’ books. The whole endeavor takes more time than you might imagine, even with only fifty of us—and our real business, after all, is to write our next books.

So although the FWC is not a general writers support group, we are also not “elitist,” as a few writers have said. Size limit is a practical necessity. Everyone in the FWC was once a struggling writer who dreamed of being published—I personally am in my tenth year at this gig, with six of those years being pre-publication.

Now, that said, many of us do participate in support groups, we volunteer our time, we teach, and we encourage aspiring writers to get in touch with questions. Our public FWC page will sometimes feature articles, interviews, etc. that aspiring writers may find useful. All writers, published and unpublished alike, are working very, very hard to get to do the thing we love. There’s no place for bitterness in the writing world.

Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been, Mrs. Tom Thumb - to be released in July 2011)

The amazing group of writers is what drew me to FWC. I have been invited to participate in other groups—and have done so in the past—but have decided to limit my involvement in these simply because I don't have enough time. The reason why I chose to stay with this group was because of the caliber of the authors, and the fact that it's all taking place on Facebook, which makes it easier for me as I already have a presence there. It doesn't require contributing to a blog, for instance—which is not something I really have the time to do right now.

What most of us have gained, so far, is the behind-the-scenes support; this is a place where we can complain/worry/brainstorm about the life of the published author in a safe, supportive environment. There has been a lot of solid advice given, freely. My husband helped out with sharing what he's learned regarding online advertising for my books, over the years. And then, I was the one who started the Group's Fan Page.

I hope we continue to support each other publicly and privately. The public sharing of each release is so helpful but truly, I think it's the group brainstorming, the sharing of advice that will be most worthwhile, in the long run.

Judy Merrill Larson (All the Numbers)

One day I received an invite from Cathy Buchanan to join the FWC—it was early—there were maybe only 10 to 15 of us at that point. I was thrilled. As you know, writing can be a very solitary endeavor and having other writers to celebrate/commiserate with makes such a huge difference. Plus, I loved the chance to shout out about others' books. I'd been doing that all along, of course, but this made it easier. I suggested a few of my writer buddies to Cathy, and when they joined it was great.

I've never been in a formal writing group (where we sit around and critique each others' work), but, through the wonders of technology/the Internet, I've been lucky enough to be part of some writing groups—I'm part of a group blog—The Girlfriends Book Club and that is similar in that we all support one another and share our triumphs and woes. Writers, at least the ones I've gotten lucky enough to know, are the most supportive folks around.

It's hard to directly relate an increase in sales to these groups, but I know it hasn't hurt. But the best thing has been the sense of camaraderie. We talk about the craft of writing, the frustrations and joys. The goofiness. It makes me feel so much less alone and makes it all so much more fun. I love walking into a bookstore and seeing one of my writing buddy's books on the table. I love saying, "My friend wrote this. You'll love it."

Our group continues to evolve—and we just started in December. I love our fan page—and I think we see it as a cool place for other writers to join in our discussion and really be a place for writers and readers to share. I know everyone is really excited about how we're reaching out to book clubs—in the five years since my book came out, I've met with over 100 book clubs, in person and on the phone, and it's one of my absolute favorite things about being published. Book clubs rock! (Just ask, by the way, and I'll happily meet with 100 more!)

I think, as a group, FWC has just scratched the surface of what we'll do and I just feel so lucky to have been here from the beginning.

Thank you so much Cathy, Stephanie, Therese, Melanie and Judy for being here today.


  1. I can only speak for myself, but a few weeks ago I decided to start a blog where I review books (and also made a fb page) and was thrilled by how many authors joined. I've loved getting information about them, their writing and hearing about books being written by their fellow authors. In starting this adventure to get myself writing again, I have found a wealth of authors I am so excited to read that I hadn't heard of before! I also have found when talking to my friends we all tend to find an author we like and read everything by them and then sit waiting for something new to be written by them. Some of my girlfriends are excited to have me review new authors, so they know who to read. I think you should all be proud of yourselves! I would say your co-op is having success!

    Laura Bolin
    a novel review

  2. Hi Laura,

    If you haven't already, you might look at Christina Meldrum's AMARYLLIS IN BLUEBERRY. I just finished it and thought it was wonderful - at times a little gory, but there's a reason for it. The author is a member of the FWC. I've been working my way though a lot of the books written by members and have yet to be disappointed.


  3. Kim, this is an exceptional idea! I loved reading the interview! There is power in numbers and no one supports women like a female writer! Love it!!! jink willis

  4. Hi Jink,

    Thanks for stopping by! I think it's a fantastic idea as well. Wish my book had been finished in time to join the group while they were still gathering new members! It's a fantastic group of writers, some of whom are my favorites. I imagine this may end up the first of several co-ops.


  5. Thanks for writing about the co-op, Kim. A lovely piece.

    BTW, by clicking on the Kim's link to the list of books recommended by the FWC (second paragraph), book clubs have all they need to schedule a skype visit or author chat with a co-op author. One of our marketing intitatives!

  6. Thanks Kim! I'm adding it to my list!

  7. Cathy,

    Thank you for pointing that out!


  8. Such an inspiring post, Kim. Loved reading how this group started and continues to develop.


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