16 December 1997

From: Norman Bauman
Subject: Re: [MW] Writers' groups: How to Establish
Date: 07:31 PM 12/16/97

At 03:59 PM 12/16/97 EST, AnWinEsp wrote:
>I plan to start a writers' group with a few magazine writers in my area. (The
>writers I have so far write in the same, specialized field as I do: health and
>Any advice on starting the group?
>Should we be in different fields, or is it helpful to have homogeneity?
>What should be on the agenda for the first meeting?
>Is once a month for lunch a good plan?
>How do we get the most out of the group?
>How do we make sure business gets accomplished and that we don't just talk
>about our families, etc.?

I don't know what your area is, but I've been active in several writers' organizations in New York City, mostly in the specialty of medicine and health. They made my career.

The National Writers Union, the Editorial Freelancers Association, the National Association of Science Writers, and the American Medical Writers Association all have regular meetings, and they are very sucessful in terms of helping people get contacts, work, support, advice, and all of the benefits of congregation.

The format ranges from getting together at a restaurant for lunch or dinner, to a pot-luck party at somebody's home, to an evening get-together with potato chips, to a formal meeting with invited speakers. Sometimes we had a formal topic, sometimes we didn't. Sometimes we announced the meeting with a post-card mailing, and sometimes with a telephone tree.

The meeting usually starts by going around and introducing ourselves with a 1- or 2-sentence introduction (although that takes too long with more than about a dozen people). Business cards are obligatory.

At the freelancer's group of the now-defunct New York Business Press Editors, which met every month at somebody's home, we said that the "price of admission" was that everybody had to bring something useful to the group--a lead for work, or a cheap place to buy faxes, or a useful book, etc., which we announced as we went around at the beginning of the meeting. If you're a reporter, you should be able to come up with something useful once a week! (I think that's the way this conference should be).

If somebody had a particular problem, like collecting bills, or how much to charge for a project, we would throw it open to the group, and sometimes that would be the topic of the evening. Sometimes we would have a formal topic, such as collecting bills, or getting corporate work, or advertising, or resumes and brochures, or computers, or reselling your work. Sometimes we would just use our collective wisdom, sometimes we would have a volunteer prepare a topic, and sometimes we would invite an outside speaker. For example, we invited a woman who did speechwriting, and another writer who did ghostwriting for doctors.

The National Writers Union science writers group had a similar series of meetings, except that we usually met in a restaurant, and it was more of a social get-together and less formally structured. The woman who organized the group made a list of names, addresses and 1-paragraph bios of everyone in the group. When one of us got a call for a job that we couldn't handle, which is frequent in the specialized science writing business, we would pass the work onto somebody else. A good way to make friends!

The NYC local of the NWU, BTW, used to provide members with a list of every member in your zip code, so that you could call them and invite them to an event like this.

The Editorial Freelancers Association has monthly meetings in its office, usually with a panel of speakers. We have general meetings, and we also have a medical writers group that flourishes off and on, whenever somebody takes an interest in it. My bias is towards the medical writing.

Sometimes the speakers are "buying editors" who buy magazine articles, books, or book editing services. One successful pitch is to tell them that we'll have 4 or 5 speakers, and all we want them to do is speak for 5 or 10 minutes and take questions. (That way they don't have any burden of preparation. Also if you have 4 or 5 speakers, if one doesn't show up, the show can go on.) I've found that it's pretty easy to get editors of even the top magazines if you invite them to a meeting like this. For example, we got 3 editors of biotechnology publications. We had 3 cardiologists from Columbia University give us a briefing.

Sometimes the speakers are people within the group, who discuss some particular growing market that they are successful in, such as hospital public relations or medical video production, or some topic of importance to writers such as collecting bills, marketing, or creating a business strategy. Then we break up for a social period.

The National Writers Union had a series of meetings called "Evenings with Editors," in which we got editors from a lot of the top consumer magazines.

It seems to depend on having one enthusiastsic person who is willing to do the work. Generally when somebody organizes the meetings, we have great activities, and when that person doesn't have any more time, the activities end. It's not a *lot* of work, but it is a responsibility--you have to arrange the meeting place, speakers, potato chips, etc. The person who organizes the group usually benefits from it even more than the individual members--you get to choose the topics, invite anybody you want, and get first grabs at pitching your work to editors. One woman who ran the National Writers Union business writers luncheon was so principled that she didn't want to take advantage of the situation by asking the editors for work herself. "That would be unethical," she said. Somebody else told her, "You dummy, that's why you're doing it."

If anybody is in New York, I'll be glad to let you know of the activities that I hear about. (As I noted previously, the Editorial Freelancers Association holiday party is on 30 December 1997, 5:30-8:30pm, at the EFA office, 71 W. 23 St. Non-members should RSVP at (212) 929-5411.