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I put a shortened version of the posts I'm going to do over the next few weeks up on a private blog and the consensus was that a longer, more detailed version of them would be good. (Also known as Blame Someone Else.)

For context: I live miles away from any centres of sff-dom, but I've released my first book to a reasonable buzz, and thought I'd share what has worked for me in terms of getting my name out there. I'm far from a success story yet, but I've done better in terms of profile than would be expected at this stage, so some of it might be useful to someone.

So, here we go - from sff hermit to something-a-little-better. What I did. (Clue - it took work. Lots of it. This advice is not for those who hope fortune will come knocking.) What I did, point one:

I joined online communities.

There are limited conventions and sff specialist writing groups where I am. (But they are growing, go NI!. So, seeking honest critique and some writing company, I reached out to online communities. In my case, I settled into the, and made myself at home. Some would say rather too much at home. I haven't quite been there four years but I have something in the region of 10,500 posts. That's a lot of postings. Now, I grant you a lot of these posts consist of "hee", "help me" and "thanks for the help" but some are a little more detailed.

I also joined, at various stages, Critters, Critique Circle, Absolute Write, Skypen and SFFworld. Some of these I'm an infrequent poster on, some I've lapsed and moved on from, some I'm new to. Regardless, there are some rules that apply equally to all. So, here we go, my 10 Commandments of being an aspiring writer in an online community.

Thou shalt give more than you take. It is incredible how many people turn up at sites with one thing in mind - to promote themselves or their work. Communities are not the forum for that (unless they have a specific area for it, in which case post but be aware most people will ignore it unless they know you.) They're a gathering of like-minded people who want to talk about a specific subject. You turning up and yelling about yourself makes you seem like the boorish idiot at the bar.

If you want a crit, give some. If you want promotion, go spread the word for others in need of it. Consider it karma. For me, it came back in spades - but only because it was honestly meant in the first place:

Thou shalt be yourself If you're going to post a lot, sooner or later your true self will show. Better it's not a horrid surprise to everyone. If you have an agenda, state it. I can cope with people announcing they're there for the crits, provided they're honest. I'll be less aggrieved than if I give them one and then they scarper - at least it was my decision to. But if they've strung me along, I sure as heck won't give them a crit the next time.

Thou shalt be polite Be nice to people. It's not hard. Don't flame them or, if you do, expect to be flamed back. Why people turn up online and seem to leave their manners at the sign-in page is beyond me, but it certainly doesn't make me want to support them.

Thou shalt remember you're online These communities can be very cosy. It can feel like a private chatroom. It's not. Everything you're putting out there is being seen by every other member and every lurker. And, believe me, on popular sites there are many lurkers. My golden rule on this one is not to post anything that I might not want to see again in a few years time. I can't say, hand on my heart, I've always acheived that but I have tried.

Thou shalt not post drunk Just don't. By the time you wake up and realise it's a bad mistake, it's too late - even if the site allows you to delete posts (some don't) someone else may have quoted it, and someone certainly will have seen it.

Thou shalt not stretch yourself too thin Community involvement takes time. If you try to be on every one, and very active, it won't work. For me, having one central community and a couple of casual is more than enough. For others, that would be too much. And, even if you're only a casual visitor, refer back to point one. For every post about yourself, stick up two to help someone else, but ---

Thou shalt not talk rubbish Many people use communities to get much needed advice, and they don't need wrong advice. If you don't know your comma from a full stop, don't advise on grammar. If you haven't queried an agent in a decade, don't advise on how to do it. Let someone who does know help.

Thou shalt get to know your community It's hard to know who to listen to. Who is knowledgeable, and who just wants to seem to be? Spend some time reading posts and get to know who's who. Only then can you make sense out of what can be, especially on busy sites, pages and pages of conflicting posts.

Thou shalt abide by the rules Even if they irk you. Even if they seem stupid and pointless. Most communities are run by volunteers who put hours into them. You're in their kingdom. If they ask you not to swear, or post links, or - whatever... just don't. Smile and stay, or grit your teeth and leave.

Thou shalt remember your place Your place is obvious when you're a newby: be nice to everyone, work out what's what and then see where you are.

But once you're established it can be easy to forget how you seem to others. Sometimes big posters can be off putting. They know everyone, they have in-jokes all over the place, they know what they're talking about and they can be, frankly, terrifying. Think about how you come across.

Seems a lot of hassle, maybe? Perhaps you're wondering if there are so many ways to fall foul, why be there? And, in fact, I'd say if you're finding it a chore being there, if you're not enjoying that community and its interactions, you shouldn't be there. Move on. Find a vehicle that works for you.

For me, though, an online community has brought more than it's ever taken. People who retweet and share my promo stuff. Readers. Some reviews. My own forum ( A writing group. Peer support. Friends. My word, the friends. Without the community support I would not still be writing. I met my publisher in the community, and my editor. Without it, there would be no book.

So, that's the first thing I did: join a community. It might not be the first thing you do, or the vehicle you use - conventions are another way to do it. But I found it useful, and fun and rewarding.

Next week: social networks. Facebook, twitter. What are they good for? How can they be utilised? Have they any worth?

My first book, Abendau's Heir, is out and available from and from Amazon. It's the first of a trilogy, a dark space opera with fantasy elements.


Blair B. Burke said…
Good guidelines. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series :)
Carissa Taylor said…
Thanks for sharing this! I'm not published yet, but have loved the online writing community so much these past few years. Now that I'm writing YA sci-fi I've been looking for some great places to hang out and meet others, so I really appreciate the tips. Can't wait for the rest of the series!

... and now to check out your books!
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thanks so much! I put up a short list of what all I did in a more private blog and asked if it would be useful and the consensus was that it would be, so it's nice that it is. :)

Claudine G. said…
Community support is extremely important and has made our writing paths easier to walk on (and we all know it isn't an easy path at all).
Joanne Zebedee said…
I know, it's the lifeblood of it all, I think.
Andrea Luhman said…
Great post, and it's great advice that stretches to how to behave on any kind of forum. I look forward to your series.
Joanne Zebedee said…
Thank you! Yes, I need to get back to this series - I'll plan one out over the next week or two!