On Finding Your Tribe

Edith here, north of Boston, a little too busy but soaking up fall sunshine and brilliant leaf colors.

We published authors often advise beginning writers to “find your tribe.” But what does that mean and why do we say it?

Here’s why I say it. Without the support from all kinds of writing organizations and groups, I know I would not be multi-published now. That kind of support, networking, and constant learning is a key to success. Of course we writers have to keep our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keyboard in order to finish the book, but beyond that? Hanging out with other writers (whether in person or virtually) is supremely important. Here’s my story.

When I first started writing fiction more than twenty years ago, I found a local critique group. I joined three other unpublished women in a carpool to author Susan Oleksiw‘s home several towns away, where we would read scenes we’d written and have her and each other critique it. I’d never taken a creative writing class (despite holding a PhD) and I learned so much about point of view, use of names, when to insert weather and when not to, as well as basic storytelling.

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Some years later I discovered the New England Crime Bake, attended for the first time, and promptly  joined both Sisters in Crime National and the New England chapter, going to my first chapter meeting a month later in Kate Flora‘s living room. I met Sheila Connolly there, and others who are now luminaries in our chapter. I started taking SINCNE workshops, meeting Barb Ross at one, and Sherry Harris at a meeting she hosted on the local air force base. I met Julie Hennrikus and Jessie Crockett at SINCNE meetings, too. I joined the Guppies, a big online SINC chapter for the Great Unpublished, where we all share information and learn from each other (and they let the published among us stay on!).

Seascape group 2009

Seascape 2009

After I finished my first novel, I dipped into the Guppies Agent Search subgroup and then the Small Press subgroup, finally finding a reputable small press. I joined a different critique group, the Monday Night Writers, and read nearly all the scenes from my first five or six manuscripts on years of Monday nights, learning all the way. I attended the Seascape weekend writing retreat with teachers Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard. There I got to know Liz Mugavero, Ramona DeFelice Long, and Kim Gray for the first time. We all received coaching on various subparts of our manuscripts, were given time for revision, and cemented some lasting friendships. My first mystery, Speaking of Murder, was published with a small press exactly five years ago, written as Tace Baker.

After an agent came knocking at Sheila Connolly’s email door when she was President of SINCNE, and she sent his search for authors out to the membership, I hopped right on it. I signed on with him and put my Jane Hancock on a three-book contract with Kensington Publishing within a month’s time. We six Wicked Cozys all share that same agent, and we formed the core of the Wicked Cozy Authors blog a couple of years later, which of course is the best lifeboat tribe evah.

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I started going to Bouchercon,  Left Coast Crime, and the California Crime Writers conference as well as my annual appearance at Malice Domestic. I snagged more contracts, wrote more books, and soon my short stories and novels were being nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. Well-known authors agreed to blurb my books, including Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kate Flora, and Rhys Bowen.

Last week I returned from Bouchercon in Toronto where Louise Penny gave me a hug and signed her latest book for my Canadian sister. I soaked up wisdom and laughs from old friends and new and heard all kinds of kind words about my work from avid mystery fans.

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Three stellar authors: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, and Rhys Bowen in Toronto

I’m part of the Newburyport Writers, a local writers’ group that crosses all genres and all kinds of fiction and nonfiction, but we gather for food and valuable information-sharing once a month. And a lovely cross-genre group of five of us toured local libraries for a couple of years and shared our widely varying paths to publication. We of the Nevertheless Writers are still friends and turn out for fun evenings like Witches Night Out!

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Nevertheless Writers (from left) Nancy Crochiere, Susan Paradis, Holly Robinson, me, and Elizabeth Atkinson

And I also check in with Ramona DeFelice Long’s Sprint Club on Facebook every morning before seven. It’s a great start to the workday to know that writers scattered around the country are all sitting down for an hour of uninterrupted work just like I am.

NONE of my modest successes would have happened without these various members of my tribe. Not a bit of it. Well, maybe I would have stayed in my virtual garret, cranking out words. But they wouldn’t be very good ones, and I would have been their only reader. Now I’ve completed book #17 and have a half dozen more under contract. With actual fans out there!

Readers: Who is your tribe? Who do you turn to when you want to learn new things, need a professional shoulder to cry on, or have joyous craft news to share?

46 thoughts on “On Finding Your Tribe

  1. Loved your post.

    I have a great circle of friends I can turn to; my book buddies, my really smart friends, my friends who inspire me, and my mature friends who teach me about life.

    Google is my friend too for when I need to know something in an instant at 1:00 a.m. ( :

  2. I’d always believed that writers were loners, but once I joined Sisters in Crime my eyes were opened. What an amazing and supportive group! The only other group that comes close is my college classmates–we may not see each other for years at a time, but when we do get together, singly or in groups, we just pick up talking again.

  3. I have a few tribes, too–the Sisters in Crime community, the Delaware arts community, my wonderful mindful writers community. Seascape was such a wonderful experience–and so many of us have kept in touch. I had no idea then that my career would take a slightly different path, but I am fortunate to have made such beneficial connections along the way.

  4. Hi, Edith, and Everyone! Anyone interested in virtual communication? As an overscheduled TV news anchor and author, I find it challenging to physically show up for groups and events–and that’s tough, because as this post explains, they’re so crucial in supporting our collective efforts. If any of you know or suggest a group looking for a new member who’s great with public speaking advice but could use marketing expertise, I’m your gal!

  5. Edith,
    Your points about tribes and supporting each other are well made. You are the poster child for that kind of personal interconnections….. and I am one, who having been adopted by you and part of your tribe at a Malice, followed by a Crimebake, cherish your willingness (and that of the Wicked Cozy Group) to ever expand the tribe. Writing can be solitary and there is so much a beginning writer doesn’t know, so I’m thankful for everything that has eased the way including my involvement with all of you, the Guppies (yay!), SinC, and various other local and no so local groups.

  6. And my first year at Malice, you and the other Wickeds so wonderfully welcomed me to the mix.

    I have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve gotten from mystery people in the last couple of weeks. It has had me crying a time or two. For those who don’t know, I’m from Santa Rosa. My brother lost his house in the fires up there, and my parents spent a week under mandatory evacuation, although their house was spared. So many offers to help from people who know me but have never met the rest of my family truly mean so very much.

    Thanks for including me in the tribe.

    • We are happy to have you, Mark, as a reader and as such a strong supporter of cozy and traditional mysteries! I might have missed a post on how to support your brother – let us know, okay?

  7. Edith, enjoyed your post! Sometimes I feel like such a loner–all those hours alone in my home office–then I remind myself I have a wonderful supportive critique group, and great friends through Sisters in Crime. I would never have been published had I not taken mystery novel courses from Noreen Wald at the Bethesda Writer’s Center in Maryland. Barb Goffman, Alan Orloff, Mary Ann Corrigan and other fellow unpublished authors were in those classes way back when! Noreen was a fabulous mentor and I owe her a lot. Even though I live in SC now, I have kept my Chessie Chapter membership. Thouse gals are entirely too valuable to lose! So yes, you are so right. We must find a path that will lead us to our tribe!

  8. I’m not a writer, but I love learning what goes into writing a good book. Edith, you are always a fount of information about how hard good writing is and all the work that goes into it. Thank you for continuing to educate us all.

  9. Malice Domestic, Level Best Books, and Mysteristas are my tribe. I recently joined a writing group which has no focus and there is only one other mystery writer. It’s good to have people comment on the writing in general but it’s not the same as having someone who loves and reads mystery.

  10. Terrific blog today. Very helpful and very positive. I also find that in networking with my various tribes, there is a huge amount of great conversation that takes place that I don’t always find in other areas. By having various connections to a variety of tribes, I find an enrichment to my knowledge and my soul that can’t be beat! Thank you!

  11. A well timed blog for me—I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask about some of this on the guppy listserve. I’ve been feeling more of a need for this personally and professionally lately, but have been a little stumped about how to make it happen. Any advice for the still new-but starting to grow writers? What did you find most helpful? Thanks for any insight and the great blog! Melissa

    • Melissa, don’t ever be shy about asking Guppies for advice and experience! That’s what the group is for. I’d say look for any of the kinds of groups I mention: your local SINC chapter, a local critique group (ask at the library if they know of one), a writing center. Best of luck!

      • Thanks, Edith! Sounds like I’m on the right path then and just need to give it more time. 🙂

  12. I have have made wonderful friends from my Central Jersey Sisters in Crime group. I also made contacts and friends at my first Malice Domestic last year. Writers may work alone but we need support and friendship to keep going. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  13. Excellent post, Edith. My very first tribe was the Florida Freelance Writer’s Association back in the 1970s. Still a member. I joined back then because I was too timid to put the word “writer”
    on my business cards so I let their logo do it for me. I still don’t use the word, but the logo now is Mystery Writers of America! Other tribes now include Pinellas Writers (meet every Saturday morning) Wordsmiths (once a month) Small un-named critique group (once a month) Bay Area Professional Writers Guild (once a month) Also, Florida Writers Assn., Sisters in Crime. Cat Writers of America, Authors Guild.

  14. I agree with all of this and have benefited in exactly the same way, Edith. I’ll add that my tribe consists now of former members of critique groups formed through the Guppies, as well as a couple of face-to-face groups I belonged to in Texas. Writing IS lonely, but online gatherings are life-saving, and writers’ conferences are loads and loads of fun when we finally get together.

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