INTERVIEW: Charlotte Dillon
Charlotte Dillon's website, Charlotte's Web, has been named one of Writer’s Digest’s top picks, and her listserve, The Romance Writers' Community (RWC), is a great asset to ~2,000 romance writers who want to connect. Therese and Kathleen recently chatted with Charlotte about the importance of building associations in an otherwise lonely profession and how she got her start as web mistress extraordinaire!
Interview with Charlotte Dillon
Q: How important do you think it is for writers to seek out other writers through different forums?
A: Writing is a solitary activity. Often the people around us who we normally count on for support, like family and close friends, really have no idea what we are going through when we get stuck in that sagging middle or get a rejection, or even win a writing contest or an award. Other writers get it, they've been there, they sympathize and celebrate with us in a way only another writer can.
Q: When did you decide to go from being Charlotte Dillon, writer, to Charlotte Dillon, writer, web mistress and Yahoo group queen? What was your journey like?
A: I was writing, had been writing romance, since 1991. In 1996, I got my first computer and access to the Internet. Right off, I joined a couple of writing groups for romance authors. It seemed so great to be able to ask a question about writing or research and know all of these people, other writers, would see that question and answer if they could. After a while I noticed a lot of people asked the same kinds of writing questions when they joined the group, and even the same kind of research questions. I started saving links and info for myself, and then I figured out how to make a free site with this online place called Zoom. I realized I could put that info there and anyone with the Internet could get to it. There were really very few free sites with info for romance authors—maybe three. That was ten years ago. Zoom disappeared and I moved to a free Yahoo site.
The group, The Romance Writers' Community (RWC), came a few years later. There seemed to be so few e-mail groups for romance authors. There was only really one that I cared much for. The others seemed to be dead all the time or in an uproar with people throwing flames if anyone breathed too deeply. I swear if one person wrote in and said a stop sign was red, ten others would write and swear it was blue and add a few "how dare yous" to things.
I started looking for other groups, larger groups with other kinds of writers in them. I found one and thought I would join, but first I had to send in a writing sample. Okay, I thought, this wouldn’t be a problem. (I had been writing for years by this point.) Then I turned in a sample and got turned down cold. When I started asking around, I found out the group wasn't very "open" to romance authors and only allowed a very few in. That just made me mad. I hate it when I run into people who think romance writing isn't "real" writing, and that if they can't ever make money from their "real" writing, then they might churn out a couple of quick romance novels to make some fast, easy money. (Can't wait until they try. Add evil laugh here. :) )
Anyway, instead of sitting there being mad, I just decided to start my own writing group—a group just for romance writers. I figured if I was lucky, maybe I'd end up with fifty members, or maybe even an amazing amount, like a hundred. I wouldn't let the group sit dead, and everyone would be nice and respectful. I wanted the group to be a comfortable place for romance writers to come to support and encourage each other.
Five years later, I've kept the latter part of that dream alive, but I kind of underestimated the size RWC would become. A couple of months ago, the group topped over the fourteen-hundred mark! And that number just counts those writers on the main group. RWC has a number of sister lists as well, and you don't have to belong to the main list to belong to one or more of the others, so there's no way of knowing how many RWC members in total there are out there. My best guess is well over two thousand.
Q: Has being a part of such a large writer’s community helped you to grow as a writer? How?
A: Oh, boy. I don't know where to start with this one. :) I've learned so much over the years from RWC members. I know my writing has gotten better thanks to workshops members have given, questions they've answered. Even writing problems we've helped each other work through in the group. I've also learned a lot of market stuff, and behind the scene stuff, ect... More than writing, I've learned a lot about not giving up or in. Some members have really fought to finish a book or make a first sale, or just to get back to their writing.
On top of all of the writing stuff, I've made more friends through RWC than I can count. I had no idea how many until I started getting messages after Katrina. I'm sure I've made some enemies over the years too. That comes with having rules and making every one follow them. No one is going to agree with you all of the time. But I think I've probably made a hundred good friends at least, to each one person who has gotten angry at me over a reminder or something I wouldn't let them post. I think those are pretty good numbers. :)
Q: You mentioned the sister communities RWC has. Tell us a little about them and what they're all there for.
A: The main RWC group covers most things about romance writing, including craft, research, writing contests, etc... But when the group started getting too big, I found there were some things that held enough interest on their own to be moved to a stand-alone group. No chit-chat is allowed on the main list, so we have a social group. There's a group where members do critiques, one for weekly writing prompts, one to learn about promo, one for readers, and so on. People are free to join whichever groups interest them. They can mix and match to get the best fit for their needs.
Note: You can learn more about RWC’s sister lists here.
Q: Have you seen any trends in the type of posts you've gotten (like are more people interested in the promo side of the business, etc...)?
A: I don't know that I've ever noticed any trends. There's almost always a good mixture of subjects. RWC has members who are just starting to write all the way up to some who have reached the best of the best lists. So that means one person might write in wanting to know how to format a query letter while another will write about research for a character's job in her WIP, and another will ask about cheap promo that works.
Q: For someone who isn't a part of a Yahoo! community, tell us what needs to be done to be a good "guest" and to get the most from the RWC experience.
A: When you join any group, don't jump in head first. Take a breath, then read the welcome info and the group rules. Most big groups all have a number of the same basic rules, but many have different ones too.
Knowing the rules and following them will save you and the group owner a whole lot of time and trouble. It means you will enjoy being a part of the group and get much more out of it.
With any e-mail group, remember that respect and watching what you send in is a must. E-mails are black and white, and they can be forwarded to others with a simple click. Word spreads. Don't write anything in an e-mail about anyone unless you are willing to look that person in the eye and repeat it, and won't mind if a few hundred people know you said it. When you send an e-mail, your words and reactions tell people a whole lot about the kind of person you are. Don't forget that some people hang around on e-mail groups and never post a message. For all you know the writer, agent, or editor you most want to impress has just read a message where you were a snot to someone for no "good" reason, or where you talked bad about him or her. Of course this could happen even with private mail, so maybe it's best to always think before you type.
Q: Finally, how do you balance between your web responsibilities and your writing time?
A: I can answer that with three words: Not very well. I will admit that things have kind of grown out of control and take up much more time than I ever thought. For a couple of years now it has seemed that my own writing comes in dead last. That's something I'm going to have to work out, maybe by asking for help with the groups or by pushing the updates to my site back even more. I'm not sure yet, but I know it's something I can handle and figure out.
I'm not really trying to write for now, because to be honest, since Katrina's eye tore though my town last year, I haven't written more than a couple of words. I've tried, but I never get more than a day or two into things before I give up. We are almost through with the repairs to our home. They should all be finished in a month. So I'm hoping when that is done, and things aren't so crowded and more normal, the writing bug will bite me again. I know I haven't lost my love for writing. The story I have started still calls to me almost daily, but it’s like it's a long distance call right now that can't reach all the way through--like maybe from Mars. :) I've been through this before, when I lost my mother and then when I lost my father. I never thought a hurricane would have the same affect, but it has. So I'm just going to wait it out. When the writing starts flowing again, I'll make time for it. I always have.
THANK YOU, Charlotte Dillon, for sharing your expertise with us!
- Kathleen and Therese