Are they really free? Are they actually helpful?
Why do writers subscribe to these lists?
Why do people start lists for writers?
While there's no definite answers to any of those questions, I can share some opinions of other writers, who have participated in discussion lists, and links to websites with more information so you can make your own decision!
First let's start with the basics. An email discussion list is not the same as an ezine, an email newsletter or an announcement list.
A discussion list is different because it allows you as a subscriber to post your own messages, as well as read and reply to messages from other subscribers. The ability to interact with other people is the defining feature of email discussion lists.
Many such lists exist - some with as few as 5 subscribers and others with more than 500 subscribers. The number of posts each day varies just as much depending upon the list.
For example, Childrens-Writers List which is dedicated to the discussion of writing (and illustrating) for children, including such topics as creativity, work styles and techniques, marketing and promotion, dealing with rejection, etc. - has more than 500 members and had more than 1,200 postings last month.
While the Romance Writers Support Group, which was created to discuss romance writing and offer encouragement and advice to romance writers, had less than 100 messages posted between its 34 members in the year 2000.
This is one of the reasons that most email discussion list hosts offer subscribers the option to receive individual emails or a daily digest of all messages. Some hosts also allow subscribers to read the list only on the web (by logging into the list archives at the host site, subscribers can choose how often they read the postings).
You never know what you may learn from others, who share your interests and goals. By communicating with other writers via discussion lists, you can potentially find support, advice, ideas and new resources.
Just as list size and posting frequency varies, the content and quality of messages are equally diverse depending upon the other participants and list owners. But the only way you'll find out if discussion lists can be beneficial to you, is by giving them a shot! You have nothing to lose - most are free! And you're usually not required to post messages or respond to others' messages, if you choose not to.
You can just sign up, read postings at your leisure and then decide whether you want to contribute or cancel your subscription!
Selecting a discussion list that will deliver what you want is obviously a subjective process. However, you may want to read some opinions of other writers, who have participated in various lists.
So why do writers subscribe to discussion lists?
"Subscribing to a writers list is the same as shopping for new shoes,'' says "Shydove." "It takes trial and error, but then you find the right group, the 'write' answers of which you can pick and choose at will."
"I chose a diverse group of writers in A Writing Parent as I am a stay at home grandmother.'' Shydove added. "New to online writing, and still seeking my muse and genre, there are varied questions I ask that someone is ready to answer. They have been more than willing to share their experience with me.''
"I generally subscribe because I want to be kept in touch but will not remember to visit as a favourite as mine are so many,'' says Jennifer Francis, who is currently subscribed to a few lists. "I am a member of two or three good ones covering public relations, sponsorship and sometimes the others present interesting articles and/or links. But convenience is the main issue for me to be kept in touch. I think it is an efficient way of being informed of a variety of thing that would take days of scanning newspapers, magazines and the fabulous opportunity of getting another take from likeminded people around the world."
"I'm a debut historical romance author, or at least I was when I joined the Tobeez email loop," says Cheré Coen, Online features editor for The Advocate Online. "Tobeez stands for To Be Published. The group began when a few newly published romance authors began chatting online and realized there were many things new authors needed to know and that other new authors could benefit from such a network. This list has been my saving grace. I have learned so many things that only come from going to conferences, chapter meetings of the Romance Writers of America (which I'm a member) and from doing a lot of reading in industry magazines, none of which I have much time or money for. We exchange information about promotions, booksignings, contract negotiations, agents, editors, press kits, personal fears and good reviews, among much more. The list contains members from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most of the United States, and because of this we are also able to share information on research for upcoming novels."
"I'm subscribed to a half dozen lists related to books, writing, and publishing,'' says Peggy Tibbetts, Author of Carly's Ghost and Rumors of War. "Booklocker's online promotion kit and "Secrets of Our Success" both recommend discussion lists as a good way to promote online to a broad audience. What I've found to be rather curious in reality is that there is a surprisng number of list subscribers who deeply resent promotional posts by other subscribers, some to the point of calling them spam. As a result lots of posts are generated arguing and complaining about the propriety of promotional posts. In the end, what's more aggravating, deleting one promo post that doesn't interest you or eight to ten posts bickering over it? Seems like a no brainer to me. I don't understand why someone would subscribe to a list and then complain about promo content related to the subject matter. In my mind, part of the purpose of subscribing is to learn what's new and what others are doing online--a means of sharing. If that involves promo posts, then so be it. Perhaps it's incumbent on the list moderators to clarify for their subscribers whether promo posts are acceptable. Obviously everyone agrees that a promo post about a new weight loss program on a publish list is inappropriate. But as for promo posts related to the list topic, there's currently a good deal of ambiguity, even controversy."
"I began an "Intranet" site rather than a listserv, as I felt that this would enable people to chime in on their own accord, rather than filling an inbox ..." says Julie Selman, Seattle Writergrrl, Webgrrl, Techwr-L'er, Woman of the Woods... "My husband is an active member of a listserv that has been a real community for him for years. These people share the same passion, and they are very, very involved. They will be meeting in the spring for the first time at a conference that they are setting up. I know that he and I will be looking forward to it. Drawbacks that we have both seen is that we feel guilty if we have not read all of the listserv -- and we both subscribe to listservs in digest form. Cross postings do happen, especially if you belong to several listservs for the same community. Managing them is more time than either of us usually have. People on some of the lists are not aware of the "etiquette" of cut and paste -- or don't know how to sign up or get off, or how the communication works -- or about propriety ... some things you just don't post to an entire list! Lurkers are an issue -- how do you know what you are posting won't get back at you in some way? Who is listening, anyway? On the more positive side, it is a constant source for information and contacts in areas that interest us. They can be deleted, and often the archives can be visited on some associated web site. Like the early days of bulletin boards, I would imagine that these lists will evolve, and some of the issues will "fall away."
© Danielle Hollister (2004) is the Publisher of the Free Ezine for Writers featuring news, reviews, and continuously updated links to the best resources for writers online like - freelancing & jobs, markets & publishers, literary agents, classes & contests, and more... Read it online at - http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art157.asp