Along with my co-leader Clay Morgan and featured speaker Blake Kimzey, twenty other Metroplex nonfiction authors showed up to meet each other, talk craft and shop, and hear Blake deliver an imminently helpful speech on getting published, fighting rejection, and being sought after as a writer.
If you’re local and this already sounds like something you’d be interested in, RSVP to our next meeting via the Dallas NFAA Meetup group.
If you’d like to learn how I got involved with this group—and maybe glean a few insights into how you can (and likely should) volunteer to lead a writers group, read on.
Lesson 1: Investigate what intrigues you.
In December 2016, I had the glad opportunity to be one of eighty-six publishing professionals to be interviewed for the Publishing Success Summit. That number also included Stephanie Chandler, an author and speaker. I listened intently to her talk but forgot most of what she said when she casually mentioned she was also the CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association.
I’d never heard of the organization, and I’d like to think I keep up very well with the incredible tools, resources, and organizations that are available these days for writers. I visited nonfictionauthorsassociation.com as soon as I finished listening to her talk.
From there, I browsed through the immense number of benefits to joining the Nonfiction Authors Association. But what was most compelling to me were the local chapter meetups. I quickly clicked on the NFAA Directory of Local Chapters and browsed the list of twenty-nine cities, half of which seemed like they were looking for leaders.
Once I found Dallas, I saw “Accepting Applications for Chapter Leader.” Figuring I had little to lose and much to gain should I be accepted, I applied in January 2017. The timing was right as a few of my new goals for this year, professionally speaking, were to get out of the house more, network with other writers, and seek more speaking engagements. Though the local chapter meetings of the Nonfiction Authors Association wouldn’t need me to speak as an expert, becoming a chapter leader would force me to shirk my introvert ways and connect with more writers.
Thankfully, gratefully, I was accepted. Planning for a late March launch began in February.
Lesson 2: Give yourself plenty of time to launch.
I was fortunate to have had some momentum from a former launch, as the Dallas Nonfiction Authors Association Meetup group that’s used for reservations and group communications already had 100+ members before I began leading the group.
For February and March, I had two goals:
- Seek a space to meet.
- Find experts to speak.
I also strove to connect with the NFAA members online, but I knew that finding the right place to meet and the right people to speak would be key to getting any members to get out of their homes.
Lesson 3: Get ridiculously lucky with your venue.
Eventually, Deep Vellum Books gladly answered our need, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the space we get to use every fourth Thursday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. I could wax eloquent about Deep Vellum, but I’ll let “Meet the new owner of Deep Vellum Books,” a Dallas Morning News profile of Anne Hollander, Deep Vellum’s owner, provide the necessary background information.
Lesson 4: Lean on your connections—even those you've just met.
Through a fortuitous series of events, we landed our first speaker through author and epic connector Tex Thompson, who was also responsible for putting together WORDfest, an epic and (incredibly) free writers conference for dozens of North Texas writers groups. Through her, I met Blake Kimzey, an author and the director of Writing Workshops Dallas.
Even though we’d only met a few weeks prior to our launch date—I wasn’t even planning on having a speaker for our launch—Blake gladly stepped in to discuss “Writing Out of The Wilderness: How to Make Yourself Findable Online, Survive Rejection, and Forge a Path to Publication.” He provided ample advice and encouragement and revealed a fascinating and proven pathway toward publishing success. (When you have NY lit agents preemptively asking you for your next novel, you know you’ve done something right.)
Lesson 5: Make an ask of yourself.
One of the benefits to leading a group like this is contacting people you want to personally hear from. As I made my list of locals whom I’d like to connect with and whom I thought would be helpful to our group, I contacted Glenn Yeffeth, the publisher of BenBella Books, a local nonfiction publishing company with a national reach. On April 27, our next meeting as of the writing of this post, he’ll be talking about “The Economics of Publishing.” And while that almost sounds dry to me, the longer I work in the world of words, the more I begin to understand that part of the art of sustaining yourself through words is understanding the economics of it all.
I tapped my personal connections as well. Mary DeMuth, who’s encouraged me and my writing in many ways just about ever since I moved to Dallas, gladly agreed to talk to our group about “The Art of Author Branding” on May 25. As an author of thirty-plus books in fiction and nonfiction, she’s learned a thing or a thousand about what it means to work and promote yourself as an author.
Then, finally, the moonshot.
Before I even knew if I could technically pull it off, I asked a professional heroine of mine if she’d be interested in doing a live virtual Q&A with our group. I sent a quick email and relayed that I had no expectations, particularly because the speaking gig wouldn’t pay and I can only imagine how busy she is.
Then, not two hours later, she replied, “Sure, I’d be happy to participate.”
I was over the moon.
After checking with Deep Vellum and the NFAA home office if I could do such a thing (i.e., have a virtual speaker), I happily placed Jane Friedman on our calendar for Oct. 26: “Live Virtual Q&A with Publishing Industry Expert Jane Friedman.”
Seriously, if you haven’t heard of her and are intent about becoming a better writer and a better businessperson as a writer, you need to read Jane Friedman’s blog on at least a weekly basis.
Lesson 6: Get involved and find your people.
If there’s one thing I’m learning about getting away from my computer and getting involved in writing groups like the Dallas Nonfiction Authors Association, it’s this: organizing, supporting, and maintaining a group has its challenges, but you shouldn’t walk the road of professional writing alone.
If you can’t join us, search Meetup.com for writers groups near you, or talk to other writers you know who can lead you to the right writers group for you. With the right group, you will grow as a writer—and that growth, whether you’re leading the group or just attending, is something every writer needs for the rest of their life.