Building a writing communityA couple years ago I moved from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. (What can I say, I like Portlands!) But despite the identical names, they're very different cities. I'd been in Oregon for a decade, spent much of that time immersed in the various writing and music scenes, made good friends, and felt well-supported within those communities. Then suddenly I'm in this new place on the other side of the continent with no literary connections — and having to use GPS to get around town too. Ugh!

So I've done a lot of thinking over the past two years about literary community, what it means to build or join a community of writers, and why it's crucial to be a part of such a community. I've also done a lot of reaching out; I've attended many readings; I've joined a writing group that meets monthly; and what do you know, slowly but surely I've become a part of a new community of Maine writers that I turn to for mentorship, feedback, or just to grab a drink and talk about books we love.

The solitude that people often experience when they move to a new town can be great for writing. You can be a lot more productive when your social options are limited. But at some point every writer craves that sense of community, or what Daryl Rothman calls a "literary network of resources, opportunity and mutual support which can help take your writing and publishing dreams to the next level."

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According to Michael Bourne (who writes for The Millions and Poets & Writers), successfully navigating through the world of literary agents requires— what, talent? Patience? Perseverance? Nope. Success requires connections!

In his recent article "A Right Fit," Bourne says:

...agents work with people they know, and friends of people they know.

If that sounds like I’m saying, “It’s all about who you know,” that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying. You can rail about how unfair that is, and how it makes publishing into an incestuous little club, and to a degree you would be right: a lot of very dumb books get published because somebody knew somebody. But that’s the way the machine is built, people. It may come a-tumbling down in the near future in the face of e-books and indie publishers, but for now, if you want to get published by a major publisher, you have two choices: you can keep banging your head against a wall and be angry, or you can figure out how to get yourself into the club.

To do that, you have to immerse yourself in the literary community. Five years ago, with my first book, I sent roughly 60 query letters to agents and editors at smaller publishing houses.

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