Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Boot Camp is So Successful

Browse the web, join any writing group. Note where the bulk of the action is.

Is it in "The Coffee Shop", or "The Lounge" or "Chat"?

Is it in "Chill Corner" or "The Asylum"?

How much of the discussion is pub-arguments, flaming, or flirting?

Are many of the forums there, those dedicated to novels or short-stories or flashes, or poetry struggling to survive?

In one so-called writing community I visited, "The XXXXX" and a second "more frivolous" chat-room took up a massive NINETY PER CENT of the site's bandwith.

Everything else, Writing, Craft Discussions, critiquing, process, subbing, motivation, hits etc was the magnificent total of 9% of the whole.

I look in on many communities and this pattern is repeated everywhere.

The Lounge or the Coffee Shop is where "the business" is and this area grows a small clique of 5-25 people and perhaps a hundred or so hangers-on. Very rarely are more than half a dozen of these genuinely successful writers. Take a look at the publications list and see how many are self-published, pod-published or published in low-end ezines.

Assess the number of reported publications, (and their quality) but relate that to the size of the community.

I looked today at one community which boasted 100 successes in 2006.

BC, not a twentieth of its size, had 171 hits. It had 24 First Prizes.

That community has hundreds, possibly thousands of members. When we look at how many individuals from the community are getting publication success the percentage is tiny. Over 90% are not being published.

When BC started the first thing we said was that we failed if any member was unpublished at the end of any year.

What is the point of a community of writers where the few succeed but the many fail completely?

I looked yesterday at the published stats for another writers community. In 2007 they have had ten tiny hits. Boot Camp is relatively quiet but this year it has had 33 hits and two "notes" (small hits).

So is that a big difference? 350%? Not in real numbers, no.

But the community, which advertises itself as "the best on the web", has hundreds upon hundreds of members. It's between 30 and 200 times bigger than Boot Camp.

If they were doing as well as BC for hits they would be posting their thousandth hit for 2007 by now, not ten.


After seeing how much time most, if not all, so-called "writing" communities spend on the coffee-shop game-playing, the hierarchy-building, the high-fiving buddies when they put someone down, the psychological games, the flirting, the obsequious praise of often trivial hits, the "group-hugs" etc I thought I would look at Boot Camp Statistics and see where we spent our time.

Did we work or piss away our lives in idele nonsense?

I looked at BC and counted posts. Where was our activity?

62% 31,342 Stories, Flashes, Writing & Critiquing
16% 08,263 Craft & Reading
07% 03,457 Motivation: Subs, Hits, Process
08% 04,003 Comps, Market Info, Serious Discussion (some chat)
04% 02,094 Admin
03% 01,550 CHAT

93% of Boot Camp Bandwith is about writing and craft. Just 3-5% is idle chatter.

Ask yourself, do I access my writing community to AVOID writing or do I access it because the community encourages me to write?

Does the community and its leaders stress I should write EVERY DAY?

Does it tell me to write at least 500 words every day BEFORE LOGGING ON.

Does it "bully me" insisting I should sub an absolute minimum of one sub a week but I should really do more?

Does it publish lists and update them every day to show who is subbing and who is not?

Does it have flash prompts every day, often 2-3 flash sessions?

Does it insist all flashers must read and comment on all other flashes that session?

Does it have weekly and fortnightly deadlines for stories?

Are those deadlines rigid?

Does it insist that every story is read author-unknown and every story gets at least eight critiques?

Does it have a set pattern, a core critique so all crits can be easily compared and contrasted?

Does EVERY story get at least twenty discussion posts?

Do the most contentious stories have threads as long as 100 posts?

Does a highly-published, prize-winning author/editor offer editorial input and use a story in a session to illustrate basic faults?

Does it come down hard if critques are slight and ducking the issues?

Does it insist that difference of opinion on the worth of a story be discussed not left as "mere" subjectivity?

Have the community members won 114 first prizes?

Does it average a first prize every two weeks?

Boot Camp does.

But then it's HUGE, isn't it? Er, hardly. It has just 23 members on record, (including me) only 15 currently active, others away or writing novels etc.

15 people able to out-write 1500, able to out-publish 1500.

WHY? Because we do the work.

Are we supportive? Ask any Boot Camper. I see my job as teaching people to write, teaching them the discipline of writing. To become a writer you must work very, very hard over extended time.

That's support.

A "writing community" that doesn't make you work is a place that makes you feel good. The only trouble is, you'll be feeling about the same in 5-10 years and you'll be wondering why all you have to show for your "effort" is a few ezine publications.

Group hug anyone?

Alex Keegan


Anonymous said...

Sorry - no time for a group hug. I'm trying to write.

The compulsory daily words are a very effective tool. You get to the point when a blank day makes you feel as guilty as if you haven't brushed your teeth (and posts, discussions, crits don't count).

Alex Keegan said...


PS I have written 1,950 words today while caring for my sick son, and written two blog entries.

I'm ALLOWED to browse!

I've mentioned time-wasting in one's own "writer's communtity". I wonder how many are guilty of cruising other communities too, and getting into loads of interesting (stop-you-writing) threads.

Then again, if you DO get a critique in Writing Community A and it's not favourable, heck, why not post at WC-B and see if they like it more there?


Anonymous said...

Have you pissed about pretending to be a woman on a writing forum today?

Are you a sad old git who's own career is failing to the point he can only get work published on unheard of ezines or places where he has friends?

Are you the same sad git who has to move into writing forums and pretend that it's really them getting it wrong?

Answers on a postcard to...

Alex Keegan said...

Yay, the woodpile wobbles and out crawls the first "anonymous".

Note how these people are always anonymous because they are cowards.

Hmmm... "pretending that other writing forums are getting it wrong"?

REALLY? What writing forums do you belong to, "Anonymous"?

How many members? How many active members? How many publications per annum?

Now in terms of piublications per member, what is that? .000001 per year?

Lots of CHAT of course, and group hugs, don't forget the group hugs, and "solidarity" and "trust"

But who is improving as a writer? Which newbies are changing from unpublished newbie to regularly published writer winning prizes?


Alex Keegan said...

Career failing..

That depends on whether helping others to success is part of a writing career.

But on my own writing?

It's true, I can no longer "get it up". In 2006 I only won three first prizes and two third prizes, four final placings. Just $1,000 and that's really a bad year.

But then I led Boot Camp to 24 First Prizes, 16 Seconds, 10 Thirds and 40 more final placings for a total of $9,100

I blame the loss of testosterone due to the ageing process, or maybe it's the novel, who can tell? And my publication list was abysmal, I agree. Of course you have to submit to be published, and that I didn't do well.

Very pleased though, to get into Archipelago, check the contributor's list, "Anon".


Anonymous said...

23 people earned £4550 between them. £197 each on average for a whole year. Wow. Drinks must be on you then.

Alex Keegan said...

Oh LOOK! It's someone posting anonymously (again)

You obviously are neither a good teacher or a good leader, "Anon"

If you don't think that 24 FIRST PRIZES in a year (following a year with 26 First Prizes) is good, then you are obviously a very sad person (possibly sick) and obviously jealous.

TWELVE BC members, over half of the membership, won at least one first prize in 2006.

Every single one of those was a total beginner with no prizes when they joined. Two more won second prizes.

Tell me a writing site that comes eeven remotely close to that hit rate?

How many of Write Words 99 hits were first prizes?

How many members?

How many first prizes at Writers Dock? They have 3780 members, 165 times as many as BC.

Did they manage 3,960 Firsts?




I think you're to say the least, "a little silly" to criticise BC for it's "paltry" prize amounts when there is nowhere on the web close to that in amounts per member.

Boot Camp takes raw beginners or intermediate writers and gets them writing, critiquing, rewriting, and submitting.

There is no better measure of whether that works than publishing success, and the number of prizes won.


Alex Keegan said...

Anon, you ridiculed Comp winnings of $9,000+

I find that amusing.

Here are some comparative stats


26 08 Firsts
14 06 Seconds
14 04 Thirds
15 07 Shortlisted
21 04 Finalists


24 04 First
16 02 second
10 00 Third
40 12 SL/LL/Finals


02 02 First
01 00 2nd
00 00 3rd
07 00 Finals

BC Prizes in 2007 = $2,234
WW Prizes in 2007 = $ 300 (plus a china mug)

But don't forget that this random "other large writer site" is fifty to a hundred times the size of BC

Here are the totals for
2005 & 2006 Combined

50 12 First BC - 420% - times better than WW
30 08 2nd BC - 380% - times better than WW
24 04 3rd BC - 600% - times better than WW
76 23 Finals BC - 330% - times better than WW

that average of 400% better at winning prizes does not of course take into account the membership numbers.

Factor that in and a BCer is fifty times more likely to win a prize than someone from the other site.


Alex Keegan said...

At XX they have a thread which talks about their many "member's books" for sale.

The natural presumptions are:

The books were written while the author was a XX'er

The books were written BY a XX'er

The books are worthwhile, published by a real publisher

The books owe their publication in part to XX

I've just finished working through this list of almost 40 "member's books"

10 Were Self-Published
03 Were Self-Pubbed or POD
11 Were Small Press, Chapbooks, many possibly self-pubs
02 Were Vanity Published
01 Was an eBook
01 Was Unknown

There were 8 mainstream pubs. That's a good number. But at least one of the mainstream-pubbed books on the list was published before XX existed. And one other author published by a mainstream publisher seemed to have published those books "over the years" and currently was writing in another genre (while at XX) so far without success.

So if the point is she published these before arriving, then the list of almost 40 is actually 8 serious publications, and that eight drops to at the very most five books.

Also a few of the "books" cited are dubious anthologies just containing a story or a poem from a XXer

It would be fun to list as a "Boot Camper Book for Sale" every anthology that has contained a Boot Camper's poem or a Boot Camper's Story. I have twenty like that of my own!