Many of our blog readers have probably visited Absolute Write, a forum and website for writers. If you haven't visited it, well, you should. It's one of the best resources--and communities--out there for reading and writing. All of us at YA Highway met on the forum, and we were excited to interview Absolute Write's much loved owner, Mac, about what it's like to run such a successful, amazing, sometimes dramatic website.
-What made you decide to start Absolute Write?
I actually didn't start Absolute Write, as it happens. I bought AW in 2006, when there were only four or five thousand people registered on the forums, and Absolute Write was mostly known for doing a bunch of email newsletters for writers. We've grown rapidly, since.
-When you [acquired] Absolute Write, did you, in your wildest dreams, imagine it growing so enormous?
Does it sound too horribly ambitious if I say "Yes. Actually, I very much planned for it to grow this big. I plan for us to grow a lot bigger, yet."
We've definitely had some pretty serious growing pains over the years. And I've made more than a few mistakes, too. I suppose that's inevitable, and we can expect more mistakes and more growing pains in the future, as well.
There's such an enormous need for a place like AW, where writers can help and mentor other writers, and people with the talent, desire, and willingness to work hard, can find solid, reliable advice about how to pursue their writing goals, whether they just want to supplement their family income with some freelance articles, or publish a novel.
The problem now is how to balance the sheer size with maintaining the consistently high quality of the information and community interaction.
-What has it been like watching so many writers from the forum have amazing successes?
That's been enormously gratifying and exciting. AW is about the community, and about writing. So getting to see writers succeeding means we've got something working right. It seems like nearly every week someone I know from the forums is announcing they've just found representation, or they've just sold a book, or sometimes they've made a multi-book deal.
-What is your favorite book?
Oh, way to put me on the spot! There's just no answer for that, really. There are so very, very many books that I love deeply. Wuthering Heights was one of the first novels that made me long to see somewhere else, made me want to walk within the book itself for hours, breathing and exploring and examining that unknown countryside. Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book is the novel that makes me despair of ever writing a book as moving and fierce and true. Moby Dick made me love the sea, and dream about what's beyond the horizon. I wrote my master's thesis about Stephen King's Pet Sematary, but I think Delores Claiborne is a better book, and Bag of Bones is effing amazing.
And if I let myself think about it much longer, I'll think of at least twenty more books that I just have to tell you about, because I love them so.
-Are there any forum ‘moments’ that you feel especially proud of?
There are a lot, actually. The community at AW just . . . it's such an amazing place. The people there have helped each other through disasters and weddings, childbirths and funerals. I know people who initially met there, and are now happily married to each other.
After Hurricane Katrina, we had a member who was stranded with her pets, across the country from her family. She was dead broke with no way to get home, and she posted about how afraid she was, and how stranded she felt. AWers rallied, and coordinated to get her and her pets home, driving her across the country in a relay, dividing the journey into manageable segments.
Over the years, the people of AW have helped each other replace roofs, research colleges, find doctors, and on at least one occasion, taken in each other's children during times of need. At its best, AW as a community just humbles me into speechlessness.
-How challenging is it to run a forum that’s so huge? How much time does it take? How do you deal with the unavoidable emails/PMs from people who aren’t pleased about something?
Heh. It definitely has its challenging moments. And weirdly, the big things like getting sued? Those things don't get to me nearly as badly as when there are members having prima-donna, high-school moments, and the drama from Facebook or a message-board romance starts to spill onto the forums and make a mess.
Quite frankly, AW is only possible because of the hours and hours of volunteer work the moderators and technical support staff contribute every week, both on the forum and behind the scenes. Those are the people who do the heavy lifting, and they deserve a standing ovation on a regular basis.
I mostly deal with the angry PMs or Emails by rolling my eyes a lot. And saying carefully snarky things on Twitter, but preserving the anonymity of the members in question. Unless the member I'm snarking about got banned. Then I sometimes make ruthless fun, depending on the situation. You have to be a pretty big asshat to get yourself banned for cause, so I don't feel very guilty for being disrespectful, at that point.
The hardest part for me, personally, is remembering that my sensibilities aren't even close to the sensibilities of many of our more conservative community members, and constantly looking for the compromise to maintain a balance of AW culture and social mores. As esoteric and abstract as it sounds, I spend a lot of time thinking about exactly that sort of question. What's the best way to handle a given situation? What are our options? How do we be sensitive and respectful of everyone's beliefs and values, and preserve everyone's dignity?
-What's your favorite thing about being the admin of such a successful forum?
Well, mostly, it's just really FUN. What other job could possibly be as cool as this? But on top of being just plain fun, AW makes a real difference, in terms of being a community where people find support and information. There's an entire publishing education to be had, for anyone willing to do the reading and figure out what information best applies to her own situation.
-What sorts of things do you write?
I do a fair bit of freelancing, everything from press-releases to short articles. I blog for AW, of course, on our front page. I'm still slugging away at fiction (which is much harder to write, for me), mostly speculative, sort of heavily influenced by the American gothic stuff I love so much. Right now I'm midway through a novel I've described as a family ghost story set in the contemporary Weird West.
-When you aren’t busy with AW, what do you do for fun?
I read, of course. I'm one of those people who always has a book with me, even in the supermarket checkout line. I have horses, and I love to hike and cook and garden.
-If you could give one piece of advice to writers of any type, what would it be?
Be brave. Do the marketing research, spend the same kind of time and care learning about publishing your words as you've spent learning to write fiction and rewrite to make it better. Don't let love of your own words get in the way of learning to write better; and don't let love of your own words make you a sucker. But ultimately? Be brave. Send it out. Submit. Keep improving, keep learning, and keep submitting.
Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! It is very appreciated.
My pleasure! Thanks for inviting me -- I think you're all pretty spiffy, too.
Thanks again for your time, Mac!