Examining the Truth of Absolute Write's Claim To Being a Valuable Writer Resource

Publishing Experts James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle
Does it all center around the meaning of the word "valuable"? Below is the advertising claim of Absolute Write as related by AW's foremost champion and spokesperson, Victoria Strauss--who utilizes AW as her main source of advertising for her fantasy series. This passage is taken from her "Haters Gonna Hate" post (recommend reading the comment thread to the end) on her blog:
The truth: AW is a valuable resource, one of the largest and most active writers' forums on the Internet. (As of this writing, it boasts nearly 60,000 members, over 8 million posts, and anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 users active at any given time--scroll down to the bottom of AW to see these statistics.) At AW, you can discuss every aspect of craft and genre, learn about the ins and outs of publishing and self-publishing, share your work-in-progress, get your query letter critiqued, connect with beta readers and writing buddies, commiserate about rejection and rejoice about success, and participate in discussions about culture, music, art, politics, and just about anything else you want to talk about. AW members include writers at every stage of their careers--from just thinking about publishing to multi-published--along with a wide variety of publishing industry experts and professionals: literary agents, publishers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more.
Our response to the above as follows.

This is a country of over 300 million people. Millions write. Absolute Write has been collecting a member list for well over a decade, and in all that time, the list has grown. It makes sense that after millions of pageviews a list of 60,000 by 2015 is not unreasonable. As a matter of fact, we would have predicted a list three times as big if the original owner, Jenna, were still running things. But she isn't, and it's all speculation, though we believe that the failure to build a much larger list has been the result of unprecedented hostility towards large numbers of writers (as noted on this blog). Regardless, we did view the users at the bottom of the page and found the count to be less than 150. We haven't tracked it day to day, but less than 150 on a weekday afternoon is far less than 3000.

But what difference does this make? AW can still be a valuable writer resource whether it has 3000 at any one time or 30. Right?

Business Pro on AW
The spokesperson Victoria says, "you can ... get your query letter critiqued," among other things. Sure, you can, we've seen the proof: dozens of unpublished and self-published whoevers giving query letter advice that varies drastically in quality from one thread to the next, from one whoever to the next. And whoever are these scores of sage professional advisers anyway? Look closely. If you can actually translate one of them into a real name, you'll immediately realize that you've never heard of this person. But of course. What real publishing house editor or literary agent is just going to be hanging around disguised in AW chat forums on a daily basis just waiting to give beginner advice to beginners? Don't they have better things to do, like their job?

Moving on to the "ins and outs of publishing and self-publishing." We find this amusing since AW and its owners have been excessively nasty towards proponents of self-publishing, so there is a huge contradiction here. For example, taken from the comments on the page regarding the banning of Robin Sullivan:
As a member of Absolute Write since January 2009, I have been extremely dismayed with the increasingly hostile attitude to anyone who displays a positive attitude towards self-publishing. As you know, I have been in many of the same threads as you, and I have witnessed first-hand the same small group of people attack you over and over again. Throughout it all, you have kept your cool, and answered them with facts. I don't know how you did it, but you did. I think your ban was 100% baseless.
The golden rule of Absolute Write is supposed to be "respect your fellow writer". I have been seeing precious little respect towards any writer who expresses an interest in self-publishing.
Absolute W Owner Who Isn't a
Writer But a Horse Farm Operator
As with the query letter, just whoever with a pail full of neophyte advice is hanging around just waiting to tell you the "ins and outs" anyway? Back to query letter mode. Here come the whoevers with loads of "advice" for you. If you're fool enough to take it, you've got a problem. Everyone is an expert on Absolute Write. Let a million thoughts contend! And as we've noted elsewhere on this blog, you can't trust the owners, they're not fiction writers. Rarely do you see a moderator with any sense intervening in these amateurish blather fests that go on constantly at AW. So where is the value? 

We agree with Victoria that like any writer forum or chat board thing, Absolute Write Water Cooler is a place where you can dialogue with peers, share stuff, talk about your trip to Tasmania, and so forth. But does this make AW a stand out "valuable" writer resource? 

Stacia Kane Ready for Action
Finally, we come to the claim that "publishing industry experts and professionals" are members of AW. Well, you can't refute that since we have no measure or basis to judge what Victoria means by experts, and no list of names. Whoever they are, they are rarely if ever present. The fantasy author Stacia Kane is an exception. Like Victoria, AW is the primary vehicle for marketing her books. You'll see her popping up on every popular conflict thread where a good bash fest is going on. But just casually step into the novel forum section of the Water Cooler and you will see the name of only one person there who is in any way related to the publishing business: James D. Macdonald. He hangs out because he and his wife, Doyle, make money from consults and classes they advertise on AW. We've discussed good old Congenial Sage Macdonald here on W.A.R. Are these the so-called experts and professionals Victoria is referring to?

Our ears and eyes are open, AW. Come over and comment on this thread. Feel free to set the record straight. You won't be bullied, and neither will we.


  1. I don't know where she got her publishing professionals claim comes from. There is only one I know of (technically two, but the other is on even less) that's technically a YA agent--but she's only on there marginally.

    There are other problems with her blog post anyway, though I'd have to read it over again to see what it was.

    The moment I stopped taking the website seriously was when they background checked Wattpad. They create these threads that claim these "display sites" don't have any trade publishing literary credits.

    Oh is that so? Then why are people picked up off of Wattpad by legitimate agencies? Again, another odd disconnect from reality.

    And if I can find the thread, one was (as of late 2014) trashing something the author of Lemony Snicket said. Again, if they are going to say be careful what you say about agents, they need to not engage in childish mud slinging of best selling authors themselves.

    AW is to good writing resources as Tabloids are to real news.

  2. As of 10:20 AM EST on 3/17/15, there are just 127 AW members signed into the forums.

    There are more "guests" not signed in who are browsing, but they cannot be classified as "users" by any stretch of the word. It appears again that Victoria Strauss was lying. 127 users isn't close to 1000 users much less 3000 users.

    1. btw, I did see a mix of bad, silly, and good advice in the short story forum, and a whirlpool of contradictory advice in the novel forum, but nowhere did I see a moderator. On another forum a writer was being boiled alive by an anonymous dragon mod of some kind.

      The Writer Digest forums are much friendlier.

    2. I've never seen more than 160 users at any one time. These claims of thousands is probably what they tell advertisers. God knows what else. They certainly don't have an active base of 60,000 members or their numbers at any one time would be in the thousands. My belief is that they have mail lists on the books going back many years, but the bulk of these people are no longer active users. The numbers on the site speak for themselves.

    3. In the very little time I was there (which is a huge gap between because I couldn't stand the toxicity--whose motto seems to be closer to crush the will of your fellow writer) I never seen any more than maybe thirty or so active users.

      Even some of the nicer ones--and I mean that loosely, don't even bother themselves to even use the SYW forums. If that doesn't say anything, then I really don't know what else would.

    4. The last I looked, they changed the stat reportage on the bottom so that you can't see the number of users at any one time. It's no wonder given what people here have been saying.

  3. Like I've posted here before, I think James MacDonald is amazing. Without him, I never would have been published. He knows more about publishing than anyone I know.

    As for writers/editors/agents hanging out there, I can't say for sure. A friend of mine is an associate editor at a big publishing house and he/she does hang out there from time to time to time to try to combat the misinformation. I know a writer who posts there frequently anonymously and he/she does it for the same reason.

    Can AW be useful? Sure, like your local bartender can sometimes give good life advice. Would you go to him every time you are in need? No, but he sometimes gets it right.

    Victoria Strauss' defense of AW deeply saddened me and when I wrote to her telling her so, she dismissed me as a"hater", which is too bad since I think Writer Beware is actually pretty good at what it does.

    1. Thank you for your balanced viewpoint. Our view of AW is that of a drunken abusive bartender who reaches across the bar to slap customers silly whenever the mood suits him. It's no wonder that Ms. Strauss labeled you a hater. Labeling is their favorite way of dismissing critics. It's their way of defending their child, the bartender.

      When next you get the chance, ask Macdonald why he joins in with the hate bunch on Absolute Write and assists in unfairly smearing innocent people.

    2. Doyle and Congenial James have a collection of work on Smashwords as well as long ago work published by a major SF publisher, but they never really made it off the bottom list. If this state of affairs indicates knowing a lot about publishing then it sure didn't help them get in the A list, or even mid list.

      They're peddling OMG awful books on Smashwords!

    3. I take it back. Judgment Night is not OMG awful. It's actually a fairly predictable teenage werewolf story with standard commercial narrative, but it can't compete in a commercial marketplace because it's a huge cliche and a yawn. We've seen it, we've read it, we're tired of it. This does not reflect an intelligent assessment of the marketplace.

    4. Bizarrely, aren't these self-pubs? What's a community that hates self-pubs doing self-pubbing their work?

      Not trying to belittle them, I'm just honestly curious.

  4. The way they treat writers in that snake pit is shocking!