I am weary of the Internet. I think it’s making us socially challenged, stupid and mean. I’ve heard rumors that it can foster true collaboration and human connection but I’ve rarely seen evidence of it. There always seems to be some trade-off. For instance, Craigslist can get you a really cheap couch, but might also get you murdered. Thankfully, I think I finally encountered an online community that seems to offer the good stuff without the double-edged sword.
It’s called WritersBloq, and it’s a collective of writers, created by writers, for other writers built entirely upon an earnest “we’re-in-this-together” mentality. I would paraphrase their mission, but, again, they’re writers: “On Writer’s Bloq, writers are able to create their literary portfolio and gain a readership that will open publication doors. Our community is based on creative cooperation and promotion of ideas. It’s based on writers who love the craft, readers who live to explore it, and everyone who shapes the work along the way.” I hope you took a deep breath of that fresh air.
This remarkable project was conceived by Columbia University MFA graduate and WritersBloq CEO Nayia Moysidis following her troubling, though almost universal, experience of trying to get published. Though she had been prepared for rejection, after spending four months sending her novel to almost 100 different publishing houses, she found herself deafened by the silence she received in response. Working for Simon and Schuster, however, Moysidis discovered that the game looked very different from the publisher’s perspective.
“I was surprised that I started to sympathize with the publishers,” Moysidis said. “They want to publish people but financially they’re struggling. They need to make a profit so they need writers with a competitive advantage who have a following.”
Couple the risk with a huge pile of manuscripts and it starts to make sense why only 0.03 percent of submissions make it to print.
Realizing that being an unknown writer, even a wildly talented one, posed a huge risk for publishers, Moysidis spoke to about 500 writers and identified a resounding frustration that there wasn’t a central place for their work to go.
“When writers work together, it’s less high-profile than it is for, say, the music industry – it’s more intimate,” Moysidi said.
In response, she created an online community where writers could share their work and gain the attention they deserved.
WritersBloq launched in 2011 and now has about 1,500 members, seven of the most popular of whom were featured readers at “Unsolicited,” the website’s first live event, which was held at The Strand in New York City earlier this year. Of those seven, four were contacted by publishing industry professionals after the event – the dream was becoming a reality.
Then they raised more than $15,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fund the six-city Bloqparty tour, sponsored by Moleskin and The Impossible Project, which stops in Philly at the Arts Garage on Nov. 6.
In addition to creating an avenue for writers to get the exposure they need on the long road to getting published, WritersBloq is launching a tour of 1920s-style literary saloon events where members get to come together in person to hear readings by a traveling group of the site’s most popular writers who will present their work alongside an exhibit of commissioned art illustrating their vision.
Community interaction is built into the events – not only will a local guest reader be featured alongside the touring group, but the venues were selected via suggestions from natives. Of seven recommendations from Philadelphians, five pointed to the Arts Garage.
Now for the reasons I’m so excited about the Bloqparty Tour – because, let’s be real, they don’t pay me extra for enthusiasm. First, WritersBloq is tackling the seemingly insurmountable challenge of getting talented writers discovered in a dying publishing industry. While everyone, my journalism professors included, will quickly tell you that the future is online, that nobody will be publishing in 10 years and that our attention spans will be shot to 150 characters by then anyway, WritersBloq is holding space for people who insist that writing is important and that there is a way for the art to thrive in the digital age. Moysidis envisions a “union of publishing and digital” where writers can get the traction they need to publish through followings cultivated online.
“The future isn’t as bleak as it seems,” she said.
Additionally, the Bloqparties themselves are remarkable because they are tangibly connecting an online community. While it’s useful to open the door to interaction online, to actually, physically walk through a door and exist in space and time with someone is invaluable.
Whether online or in person, artists need somewhere to show off and to share their work. The fact that the Arts Garage stood out as a hub for the arts community in all of Philadelphia where an event like this can land is pretty cool.
Victoria Marchiony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.