The BSFA runs the Orbit groups, a series of online workshopping groups, free to BSFA members. If you are a BSFA member and are interested in participating, get in touch with our Writing Groups Officer Terry Jackman. If you’re not yet a member, you can join here. All Orbit groups are open to writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories. There are separate groups for those concentrating on short fiction and those who are working on novels.
Who will be in my group?
BSFA Orbit groups are made up of about five writers, who keep in touch via email. The Orbit groups are open to writers of all levels. Orbit groups can be made up of writers at a wide variety of stages in their careers. Some may be unpublished and just starting out, others may have been published many, many times, there are even some orbiters who are editors or who work in publishing.
How does it work?
Each writer shares their work with the other members of the group and, in turn, reads and comments upon the stories of the others – offering comments and suggestions about how the writing might be made better. Members make their own decisions about how they’d like their particular Orbit groups to work, so groups are free to make decisions that suit their needs.
By becoming part of an Orbit group you’re committing to give other members’ work the same care and attention you’d like your own stories to receive. You commit to read carefully, and to comment thoughtfully, honestly, and constructively. And, even if you don’t include a story in every round, you commit to respond to every story and to stick to deadlines. Orbit groups are cooperative, and Orbiters tend to get out of the groups what they put in.
How can being part of a group help me improve my writing?
Most obviously you get different viewpoints on your work. You get the opinions of a group of unbiased readers who, like you, are interested in what makes a strong genre story. You get a range of ideas about what works in your writing and what does not. And, unlike some face-to-face writers’ groups, you get time to mull over the comments in private – so there’s no posturing or point-scoring, just writers working together to make their work better.
But it isn’t just the feedback you receive that helps you improve as a writer. The process of critiquing itself can nourish skills applicable to your own writing. By exploring what you think works (or doesn’t work) in someone else’s story, you can learn how to improve your own. Members can also share experiences, suggest markets, and offer more general advice and support about being a writer. And, of course, writing can be a lonely business, but in an Orbit you always have someone to share ideas with.
Do Orbits work?
They do, and Orbit groups include members who have been published professionally but who stay in the groups because they believe that they continue to benefit from sharing their work with other writers.
Orbit groups let you see your work through the eyes of others. They give you the kind of feedback most editors simply don’t have the time to provide and the honest feedback you won’t get from friends and family. Members are encouraged to be polite but honest even if, sometimes, the truth can hurt. Orbit groups don’t try to make you feel better; their goal is to make you a better writer.
How do I join?
If you are already a BSFA member, contact the Writing Groups Officer Terry Jackman.
BSFA membership is £29 standard UK, £20 for students and unwaged, £31 joint and £45 international. You can join the BSFA here (and feel free to get in touch with Terry as soon as you have sent your membership fee).
History of the Orbits
The original Orbit groups operated by post. Members circulated an envelope containing printed manuscripts and in each “round” a member received comments on their previous story, read and commented on new material from the other authors, and added a new story. Until a few years ago, there were still groups that preferred this method. Nowadays, however, all the active Orbiters operate via email.