What is a mastermind group?

Wikipedia says, “A mastermind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring concept used to help members solve their problems with input and advice from the other group members. The concept was coined in 1925 by author Napoleon Hill in his book The Law of Success. Hill says the idea is, “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”

Mastermind groups are an old concept. J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis were in a mastermind group called The Inklings. The five group members gave each other feedback and input on their writing. Their discussion about literature and their own writing improved the quality of all of their books.

How do mastermind groups give authors an edge?

Almost all bestselling and celebrity writers belong to some kind of mastermind group. When you hear an author mention a friend or connection, that connection likely came from their group.

Authors who participate in mastermind groups have an incredible advantage over authors who don’t. The publishing business is all about who you know. What you know is often determined by who you know.

For example, you can get general advice from an article or podcast. You can get specific advice when you talk to authors who approach their marketing in a scientific way by conducting experiments. Those types of secrets often stay within the mastermind group, and they develop their own method based on what they’ve learned from their own experiments.

Accountability

Authors don’t necessarily have a boss, and it’s easy to procrastinate. A mastermind group can hold you accountable and make sure you do what you promised.

Teamwork

If your team supports you and helps you succeed in your writing endeavors, their input can accelerate your success. In our mastermind group, members often recommend tools I wasn’t aware of or strategies I hadn’t tried. 

Your group is your team. They’re working for your success, and you’re working for theirs. 

Perspective

It’s hard to read the label when you’re standing inside the bottle. You probably aren’t a good judge of your writing, your website, or your headshot. You’re too close to those things. You need an outside perspective from someone who is farther away from your work than you are.

An outside perspective can also be personally helpful. In our group, one member was being lied about by someone close to her. From our semi-distant perspective, we could see the truth. We helped her identify the lies and told her the truth about who she was.

Encouragement 

Having someone to occasionally talk you off the ledge of your career is critical to your success in writing and life. 

In our meetings, members can bring their personal struggles too. We have encouraged and walked with our members through the death of loved ones, divorce, wayward children, and career disappointments. 

We’ve also celebrated with our group members when they’ve hit the bestsellers list or won awards. 

A good mastermind group will challenge and comfort you as well as celebrate with you.

Community

The richness of the community is gold. You can share your wins and losses, and sometimes that’s the best part of our mastermind group. 

Expertise

Every mastermind group member should have an area of expertise they can offer to the group. Conversely, every member should be able to learn from every member of the group. 

In our group, some members have the same area of expertise, and it’s fun to hear them debate strategies and issues surrounding their field of interest. Ours is a marketing mastermind. Some members are well-versed in digital marketing, while others bring sales experience. They’ve learned techniques from each other, and it has strengthened everyone in our group. 

Connections and Networking

Like many industries, publishing is more about who you know than what you know. Whether you’re indie or traditionally published, your connections in the industry will give you access to knowledge and people. For example, a fellow mastermind might know a great cover designer or digital marketing expert they can refer to you.

It’s not about how many people you know. It’s about the depth of your connection that develops over time. 

What are the different kinds of mastermind groups?

Peer-Based

I am in a peer-based mastermind group with James L. Rubart and several other bestselling writers. In a peer-to-peer mastermind, each member brings something to teach and has something to learn. Each member has a different area of expertise.

Mentor-Based

In a mentor-based mastermind, one person has more experience and expertise than the other members. Members typically join the mastermind group to learn from one guru or mentor, but over time they also learn from one another.

Which is Best?

When you’re starting, a mentor-based group is most effective. A peer-based group of beginners can be less effective because it may be a case of the blind leading the blind. 

After you’ve spent a couple of years in a mentor-based group, you might have enough expertise to join a peer-based group.

Even as a beginning writer, you may have career experience building websites or perhaps in sales, and those are valuable skills that a peer-based mastermind group may need and want.

How to Start a Mastermind Group

It’s much easier to join an existing mastermind group than start one from scratch. But the easiest way to start your own group is to attend a writers conference and link up with like-minded writers.

Our mastermind group is invite-only. We require unanimous agreement before we add a new member, and any member can blackball a proposed new member. We are very selective and want to ensure that everyone in our group believes the new addition will be a good fit. 

Pick a Format

If you want to start a mastermind, you’ll need to decide whether you’ll meet in person or online through Google Hangouts or Zoom. When everyone can see your face, it’s not as easy to quietly lurk in the background or skip meetings.

In-person meetings are best, but an in-person meeting may not be possible if there aren’t enough writers in your area. 

Some groups try to meet solely through email, but email doesn’t provide that face-to-face connection. An email-only group makes it easy for members to simply observe and not contribute to the discussion.

Pick a Frequency

Most mastermind groups meet weekly for 45 minutes or so. Our group meets biweekly for one hour at a time. 

The less frequently you meet, the longer your meetings need to be. If you only meet monthly, you’ll probably need to hold a four-hour meeting.

Pick a Meeting Structure

Our one-hour mastermind meeting follows this schedule:

Personal Updates (30m)

We ask each other, “What’s going in your world?” It may seem like a waste of time, but it provides context for each person’s work. If one member has suddenly become a caregiver for a loved one, that change in schedule may explain why she didn’t hit her writing goal for the week.

When you understand the personal context, you can give better input based on the full picture. It also promotes closeness within the group.

We also celebrate new contracts and sales milestones during our update time.

Class or Hot Seat (25m)

Our group alternates between a teaching block and a hot seat block every other week. Our group is focused on marketing, and we’ve all published at least one book. Occasionally one of our members will use their hot seat time to ask a high-level question about their manuscript, but in general, we don’t discuss the writing craft because that’s not our focus. 

Instead, our members each bring something to teach the group. It’s challenging because to teach a lesson, you first have to learn it. These classes are a great motivator for us to keep learning about our industry. 

When we have a hot seat, one member has 25 minutes to explain the challenge they’re currently facing. They ask the other masterminds to help them tackle the problem and figure out a solution.

In a hot seat situation, group members put their heads together and help outline a plan. 

In some cases, that half-hour discussion might save the person six months of research and trial and error. The hot seat is efficient, encouraging, and valuable because you get encouragement, expertise, and belief from all the other members. 

Members of our group have made major, high-risk career shifts after thinking things through with our mastermind group. We’ve seen successful traditionally published authors suddenly going hybrid or independent. They wouldn’t have been able to make that change without the support of the mastermind. 

Over the years, we’ve put together a business plan for an author which demonstrated how they could make five times the income if they switched to indie publishing. That author took that business plan to their publisher and used it as leverage to negotiate a better deal for themselves.

It’s also a time when others can shoot down your ideas for your own good. You might have a great idea, but if your fellow masterminds see that it will take up too much of your bandwidth or cause too much stress, they can say so. They can also advise you about where to concentrate your efforts instead. 

Prayer (5m)

Everyone in our group is a Christian, so we end with prayer in Jesus’ name. It’s very encouraging to pray for the ideas and dreams we’ve just shared and discussed.

Sample Craft Mastermind Format

If you’re looking for a group that focuses on the craft of writing, you might consider the following format.

Personal Updates & Accountability (30m)

Besides sharing a little personal update for context, you can also share your word goals for the week and whether you met them. Knowing you have to report your word count can be a great motivator to keep you writing.

Manuscript Reading (15m)

For a group focused on craft, one person might read from their manuscript for 15 minutes. It would be like a hot seat, but you’d read your manuscript instead. You can also provide a certain number of pages for everyone to read individually in those fifteen minutes.

Manuscript Feedback (15m)

After the reading, group members take a few minutes each to provide feedback on that portion of your manuscript.

Who leads the mastermind?

In our mastermind, any of us could lead the group, but we have one member who’s more of an emcee and keeps things moving. You may want to designate a person for this position.

We also have an administrator. That person creates a sign-up for the hot seat and notifies us about whose turn it is to teach. 

The administrator may also facilitate the emails we send back and forth between meetings. I can email the group and get input if I need advice between meetings. We tried facilitating that kind of communication in a private Facebook group, but several of our bestselling authors aren’t on Facebook regularly, so email worked best for us.

We each have taken our turn in the administrative role because it’s a lot of work, and people tend to burn out.

In a mentor-based group, the mentor will fill both the emcee and administrator roles because that’s what you’re paying for. It’s a lot of work to facilitate a group.

Find Your Masterminds

For a peer-based group, you want to find masterminds with certain qualifications.

Expertise to Share

Each person must have something to share with the group. We’ve had members in our group who have never published a book, but they brought the perspective of an agent or marketing guru. As people have filtered in and out of the group, we sometimes recruit members by looking for someone who can fill the agent, facilitator, or marketing expert positions. We need members who bring different perspectives.

For the group to gel, each member must also commit to making the meetings a priority. We’ve sometimes had members who had much to teach us, but they were so busy teaching in other forums that it was hard for them to attend our meetings regularly.

Positive and Encouraging

Since a mastermind group shares and resolves career-related problems, recruiting positive and encouraging members is important. 

One-Jerk Rule

We have a One-Jerk rule. A group can continue to function even if one member is a jerk. One jerk in a meeting full of non-jerks can work because everyone else knows not to respond to the jerky comment or behavior. But if there are two jerks in a group, they will troll each other, and the group will become toxic.

How do you screen people who want to join?

In an established group like ours, we simply ask one another about the character of the new candidate and discuss whether they would be a good fit. 

If you’re still establishing your group, watch a potential member’s behavior on Facebook or talk to people who know the person. Don’t invite people quickly. Watch them online and visit their website. If you’re in person at a conference, have several meals together to find out what kind of person they are.

For a mentor-based group, look for a mentor who will attract the kind of people you want to spend time with every week. Like attracts like. Some mentor groups charge $5,000-$10,000 for membership because they want to attract high net worth individuals so members can learn from other successful people.

There will be a core group within the group. Some people won’t be able to make it to every meeting, but if they’re still a good fit for your group, extend grace.

Once a Year Retreat

Some groups schedule their annual in-person meeting in conjunction with a conference. Our group meets in person annually, but we meet in different locations throughout the country. We typically rent a large house where we can prepare and share meals together. We each bring something to teach, and we each get to be in the hot seat. 

These retreats have been life-changing. Each of us has made huge career shifts as we’ve received feedback from the other masterminds. We bring our very best material to teach the group, and we get to pour into each other’s lives for four days. We form deep relationships as we visit, share meals, and even cry together.

Ready to join a mastermind?

The right mastermind group will help you excel in your writing career. If you’d rather join an existing group, I offer three paid mastermind groups to choose from. Learn more about our Novel Marketing Mastermind groups today.

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