Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Writers helping writers

I read a blog post a few weeks ago that was summarizing a book called "Some Writers Deserve to Starve: Harsh Realities About Publishing" or something to that effect. Now, I haven't read the book, but it sounds like the basic thesis is that if you're not informed about the industry, then you deserve to starve.

Okay, kinda harsh, but I guess I agree. (But really, no one deserves to starve. Catchy title, though.)

I read through part of the summary on the blog and it sounds like has the structure of revealing various TRUTHS about publishing. I was skimming along, nodding my head, and then I crashed to a halt on one. The TRUTH was "writers rarely help other writers". All I can say to this is the author of this non-fiction book is either a person no one wants to help, or she's hanging with the wrong writers.

My experience in the five or so years I've been seriously pursuing a career as a writer has been quite the opposite. I’ve been blown away, from day one, at the amount of information, support and assistance other writers are willing to share.

Now, I suppose it depends on what kind of help someone expects.

If some newbie approaches a very successful and busy author with the first draft of their first ever manuscript, asks them to read it and is offended when said author will not a) read it, b) rewrite it, c) call her agent and insist said agent reps it, or d) call her publisher and threaten to move houses unless said publisher publishes this newbie's work... Well, if that's the kind of "help" people expect, then yes, I suppose that TRUTH is correct.

No writer is likely to offer that kind of help. But that’s not unique to writers. I mean, no one is willing to help people who expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. On the other hand, if someone has done their homework and has a specific and appropriate question or request for help, most writers are pretty nice people. If they can, they’ll help.

Sharing insights about the craft and industry. Encouraging writers to keep trying to get better. Encouraging writers to be persistent and do their homework and continue to submit and write better stories even in the face of rejection. I've found that kind of help and support abundant out in published author land. Such a gift.

And I think we trying-for-our-first-contract writers need to have some tact and apply good judgment in terms of how/when to ask for help. I've been lucky enough to have had help offered to me by several published authors who I've met, or who have read my work in contests or via critiques I won or purchased in auctions. I got a couple of referrals to great agents that way -- one of those referrals led to representation. But I didn't walk up to a published author I barely knew and say, "Hey, I'm a writer, too. Can you refer me to your agent?" No. I found an appropriate way to get my work in front of them and then they offered to help. Big difference.

Now, I do think there are times when it's appropriate to ask for help, too. I watched a good friend of mine, whose first book comes out this summer, as she went through the process of obtaining cover quotes for her debut. But this is appropriate. The way it's done. And again, watching her go through this process, the generosity of some very prominent authors was astounding. Not that it's just generosity. Her book is amazing. And it is good publicity for the quote-offering author... But still... Taking the time to read a debut novel and come up with a quote. Generous. That's all I'm saying.

Perhaps that's what it boils down to. If you follow the etiquette of the industry--pretty much common sense. If you aren't obnoxiously pushy. AND if you work hard to ensure that your product is the best you can create. THEN kindness and generosity will fall from the sky.

And someday you'll be in a position to pay it forward.


Molly O'Keefe said...

Kindness and generosity falling from the sky??? sounds really good.

I think the good manners and a healthy dose of humility will go pretty far. I've been approached by people I've been delighted to help because, exactly as you said Maureen, they'd done thier research, they had pointed and smart concerns and helping them was a pleasure. I've been approached by people so shockingly rude, so unaware of basic manners and respect that I wanted to rain other things from the sky upon them.

There's a lot of "never hurts to ask" mentality going on in RWA - and I don't think that's always the case. Sometimes it does.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes... You're right. Sometimes it does hurt to ask, and there are a lot of rude people out there.

Problem is, people who lack common sense often lack the common sense to see they lack common sense ;-) (Boy, I hope I'm not one of them. LOL.)

I simply didn't like this writer claiming that established writers never help newbies, because my experience has been the opposite. Okay, I was exaggerating on the falling from the sky thing... but really, I feel like so many people have been generous to me with their time and knowledge etc.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a lot of writers being generous to other writers as well, usually because they recognize talent in the other writer.
But to me it's like any profession. I'm not going to recommend someone to my employer unless I know they're qualified, because I'm putting my reputation on the line. Same goes with writing.
I'm going to recommend people who I know write amazing books and are also good, sensible people.

Not that I have anyone to recommend to right now.. but if I did:)

Anonymous said...

Sinead wrote:
>>I'm not going to recommend someone to my employer unless I know they're qualified...

-----Yup, and even then, I've found you have to be so careful. A long time ago, I recommended a really talented writer acquaintance to my then agent, who graciously read her proposal right away, but declined. The writer then sent a terse note to the agent that she must not have read her ms because it came back to her so fast. I was floored and haven't recommended anyone to an agent since. (And to know the writer, you'd never guess she would do this.) Ugh. Sometimes it's scary to be nice.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Those kinds of stories terrify me, Florence. We talk a lot about control in this business and one of the few things you really can control is your reputation and when someone does something like that on your dime, well, I'm sure it's making you think twice about ever recommending someone.

Maureen is right, there are a lot of authors out there who don't have the tact to realize they don't have the tact. And RWA is a warm and inclusive group, I can imagine to some people it's hard to know where boundaries are. Which just means we have to know where ours are.

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