A caring partner or friend may give encouragement and support. But eventually, the hardworking writer will need more than even the most sympathetic supporter can provide. When this happens, the writer needs to set up her own writing community. Doing so can be a lot of work, especially for those wallflowers among us; however, the payoffs are big and include friendship, understanding, professional and technical support,
Here’s just a few of the things your writing community can do for you:
- Commiserating when you receive bad news. Rejection letters, editors going on maternity leave the week before your book’s release date, horrible cover art—who could understand these struggles better than a fellow writer?
- Helping you celebrate good news. Even small events like a personalized note from an editor on a rejection letter mean so much more when a writer friend helps you celebrate.
- Learning from other’s mistakes. Your writer friends may be especially good at catching mistakes in your query letters, advising on contract or tax issues, or warning you about a particular agent with a bad reputation.
- Sharing advice on the business aspects of writing. How do you know if you should fire your agent or learn to be more patient? Is a work for hire project the right thing for you at this stage in your career? Your writer friends may have first-hand experience and sage advice.
- Talking through specific writing problems. Help with making your protagonist more sympathetic or sorting out point of view problems.
- Recommendations and references for each other. Who would be a good agent or editor for you? Reach out to your writing community and you may get great recommendations, and possibly a personal referral.
- Providing blurbs for each other.
- Sharing the passion. One of the best parts of talking with writer friends is sharing your passion for writing. Who are your favorite writers, who is out there doing amazing new work, who makes you proud to be part of the club?
When you look to those in your community for support, make sure you are clear enough about the kind of help or support you need. If what you really need is a boost of self-confidence, that’s when you should send your manuscript to your mother/brother/sister/best friend. These folks are the folks you can count on for undiluted praise. But if you need help with a particular plot problem, ask another writer, and ask them specifically. Say, “I really need help with this part of the plot. What do you think?” Don’t let them read 400 pages and hope they’ll zero in on what you need. You may want these writers to be within your genre. If you’re working on a grief memoir, find others who are treading the same path. Help each other out.
There’s an etiquette to being part of the community, so be sure to ask for help respectfully and return the favors. Clarify what you need and respect your writer friend’s time. If you need help with the opening of a story, send only that portion. If you just need some support or sympathy, send a short section; don’t ask someone to read the whole manuscript.
Wondering where to go to find these folks? Try going to a conference and network with those in your field. Join an online writing community like writerscafe or scribophile. Attend a retreat. Reach out to writers in your local community. Attend readings at local bookstores or participate in local literary events. Pursue an MFA; you’ll be instantly surrounded with those sharing the same joys and agonies.
No one can write for you. And no one can fix your writing problems. But as always, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends.
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…