broadsideblog

Ten reasons writers need writer friends

In behavior, books, business on February 15, 2012 at 12:34 am
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Watching two friends recently — one selling his second book for big bucks, the other finally getting the contract for her first book –  I realized how much we rely on one another for advice, courage, insights, practical wisdom, ideas…
There are many reasons any ambitious writer of books needs a posse.
Here are ten:

You need to find an agent. Other writers know agents — and which ones might be a great fit for you.

You need to decide whether or not to fire your agent. Whatever s/he is doing that’s making you crazy, get a second opinion from someone who’s been through a few herself.

You’re trying to write a book proposal and need a second set of eyes from someone whose opinion you trust.

You’ve finished the manuscript and need a “first reader” who’ll be honest, helpful and diplomatic.

When the contract finally arrives, and it’s sitting there, in multiple copies of a thick, legally-binding document that can shape your future for years to come — they get it. You’re thrilled, but terrified.

They’ll know an experienced entertainment lawyer who can review the contract for TV or movie deals.

They’ll understand that a possible TV or film option is cool, but not life-changing until/unless the producers actually make a film or television show from your work. Other people will squeal with excitement and assume you can now rush out and buy a Porsche.

When you hit a wall and have no idea how to organize your material/find a researcher/fix that chapter/panic with self-doubt, they will know how this feels and find the right way to help you move past this obstacle. When my editor asked me to rewrite 10 (of 12!) chapters of “Malled”, my new memoir of working retail, I froze in fear until my good friend Scott said simply: “You’re the mechanic. Fix the engine.”

They’ll come to your book party and cheer, even if their book proposal didn’t sell, their novel is still in circulation or their last book got crummy reviews. It can, and does, happen to all of us. Which is why you go to theirs as well.

You attend any reading you can, to lend moral support and offer your pal a friendly face in what can be a very, very small group.

I love writing books, and hope to write and sell many more. But it’s a weird, tough industry and you need all the wise and understanding publishing veterans you can get!

  1. Can I add one more? Talking with other writers is so amazing. The majority of writers I’ve met are the most interesting, creative, supportive and smartest people I’ve ever known. Nothing feeds me or inspires me more than coffee and wordsmithing with other authors – published or not. We’re a special group of people, I think, trying to capture reality or our imagination in words to share with the world. And if you’re lucky enough to share a close friendship with a successful author, you truly can learn so much. I’m so fortunate that one of my besties is a bestselling author and I’ve learned so much from her experiences – both good and bad. I’m also blessed in that she’s one of the nicest, most generous and wonderful friends I’ve ever had. I’m sure I would have never written my novel if not for her encouragement – and if it’s published, I will thank her many times over for her endless support and friendship. There are just so many good eggs in this industry. I know it’s popular for many writers to be pessimistic, but I’ve received nothing but positive energy and caring support from most of the writers I’ve gotten to know in the past few years.

    What a perfect topic to address in a blog! BTW, loving your book! Am reading in the little time I have before bed. :)

    • Glad you’re liking “Malled”…please (if you like it enough) add a review at amazon? It’s gotten more than 60 (!) reviews and the bad ones are very rough indeed…

      It can take a while to find a group as supportive as yours. I live near NYC where ambitious and driven writers are literally a dime a dozen and competition for every scrap of anything is ferocious. There’s a Big Name Writer in my town who often sits, literally, in the booth behind me at the local diner — but when I cold-called for a blurb for my book (we both wrote memoir and I’ve written for his major freelance employer) I did not even get a return call. Getting blurbs for my book was by FAR the most unpleasant and difficult aspect of producing my book, so I would not count on all that goodwill ONCE you actually start competing seriously with them. If so, terrific!

      • I’m sure I’m one of those naive writers out there, but my friend was astounded with James Patterson gave her a blurb – and she didn’t ask him for it. Maybe her agent or editor did, but I thought it was pretty amazing that he agreed – not because my friend didn’t deserve it, but because he’s just so HUGE!. Out of curiosity, were you friendly wit the Big Name Writer who sat behind you at the local diner when you asked him or her for a blurb? If it makes you feel any better, I know that my friend often has to turn down requests for blurbs due to her incredibly tight schedule. After all, you do actually have to read the book in order to proffer a blurb. Maybe the Big Name Writer’s assistant just dropped the ball or maybe the Big Name Writer was just on deadline and couldn’t cram in another thing. My friend goes into her hole – as we jokingly call it – for weeks at a time (sometimes months, it seems) when she’s working on a book and we don’t see her. I am able to get her on the phone to catch up, but actual sightings are as rare as the Lochness Monster (not that she’s a monster, because she’s not – the exact opposite). If she can’t squeeze in lunch with her closest friends, she certainly doesn’t have the time for a blurb.

        All that said, I am in Florida and I guess we’re a less-competitive bunch. We talk slower – mostly because our arteries are clogged from all the butter in our food – but we’re a friendly bunch. And the ladies I’ve befriended across the country – including Brooklyn – are too! Granted, maybe we’re nicer because we’re not famous authors, but I doubt it. I’ve known my friend from the beginning and she’s just as wonderful as she’s always been. Maybe you just need to move down South, eat some grits and make yourself some girlfriends. We’re a fun bunch and some of us even went to college – several times. I’m not sayin’ we graduated or anything. :)

  2. This post confirms it, I desperately need some more writer friends :)

    • I could not survive, or thrive, without mine…In the past few years, I’ve shown up in the acknowledgments pages of a few books and added my friends to my own. One of the toughest elements of being a writer is that it is, de facto, a highly individual and often very solitary activity — yet we all need advice, counsel and tough love from people who KNOW the business, no merely people with a lot of fantasies about what they think (or wish) it was like.
      I find tremendous naievete among some wannabe writers and the more you know, the more you can negotiate your way through it all.

  3. Cristy, the guy lives in my town. I see him all the time. I figured he’s done fine, what would it cost him to toss me a blurb? I called his home and left a voicemail message asking for his help and explaining our mutual interests and contacts; we were introduced many years ago. I thought he was an arrogant SOB then and have seen little to change my opinion. But a blurb from a big name is a blurb from a big name, so I tried anyway.

    I have no doubt things are very different in smaller, regional cities. I hear this from my writer friends who live there!

  4. What can I say? Big Name Writer is a douche bag. But they’re not all that way. If I’m ever a successful writer (other than in the world of wordpress blogging), I will be happy to give you a blurb for your next book. Not that you’d ask, but the offer is there.

    • He is, but the larger issue of getting blurbs (and I think your friend was very very fortunate) is ongoing; my editor and agent both said it tends to be by far the toughest part of the entire process. Which is nuts!

      • I realize that blurbs don’t always come so easily, but – as a reader – I think they are so irrelevant. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because of a blurb. That said, my novel is a YA/Contemporary Fiction crossover and my protagonist is a bit of a bad ass. I’d love to have someone like Pink give me a blurb. I’d buy a book that Pink endorsed – and I’m not even sure why. But I would. And I’m 43.

  5. Hi, thanks for your thoughts – cutting straight to the heart of why writers need writers. Absolutely true on all counts! What I can add on my own experience is that things ARE very different in smaller places. It’s one of the big problems with the New Zealand writing scene – the fact that its scale creates a foolish and destructive sense of competitiveness.

    I’ve been in the business coming up 30 years now (ahem…) and been stung a few times by the ‘fair weather friend’ problem – people who’ll help you, but only if you don’t look likely to overtake ‘their’ patch, at which point they turn implacably hostile. My wife still dines out on one occasion when she watched it actually happen, in a moment, while I was talking to someone.

    It’s particularly vicious, I’ve found, in regard to history – it’s still possible to download a radio interview with New Zealand’s top academic historian in which my name is mentioned, and in a flash he erupts with anger and begins swearing. Just like that. On national network radio. Took the interviewer aback. A function of the fact that it is a VERY small market and field, but also a sad indictment on the characters of those who cannot see beyond their own miniscule ambitions and territory.

    My view? We’re all in it together. Different people will always write differently – everybody has something positive to contribute, even if they are writing in the same field. And if everybody co-operates – helps each other to get better – isn’t that going to grow the territory, the general market, and make better books for a wider audience? I think so.

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

    • This sounds sadly familiar; as you know I moved to NY from Canada, and from Toronto, the heart of Canadian publishing….where one editor of an influential magazine had to be practically dynamited out of his chair after 30 (!!!??) years. I chose to leave because I was well aware, having started my writing career there at 19 and leaving when I was 30, I would simply piss off too many people in too few positions of power. :-) I wanted a long career as a writer, and a larger stage for it, so coming to the US (while brutally difficult for years) proved a good choice.

      New York is crazy competitive, but there is enough movement in and out of jobs that there is always something to do, and someone new to work with, thank heaven.

      I can’t stand living in a place so small that old grudges still hold, and I know that if I returned to Toronto, even now, I’d run into some of that.

  6. Cristy, I have bought books on the strength of a blurb. It’s not definitive for me and there’s a lot of log-rolling out there, but I picked up a fab novel (Come, Thou Tortoise), which I LOVED solely on the blurb from another writer whose work I love, Lisa Moore (who wrote Alligator). Both writers live in St. John’s, Newfoundland and both of their books have a lovely, quirky quality I really appreciated. Charming but not precious…

    The four blurbs I was able to get were excellent and who knows what effect they had?

  7. I want to be at this point and have a few of “those” friends! I love your blog–thanks for stopping by mine and commenting–without it, I may never have found you!

    • Thanks!

      I take an hour every day to roam around WordPress, under a whole pile of topics, to see who’s out there, which is how I found your blog.

      It’s not a quick or easy thing, for most people, to assemble their writing posse. But it’s essential…you really need smart and helpful feedback from people who really know their game.

  8. [...] The other day Caitlin Kelly – author of the Broadside Blog – posted about why authors need to know authors. Spot on advice, as always. Run, do not walk, to check out what she says. [...]

  9. Great advice. I’m just starting in the writing/editing process and I’m doing it with a fellow writer friend. We seem to encourage each other to keep going. I love that! Very nice post.

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