So my brother called the other day (actually 2 days into the new year) and said: I have a friend and she wants to write a book. Can you just talk to her and tell her everything you know? I already gave her your phone number.
I have five brothers and sisters, a mom and any number of cousins, in-laws and friends who have each made this request on various occasions. I am always happy to help new writers, but I’m not crazy about my phone number passed around. First, I was probably the only teenage girl in the world who hated talking on the phone and that hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. More importantly it is impossible to distill 30 plus years of writing and publishing experience into a quick conversation and have it benefit a new writer.
The good news is that there is email. Email allows me to put information into a manageable format, provide links to appropriate sites that will help the writer, and allow that person to save the conversation for future reference. Here are some thoughts for the author willing to pay it forward, the writer looking for help, and the brothers and sisters who love to share the author in the family.
THE REFERER: Ask (preferably not with the new writer standing in front of you) if the author has time to help and how they would like to be contacted. Always allow the author to beg off even though most won’t. Writing is a time consuming business and multiple requests can feel overwhelming especially when an author is in the middle of a big project.
THE REFEREE: Be prepared. This tells the author that you are willing to work hard. Preparation should include a basic understanding of what you want to write (genre, form, etc.) and your goal (traditional or indie publishing, to create a career, expand a hobby). Have a short list of specific questions. Don’t try to cover the entire industry in one conversation.
Be respectful. An established author has built her business through trial and error, hard work, rejection and acceptance. Often she has paid for classes and conferences. Respect her hard work, commitment, and risk.
THE AUTHOR IN THE MIDDLE: Be gracious and as effective as you can be. A new writer will be nervous speaking to an established author, so put her at her ease. Then remember that there is a fine line between useful information and too much information. Usually it is possible to tell how much the Referee can absorb from their first contact. If a new writer can’t articulate whether they want to be an indie or a traditionally published author start with the basics, direct this writer to blogs on publishing and offer recommendations for coaches and writing classes. The nuances of the industry would be lost on a true newbie.
Set parameters. I am always grateful when a new author asks if it’s okay to check back in. I love the request as much as I love to hear the progress. As new writers become grounded, their questions often help me rethink my work as much as it helps them move forward.
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