In 1995, I saw a flyer on the library’s community board, a flyer announcing that a local writing group was open to accept new members. At the time I’d been writing and submitting short stories to small press magazines for about three years, with only a bit of minor success, and it seemed to me that this was a sign from the Powers That Be. A writing group was just what I needed to help push me along. I was terrified at the thought of reading to a bunch of strangers, but I sucked it up and went to the meeting. Where I met some wonderful, supportive people, including Faith Hunter. We became friends. She has given me great suggestions and support all along, pushed me when I was dragging and put me in the way of lots of opportunities over the years. I can’t say for sure I would ever have tried to write a novel at all without Faith strongarming me into it. I met David B Coe through Faith, and lots of other writers through them both. When you’re starting out in a new business, it’s good to familiarize oneself with others in the same industry, and if you become friends, so much the better. One never knows when a friend or acquaintance will be able to smooth the way.
Lately there’s been a kerfluffle among would-be-published YA writers complaining that there’s some sort of conspiracy designed to keep them and their work from being seriously considered by New York publishing. This conspiracy is apparently made up of the currently published YA authors. According to the scuttlebutt, they share glowing reviews of each other all the time whether the work warrants it or not and defend each other with claws extended. They’ve been called incestuous. I’ve seen people complaining that writers making friends on social networking sites is somehow creepy, and that groups of YA writers going on retreats or tours together is just like those cliquish girls in high school who planned wicked parties then invited everyone in class except you and the weird kid that the football players shoved into the dumpster at lunchtime every day. But it’s far more evil and insidious than merely leaving certain people home on a Saturday night alone. The goal of this clique is, according to the complainers, to keep as-yet-unpublished writers from ever being noticed by agents and editors, thus crushing their career dreams and…well, yeah, making them stay home alone on a Saturday night.
Part of the problem seems to stem from certain authors arguing with bloggers about reviews of their books or those of their friends. Remember last week when we talked about how important being nice is? We talked about how tight the writing community is, and how easily an ugly comment can find its way to the last ear you intended to hear it. It’s not just the hopefuls who need to behave themselves, though. If a blogger reviews a writer’s book and hates it with a blinding passion, the writer’s best move is to keep her mouth shut and her fingers off the keyboard. No one book pleases everyone, and arguing with a review is the surest way to make yourself look like a jerk. But this is the age of the internet, where everyone can talk to everyone else regardless of her level of fame. So if a blogger trashes a book and gets the author’s attention, should he really be surprised when the author pops in with a comment? And if the author’s got friends who want to defend her, again, how is that a surprise? It’s what friends do. Not necessarily wise, certainly not mannerly, but hey, it happens.
Writers hang out with each other because we’re essentially coworkers. We’re all in the same business, we speak the same language and we know what the latest buzz is. Doctors and dentists and physicists do it, and so do writers. We’re not making friends with each other to keep anyone out. There’s nothing so fun as discovering a new writer, especially when we knew that person first. I know, not everyone is lucky enough to meet and become the friend of a published author right off the bat. Luck does play a part in one’s success. But there are chances to meet professional writers all along the way. I’m just home from StellarCon, for example, where I met some incredibly nice folks (hi, Lauren, Raven and Corey!) That first meeting can lead to friendship, or just acquaintance, and both of those are useful in building a career. The thing that isn’t useful is standing against the wall with a sour expression, telling anyone close enough to hear that all those kids talking happily near the cookie tray are holding you down.
It all comes back to that rule about being nice. If you’re unpublished and hoping to break in to the business, you should be nice. If you’re an established writer with multiple books on the shelves, you should be nice. And don’t be afraid to come over to the cookie table and say hello. We’ll move over and make a spot for you.