Yesterday Faith talked about how to approach an agent … and how not to. The same advice goes for approaching a published writer for help. Ever since “Mad Kestrel” hit the shelves, I’ve been receiving emails from nice people very politely asking me to help them. People I do not know.
Before I was published, I was lucky to have the guidance of a published author, Faith Hunter. We met when I joined the writing group she also belonged to. She encouraged me to try writing a novel when all I’d done up to that point was short fiction. She was constructively brutal when I needed it, supportive and kind when I was suffering. She took me under her wing because she believed in me. And she believed in me because she’d had time to get to know me and my writing.
I’ve had complete strangers offer to send me their novels. (If y’all could only see the stack of published books I haven’t read yet!) I’ve had people attach their novels to the email requesting I read them. (One lady, when I told her there were liabilities to me doing that, promised very sincerely that she’d never tell. Uh huh.) I’ve had people offer me ideas if I do the writing. (If only they knew how long it takes me to write the ideas I have now!) I remember how hard it was to write a whole novel the first time. The anguish of rejections, the stress of not knowing what comes next, the worry over whether I’d ever get an agent to represent me – those are all still very fresh in my mind. And who knows, one of those nice people might be the next J K Rowling, and I could discover her! I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t enticing.
But here’s the thing…I’m a writer first. I’m not the one who’ll spend her time showing editors your work, nor can I buy your novel from you. All I could do is look at it and tell you what works and what doesn’t. While I’m doing that for you, I’m not writing MY book. If it comes to my book or yours competing for my attention, mine is going to win. Especially if I’ve never even met you before. Yes, a published author helped me. I let her get to know me first, get to know that I meant what I said, that I could do the work myself and that I was willing to tough it out. In J K Holmes’ interview last Friday, she mentioned that she’d had the assistance of writer Carolyn Haines, but once again, that help came because they had a personal relationship, and Carolyn recognized J K was ready to put her money where her mouth was.
I don’t mean to sound like a downer – we do want to help. That’s why the four of us are here – this blog is a way for all of us to pay it forward. We welcome writers’ questions here. If you run into one or more of us at a con or writing conference, we’re happy to give advice and suggestions. Write, rewrite, make your book as good as it can possibly be. Take advantage of opportunities like writing critique groups or online support forums, and if you luck onto a personal relationship with someone in the business, treat it gently.
But you’re going to have to learn the craft for yourself, the hard way. The same way we all did. That’s the big secret to getting published.
Don’t forget to stop by tomorrow for a special guest appearance from Edmund Schubert, writer, managing editor of Diversity Woman and fiction editor of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, an online sf/fantasy ‘zine.