Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Giving Your Fellow Writers the Right Words and Some Good Deeds by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga


“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” – Sophocles

A few weeks ago a writer asked me for some advice. Her debut novel is coming out this summer and she’s understandably full of anxiety and extremely busy in preparing for this big event in her life, something for which she’s worked long and hard. She’s been showing up at her fellow writers’ readings and book events and giving support and promoting them online, but this can be time consuming. “I’m worried that I just don’t have enough time to do this even though I think it’s important to be supportive. Do you think this is something that should be a priority?” she asked. I said yes; it’s all about give and take and offering support. It’s shouldn’t be “tit for tat” but hopefully these authors will support her in the future when her book comes out: everyone can help each other. It’s all good. She should do as much as she can, especially at such a pivotal time in her writing life.

I’ve found that networking and being supportive—both online and in-person—is a good thing to do and I’ve gained many lasting relationships with writers because of it. But you can’t expect that someone will always return the favor. Six years ago, when my debut novel was just months away from coming out, I went to a reading at a big box bookstore for another debut novelist. I’ll call her Ms. Author. Ms. Author lived locally and I’d heard about her book, which was in a similar genre to mine, but I didn’t know her personally. I wanted to meet her and see how her reading would go—maybe I could learn something and support a fellow debut novelist along the way. So I went to her event on a Sunday afternoon in a crowded part of town where it was a hassle to park. And I found that the bookstore had stuck her in a corner where no one would have noticed a reading going on. Two of her friends showed up—and me. Three people. That was it.

After she read I introduced myself and we exchanged e-mail addresses (this was before Facebook and Twitter). She thanked me for coming and of course I bought her book and had her sign it. We exchanged an email or two afterwards, but she didn’t respond when my book came out and I never saw her at any of my book events, some of which could have used a few more attendees! A couple of years later when we both had second books out, Ms. Author and I were put on the same reading event for a big book festival in our area. I read before her and she was in the audience. Did she remember me? Did she recall that day when I first met her? After the event ended it was crowded. When I tried to catch her glance to make contact, nothing happened. She was obviously not looking to connect with me or else had forgotten who I was.

Well, no big deal. I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over this and I hadn’t thought of her for several years. But the other day I received an email from her. She has a new novel coming out next year. She apologized for sending an impersonal mass email and then pasted in the announcement of her book that appeared on Publisher’s Marketplace. The next paragraph of the email explained how important online buzz and word of mouth is to the success of a book. She said she’s “doing her part” by writing a blog post on a site that gets a million visitors a month. She informed us that she’s finally getting on social media and wants us to accept her Facebook friend request when it comes in. She promised to send out further emails to us so we can spread the word for her. She gave us suggestions: asking our local library branch to carry her book, coming out to her local readings, “liking” the book on Facebook, posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. She said she’d continue to send out emails over the coming year with further suggestions on how we could help her. Then she said she hoped we’d enjoy the book.

A very practical strategy. She was doing all the things you’re supposed to. But what was missing? The right words. Something also about helping fellow authors, or collaborating on promotion, or offering a guest blog post, or putting together panels at book events to draw attention to others’ books, etc. Instead this email’s theme seemed to be what you can do for me.

Another author friend told me how much she appreciated when I came to her reading at a local independent bookstore a few years ago. “You didn’t know me,” she said. “But you came anyway and bought my book.”

“Yes,” I replied. “It’s all about support and networking. It’s not that I expect anything out of it, but it does seem to be the right thing to do.”

Girlfriends, what do you think? What are your experiences with being supportive and receiving support from your fellow authors?

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, "Midori by Moonlight" and "Love in Translation" (both published by St. Martin's Press), and the e-book novels, "Falling Uphill" and "His Wife and Daughters," and e-book short story, “The Girl in the Tapestry.” She's also the author of the nonfiction e-book, "Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband."  Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches for Stanford University's Online Writer's Studio Novel Certificate Program. She also does private manuscript consulting for novels and memoirs. Follow her on Twitter at @Wendy_Tokunaga, friend her on Facebook and visit her website at: www.WendyTokunaga.com

55 comments:

  1. I'm grateful for authors who reached out to me, pushed, pulled and prodded me along. I still have much to learn about this business, but I pay it forward whenever I can in thanks for all those who carried me.

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    1. Yay, Christa! Thanks for all that you do. :-)

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  3. It's all about support!! I feel so lucky to be a part of this space here where the Girlfriends are always so amazing and supportive. That means you-- Wendy!!

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    1. Yes, Girlfriends is the perfect example of a great support network. Thank YOU, Brenda!

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  4. Wendy, I imagine your generosity of spirit comes through in other areas of your life, too. There will always be those who focus only on themselves (see me, buy me, pick me!) and then there will be those who ask how they can help, who offer a hand to someone else. The motivation is key, I think. What motivates us to make friends, to offer help, to applaud another's victory? Our heart will ultimately reveal itself when we're in a position of power as this author has shown.

    I once read about a preacher from the early 1900s who hid his head under a box when he spoke so that folk would hear his words and not focus on him, the speaker of those words. He wanted their attention to be in the right place. When I begin to focus too much on myself (as we're all wont to do), I try to remember that man and his humility.

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    1. Normandie, thank you for this very thoughtful post!

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  5. This story says so much between the lines, though Ms. Author will, I fear, never really have the sensibility to understand. Love the photo of you with readers lined up out the door! That's lovely!

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    1. Yes, Sheila, I think there are people who just never get it. :-) Unfortunately, no--that isn't a picture of me. LOL! Stock photo from Wikimedia.

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  6. Very wise post, Wendy. We all need to be a little more generous when it comes to supporting fellow-authors and friends and not suddenly wake-up and reach out when it's pub date for us.

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    1. So true, Deborah! I knew the Girlfriends would understand. :-)

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  7. Some of the most supportive writers were the writers I met early on - writers like you, Wendy! I'm so grateful to you and the others who've been there for me. But many of those people have dropped out of the writing scene, and, honestly, I don't find the support I once did.

    Others I've reached out to since then seem to treat me like I'm just a fan and not a fellow author and that is irritating. They don't reach back. And that has caused me to retreat and participate less in writing groups, blogs, etc.

    I"d like to believe it's still possible to find support in the writing community, so thank you for posting this.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy! And I thank you for your on-going support that does go way back. I think it can be a struggle and certainly with all the social media today there can be burnout that goes with this too, as well as trying to make yourself heard above the fray. I guess writers need fellow supportive writers more than ever these days.

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  8. If we can't support each other, then what's the point? As writers, we have to honor the process, the creative act, the story--our own and other people's--or we are only machines, cranking out product. Thank you so much for this.

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  9. Thank YOU, Janet. Though sometimes I do feel like a writing machine sometimes. :-)

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  10. Wow! You took all my pent up words straight out of my mouth! UNfortunately (because it's sad that more women don't support women) I have had a few of the same experiences that you describe here. As a result, over the past four years I have become somewhat cautious as to how much I DO get involved with other authors. I've been a legal secretary, an RN and now a published author and I have to say THIS is the snarkiest career I've had. However.....If time permits, I STILL support other new authors, do what I can to promote them on my FB page, etc. Why? Because there were a few when I started on this rocky road that DID support me. But I SO hear what you're saying here!
    Again, unfortunately, I feel this business is overwhelmed with competition and yes, jealousy....hence, why I feel it's such a one-way street with other writers.
    And by the way.....Karin Gillespie is one of the ones that gave me support and I'll never forget her for that! And I'll also be checking out your writing. Thanks so much for blogging on a subject that doesn't get enough attention!

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    1. Thanks, Terri! You bring up some very interesting points. I do have to say that I've gotten so much support from fellow women writers and belong to several networking groups that have helped me tremendously. However, you might be right -- with writers it can be a lot more personal and anxiety is rampant maybe more so in the business world. And, yes, a shoutout to Karin who started this wonderful and supportive blog! I'm glad to hear that she's been a champion for you.

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  11. Agreed, Wendy. When I see fellow writers at my readings my heart does a little happy dance. It is really nice to have the support from someone who knows the territory. Fellow writers also ask the best questions at readings!

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    1. Thanks, Rayme! Yes, knowing the territory is so important. And thank you for coming to the book event I co-hosted last month for Monica Wesolowska. :-)

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  12. I always try to put more in the kitty than I take out of it - that's the theory anyway! I am grateful for my generous sisters here at GBC.

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    1. Yes, I know you do, Lauren and you are a great promoter. Am grateful for GBC too. :-)

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    2. Lauren, I really like this way of thinking. Sort of like the camper's "leave a place a little better than you found it." The truth is, generous people often give more than they receive, but they understand that that is the nature of generosity and they don't expect quid pro quos.

      The coolest thing is that there are special people out there who recognize generosity and really do appreciate it. They form a sort a secret club. It takes a truly generous person to know a truly generous person. Wendy, I don't know you, but you are clearly part of the virtuous circle.

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    3. Connie, thanks for your nice comments! I love what you said about a secret club. :-)

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  13. Absolutely correct, Wendy! It can be difficult to keep up with every author we'd like to offer a lending hand to, but I try! I'm an absolute pay if forward believer, so I've made an extra effort with debut novelists in the past year or so! I think the best way to go about it is to do what feels right and expect nothing in return.

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    1. Thanks, Laura! Yes, no one can keep up with everything and everyone, but we can try. :-) Yes, I agree: Do what feels right and expect nothing in return. Thanks for that!

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  15. Thanks for this, Wendy. I couldn't agree more. It's all about community and mutual support and a generous spirit. Does all of us good. Hope to see you (at a reading?!) soon!

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    1. Thank you, Lindsey! So nice of you to comment. I'm actually going to something on the Peninsula tonight! Hope to see you sometime. :-)

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  16. What an excellent and timely post, Wendy. It really helped me to read about it as I have wondered about this give and take in the new age of social media. I have been helped tremendously by the GBC and am only now feeling able to help in return as I finally have a social media presence, but I have always been a buyer of books! I love to buy other author friend/girlfriend books. It doesn't matter to me if a book isn't quite my style; I like that feeling of offering support. You've got quite a response here which makes me think this is an area we need to post more about!

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    1. Thanks, Sam! Social media in some ways does make it easier to do things for other authors, but on the other hand it can be overwhelming. And, as has been said before, it's impossible to keep up with everyone and everything.

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  19. Wise words, Wendysan!
    In my extremely limited experience, I've found that other writers are really the only people who can truly appreciate the ups and downs and vagaries of the publishing industry. It only makes sense to embrace your fellow writers - they're your community. Looking forward to seeing you this evening!

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    1. Thank you, Tracy! Yes, it does make sense, doesn't it? See you soon. :-)

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  21. Beautifully written and beautifully honest. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and reminding us how important it is to be supportive of fellow writers.

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  22. Thank you so much, Carol -- another very supportive writer!

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  23. Well said, Wendy. You are one of the most generous writers I've met. Truly! Thank you for the reminder, too, that it takes a whole community to make a writer.

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    1. Thank you so much for your nice comments, Nina!

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  24. Amen! It takes a village to be a published author, and other writers are a huge part of that village. I love the pay-it-forward attitude so many writers have, and I have limited attention span for those who focus only on themselves. I had a similar experience to you--with an author who launched before I did, and it has turned me off buying or reviewing her work. On the other hand, I'm blessed to belong to an amazing group of debut authors called Book Pregnant. I would visit hell for these guys. Whenever I visit a book group, I always take a BP book as a giveaway. Spreading the love one book at a time…

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    1. Thank you, Barbara! It seems like a lot of folks have had similar experiences with some "clueless" authors. I think some just don't get it!

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  25. I like this post! I have to get a sitter and parallel park --trust me, this is a huge ordeal for me and anyone in the car with me-- to go to readings but so far they are my favorite part of being in the writing community. They supports local booksellers and local authors, but bottom line: they're fun! Don't understand why more authors don't go.

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! LOL - parallel parking; me too! I will sometimes pass up an event in San Francisco in favor of one in the suburbs because of parking.

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  26. And it feels better to be generous than to be aloof, too. Nice post, Wendy.

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  27. Really loved your post, Wendy!
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and for being one of the supportive writers out there. You're appreciated ;).

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    1. Thank you, Marilyn! Very nice of you to say.

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  33. So sorry for the delayed comment. I meant to write this days ago. I love this post more than words can say. And I'm so sorry you had that experience. Another author recently told me that the one thing writers can do for each other is to offer support. That said, I've been to some readings where the authors have checked their watches and sighed, as if they wanted to be anywhere but signing books. That's very off-putting and short-sighted.

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