“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