Your Support Net (Work)

A writing community is made up of lots of different people with different life experiences, different skills, and different connections. If we were all the same, maybe community wouldn’t be so important. If writers were all interchangeable, we might only need community for social time.

But because we’re all different, our community can offer so much more. Nobody can be an expert on everything, and sometimes hours of research can’t make a character or plot point as realistic as a conversation with someone who’s been there.

I’m a pilot. I’ve been contacted by writers wanting to know how airplanes work, whether the maneuvers they were describing would be possible, whether their story “felt real.”

I’m not a doctor, but my husband is. If I’ve got a character with a brain injury or a medical student who wants to date his former patient without breaking professional boundaries, I’m going to run my story by him. And he’s not only my personal resource, either. He’s had a long conversation over coffee with another friend of mine, discussing the physiology of werewolves for her novel-in-progress.

These connections aren’t limited to stories, either. When I said I wanted to do a launch party for some of the anthologies I had stories in, I’d never done a launch before. But Marie Bilodeau had. And using her contacts in the Ottawa sci-fi community, my desire for a launch party turned into On the Brink, a series (that’s right, more than one) of launches for up and coming new authors in the Ottawa area.

When I first started submitting my stories for publication, I felt a little nervous. Much to my surprise, an editor I knew from my fandom days was taking submissions for an anthology. Had I not submitted a story that was of equal quality to the others she selected, I wouldn’t have gotten in. But if I hadn’t known the editor–if I hadn’t kept in contact with her via Facebook–I would never have known that she was taking submissions. (I discovered the Open Call facebook groups, Duotrope, and other market listings, later on!)

In fact, the only reason I went to Superstars–and met the Tribe, became a Fictorian, and appeared in the Purple Unicorn anthology (and upcoming Red Unicorn anthology) was because another writer friend of mine–not a Superstars instructor–posted about it on her blog.

And what goes around comes around–when the same person really needed to talk to a police department in Maine to get correct information for her recent novel, I was able to use my personal contacts to make that introduction happen.

Writers share information. Opportunities. Feedback. Advice. Maybe you don’t know how to do something, but someone else you know does. Or maybe someone else has a main character who’s about to climb Mount Everest, but he doesn’t know a lot about mountain climbing. If that’s what your mom does for a living, you can help that person out.

As with all things, moderation is key. You won’t win yourself long-term support if you’re the person who’s always demanding help without ever giving anything in return. Equally, you won’t build yourself a career as a writer if you spend all your writing time helping other writers instead of writing your own stuff. But when everyone contributes fairly, the writing community becomes a big support net(work), and it lifts us all up.

The Importance of Author Mentors

A guest post by Petra Klarbrunn.

Most beginning authors I know think that a mentor is someone who will look over your latest screed and give you feedback and editing suggestions. While it is something that a mentor may do for you, that’s actually the job of an editor and/or critique group.

So what does an author mentor provide? I’m glad you asked.

  1. Questions at all stages. As mentioned, you might be lucky enough to have a mentor who has enough time to read over your epic novel. The majority of mentors are working professionals, so they’re busy working on their own epic space opera trilogy. They don’t have time to line edit your work. They do make time to answer specific questions for you. Say you’re having a problem with your opening hook. You can ask your mentor to look at a couple of paragraphs and get feedback from someone who knows how to write opening lines that propel the reader forward. Even better, they can provide a couple of different takes and have them go over why one is better than the other.
  1. Contracts. Mentors can give you some feedback on contracts, explaining what the egregious portions are and what they actually mean. They may suggest contract modifications or recommend that you take the contract to a specialist lawyer, especially if the contract is from one of the Big 5 publishers.
  1. Plotting. Some mentors can go over your plot outline and make suggestions. One of my mentors found a serious flaw in a novella that would have had me spinning my wheels for weeks until I discovered it. Don’t send a forty-page plot outline to your mentor. Send a bullet-point list so they can see how you build up towards the third act.
  1. Networking. Often overlooked, having someone who can provide introductions within your genre can give you a leg-up on your peers. One of the complaints about writing is “it’s about who you know that counts.” While exceptional writing can do your introductions for you, getting introduced to a busy editor at a convention or via email can at least give your work a better chance at getting looked over by a publisher. Introductions can also provide opportunities to get into anthologies or to work on collaborations.
  1. Blurbs. Receiving a blurb from a bestselling author or a celebrity can push your work to the top of the shopping cart. Stephen King gave a relatively unknown author named Jack Ketchum a glowing blurb and recommendation. Now Mr. Ketchum is a bestselling author and screenwriter.
  1. Giving back. Most mentors say that the main reason they choose to be a mentor is to give back to the community. Because most authors are genuinely nice individuals, they want others to succeed. Sometimes mentors didn’t have anyone they could ask questions of, and they want to help new authors with the craft. And who knows? Perhaps one day they will ask their mentee for a blurb or two.

Petra Klarbrunn Bio: Petra battles with her four cats daily for the use of her laptop. She writes in the romance, erotica, bizarro, horror, and academic fields using multiple pseudonyms. Her diet consists mainly of tofu and espresso.

Sunday Review: The Murderer’s Daughter

Caveat: This is the first Jonathan Kellerman novel I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Kellerman breaks the mold of most thriller writers. He doesn’t rely on heavy plotting and endless bullets flying. Instead, he focuses on his protagonist, Grace Blades, generating genuine sympathy and concern for an intelligent child born into home of uncaring and abusive parents. Little Grace must find her own sources of food and comfort–the former consists of crumbs and trailer park hand outs; the latter she finds in books. While he has us concerned about poor little Grace, he brings us to her present day, where she is a skilled psychologist at the top of her game, with an eccentric side she keeps hidden.

Who Grace is and how she got there is what drives the reader through most of the book. That, and someone from her past who, under a false name, seeks her out. Someone from her childhood who has connections to an evil day that gives birth to the largest turning point in her life. Someone who is murdered after he leaves her office.

Kellerman weaves a dual timeline together masterfully, keeping the reader intrigued and anticipating what poor little Grace will have to face and how she will heal, while Dr. Blades seeks a killer from her past who is also seeking her. All the while, Kellerman keeps this about Grace Blades, entirely. It is about her actions, thoughts, reactions, planning, feelings, emptiness and sense of justice.

There is much a writer can learn from where he segues, and how he keeps the reader concerned about little Grace when we know she survives to be Dr. Blades. Kellerman manages to transcend his genre with character, while anchoring us with enough immediacy to turn the page and see what’s on the next.

In my opinion, the ending was cut too short. There were a couple of “false starts.” Once, it looked like Grace would be the subject of an investigation but the detective just disappears from the novel. Another time, the threat loomed larger than what it ended up as. Perhaps the worst was that hundreds of complications could’ve arisen, but none of them were explored. This novel succeeded on the journey, not the destination, but it kept me turning the pages until the end, and that is enough for me to read another.

Travelling in Packs: Partnering with Multiple Authors at Cons

Hernecroe I am, the lone wolf…er…author in one of my happy places—a small local Con. Surrounded by my Knight of Flame regalia, I’m ready to greet the horde of potential readers. I’m a newbie though, with only a small number of titles to my name. Still, I love to get out there and mix it up with fandom and authors.

Regardless of how awesome the cover and how friendly my smile, there is a sameness to the display, a lack of variety. Some readers will be drawn to Develor Quinteele’s intensity on the banner behind me, others not so much. And, before I’ve had a chance to talk about the story, to tell them it’s like King Arthur meets Agents of Shield, they’re gone. Poof. A missed opportunity.

I don’t like missed opportunities.

I’m writing, more titles are coming, but I cannot change the laws of physics or of time. For now, I’ve got what I got. But that doesn’t mean I have to suck it up and deal with those missed opportunities. Nuh-uh. Ain’t gonna do it.

I’m fortunate to count several local authors among my close friends. We trust each other. Our titles span several Fantasy readerships (YA, Contempory, Urban, Epic, Dark). And, most important of all, we enjoy spending time together talking about our craft with anyone who’ll listen. As it turns out, they like Cons.

See where this is going?

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We banded together, growing a one-author army to three and displaying eight titles along with corresponding marketing swag instead of just mine. More genre variety equals more interest, more readers at the table, more chances to talk about our stories. And, yes, it leads to more sales. We (Maria DeVivo, Dora Machado, and I) know the bottom line is to match the reader with the right book at the right time. We are not in competition. There are plenty of readers to go around. We discuss and sell each other’s books with equal zeal. We want happy readers. Happy readers become fans. Happy readers write reviews. Happy readers talk about the really cool book they just read and about the time they met the author at the Con.

It’s all about scale. I did the same thing as a lone wolf author—talked, sold, created happy readers—but in much smaller numbers. By having a table with author partners, I sell on average three to four times as many books as going it alone. Again, variety piques interest, which sparks more visits to your table/booth, which delivers the chance to make a reader’s day. Take it.

To see this approach done to perfection on a much bigger scale, check out the WordFire Press booth at most major Cons.

While I’ve focused on generating more interest by partnering with authors, there are additional benefits to sitting at a Con for hours with a fellow creative individual. Think of the ideas, think of the potential for future joint-projects, think of the opportunity to have someone watch your table so you can go to the bathroom. Don’t underestimate the power of that last point. Whew!

In addition to building variety to attract interest, there are two key points to take away from this post. The author partnering approach will only work if we live by the number one rule in the Universe—don’t be a jerk. Be nice to everyone. There is no downside to being nice and a tremendous upside. The other is that we are not in competition. There are plenty of readers to go around. Let’s introduce them to our stories.