In the business, can other authors really help you as a writer?
Many folks go, “Yeah! Absolutely!” and mention their writing groups. Or point to big name authors who provide promotional quotes for marketing. Maybe they’ll even point to review exchanges, where novelists swap books and publicly applaud each other.
…yeeeeeeaaahhh. Honesty time.
Writing groups aren’t bad or anything, but most attendees just want to be the hot topic du jour. Few will give you deep, valuable criticism because that takes effort. If they knew the market’s tastes, they wouldn’t be hanging out at the library on a Tuesday night—they’d be employed at a publisher. It just becomes the blind leading the blind.
“What about quotes from successful authors?” Eh, occasionally. Readers know it’s the publishers making that request. Some byliners are prudent about promotion, because it’s their word. Integrity is a virtue. Others? Whew… compliments from a few names are synonymous with the chef’s kiss of crap.
If you know, you know.
Finally, book review swaps. Decent idea plagued by human weakness. Gave it a shot a few times, and even wrote my thoughts down for Goodreads, Amazon, etc. But when I checked on their half of the bargain?
- “Didn’t read it.”
- “Oh, sorry, I was busy working on the sequel.”
- “No, no, you review me. Me only. That’s how this works.”
Discovering all this the hard way made me realize it’s time to face the music. There’s no reason to be upset, it’s just that the majority of other scriveners can’t really do anything for you. Most people are “1D Creators,” one dimensional. They want to excel at a single piece of the puzzle, and that’s all.
Honestly, that’s not as cynical as it sounds. It takes years to get good at writing. Distractions don’t help.
And we know why we write. Occasionally, a memorable one-hit literary-wonder gets published, and some folks would want nothing more. Anyone else would be driven mad after heights of fame they can never enjoy again. So you can’t blame people for being single-minded about skills that require deep work.
A good book is known by the title. A good writer is known by name.
No, generally other writers are not competition. It’s cool if they’re your friend, and a handful make awesome team-up buddies. But the majority of scriveners aren’t the best business partners because they’ve got their own irons in the fire. Professionals focus on getting paid while amateurs are toiling to live the dream.
Other word nerds don’t want to join “your publication team” because that means setting aside their own aspirations. So what do you do instead? Shake, it, up, baby.
If want to get serious, look to other varieties of creators, be they 1D or multi-talented. Expand the Rolodex. Chances are, you only need one or two writer buddies. The rest of the time? Look for artists. Directors. Editors. Agents. Cosplayers. Graphic designers. Developers. Producers. Actors. Musicians. Marketers. Publishers. Find people who will hold the ladder instead of using you as a rung. The hungrier, the better.
“But I just want to write my novel!” some of my readers undoubtedly whine.
Oh please, who are you kidding? We all know everyone daydreams about their grand yarn becoming a film or Netflix series. There are very few J.D. Salinger-types out there, famous for his unwillingness to let The Catcher in the Rye come to the screen. Or Alan Moore, who usually hates people who adapt his work.
Chances are, you’re hoping that someone else will do your heavy lifting. But your odds get better if you know what these other business partners require. To do that, you need to break out of your one-dimensional shell.
We only glamorize the novel because it gives the author the most control. Only with self-publication is that complete control. In every other facet of the industry, writers are merely the starting point. The first script is at the mercy of the showrunner. A game writer’s great dialogue might get cut when the narrative lead nixes the whole stage. Your comic artist might say, “I’m terrible at drawing those.” If an editor comes back from a client and says “this scene won’t do,” that’s how it’s gonna be.
It can be frustrating sometimes. It can be exhausting, conjuring fresh ideas from the ether when someone tells you no. I know that pain well and I understand. But the hidden secret is that as we write to understand ourselves, our audiences read, watch or play through our stories to learn something about themselves.
If you cannot grasp the needs of a few, why do you think you’ll connect with the hidden yearnings of the many?
Unless you plan to become an editor, or market someone else’s work, leave other writers be. Most team-ups happen under specific conditions, like TV or game script writing. The rest of the time, other word nerds can’t do much for you. They’re busy sweating over their own manuscripts. As you should be on yours.