In my first Walk the Walk post I wrote about taking yourself seriously and how important it is to be professional, committed, and respectful of yourself and your dreams. Today, I want to shift the focus to your relationship with other writers.
Shortly after my first novel was released, I was contacted via email by another newbie author. To this day I’m not sure how she “discovered” me, but she was compelled to write to me out of the blue because she had learned that I was donating a portion of my book earnings to the non-profit organization One Body One Hope. She, too, was giving away a chunk of her advance and subsequent royalties (actually, 100%), and felt that we had much in common. We were the same age with exciting new careers and a passion for global issues. I’m guessing you’re not too shocked to discover that we’ve become the very best of friends.
But it almost wasn’t that way.
Upon learning who my new friend was, I immediately went out and ordered her book. It was brilliant. Gorgeously written, absolutely gripping, unputdownable. I also discovered that she was a world traveler, a forensic psychologist, and incredibly witty, articulate, and wise. Did I mention she’s beautiful? And that she has a fabulous Australian accent even though she grew up crisscrossing the planet? As I continued to keep tabs on her career, I watched her fame skyrocket when sparkling reviews poured in. She soon secured an award nomination and even graced the cover of a magazine.
The truth? I loved and admired my friend, but I also battled a growing vein of jealousy.
That’s not easy for me to admit. But it’s the truth, and I think it’s an important thing to talk about openly. In the light of my sophisticated, globetrotting book-sister’s success, I felt small and provincial. My book didn’t sell as well, didn’t garner as much (if any) critical attention, and got some really ugly reviews (the lowest Amazon rating on her book is 4 stars). It would have been very easy for me to simmer in my quiet envy but for the fact that we really and truly grew to become friends.
Relationships with other authors always have the potential to be fake and insincere, a polite front while we battle unspoken jealousies and insecurities. There, I said it. And you know that it’s kinda true, don’t you? That we’ve met other authors (online or in person) who we’d have to hate if we didn’t love them so much. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s why:
Other authors are NOT our competition.
When our friendship blossomed beyond mere acquaintanceship, I was forced to confront my jealousy and try to get at the heart of why I felt so threatened by my author friend. And when all those emotions were distilled, only one thing remained: the belief that if someone bought her book, they wouldn’t buy mine. Or if they liked her book they would dislike mine. I put her up on a pedestal, took my place beside her, and then made my imaginary audience choose. Pick her or pick me. You can’t have both.
What a messed up sort of logic. Because that isn’t the case at all, is it? My fellow authors are not my competition, they’re my teammates. We’re in this together, friends, battling a world of smart phones, TV on demand, and games as addictive as nicotine. When someone reads a book, surely a literacy angel must get her wings! And when that lovely, literate person turns the last page of that book, chances are she’s hungry for more.
As cheesy as this might sound, we all have something valuable and extraordinary to offer. No one will ever be able to tell a story as only you can, and no one can take your place in the symphony that is this wild, wonderful world of books. But the same can be said for the person beside you, and the more we learn to love and celebrate one another, the more rewarding this writing gig is going to become.
Here are a couple of ways that you can be a friend to your fellow authors:
Here are a couple of ways that you can be a friend to your fellow authors:
- Interact online. Don't just read a post, tweet, or status update and move on, hit the "like" button. If something strikes you, take a moment to respond. Retweet or repost things that really resonate with you, and if an author friend has knocked your socks off, shout it from the rooftops! Don't tell me you don't light up a little when someone (a fellow author!) gives you an online high-five. Return the favor.
- Post reviews. Goodreads, Amazon, you name it. It doesn't have to be a long review. Three lines stating that you liked the book and why is enough. (Conversely, if you didn't like the book, avoid posting a nasty review. There is a time and a place for an honest, even harsh, review, but attacking a fellow author online is just plain mean. Not to mention, you'll come off looking sour and vindictive.)
- Attend events. Elizabeth Blackwell wrote a lovely blog post about this a few weeks ago (Get Out of the House!), but I think it bears repeating. We know you're an author, too, but by all means, go to other author's events and play the part of the fan girl. It feels so good to have fellow authors acknowledge your work! A smiling face in a meager bookstore crowd will cement a friendship like nothing else can.
- Help out. We're all busy, but if someone asks for a favor and you can manage it, say yes! Sometimes I just need a second set of eyes on a scene that's giving me trouble, or advice on how to work out a plot wrinkle. I don't forget the people who have been willing to lend me a helping hand, and you can bet that I'm anxious to be a sounding board when they need one, too.
- Network. They say it all comes down to who you know, and in publishing that is at least partly true. No one likes a clique, and if you know someone who could help a fellow author, go ahead and make the connection! Of course, we don't want to leverage our relationships for personal gain or treat people like commodities to be traded, but there is also no reason to hoard friendships. Never exploit your friends, but remember that you don't have to be stingy either. I love connecting like-minded people and watching their relationships bloom.
- Remember where you came from. One of the reasons I decided to write this post is because I've encountered authors who haven't been very good friends (or very nice people for that matter). And, in the past, maybe I wasn't the most friendly or generous person myself. It's hard to escape the feeling that we as authors are fighting over a limited resource (readers), and even harder to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge when someone's prose is lovelier than ours, their storyline tighter, their plot more gripping. But I've found that people who cling to these shortsighted, often imaginary rivalries usually expose themselves as insecure and grasping. The people I love in this industry are the ones who remember that they were once struggling rookies whose only readers were doting parents and significant others--and then treat fellow authors as worthy peers and celebrated equals, no matter where they are at on their publishing journey. Someone once told me (wish I remembered who!) that she strived to enter every room without posturing or pride (Here I am!) but rather suffused with grace and affection (There you are!). I don't know about you, but that's exactly the person I want to be, too.
Please understand that I don't write any of this from a place of vanity. I have not "arrived." I still struggle with envious thoughts (I wish my books sold as well as hers) and insecurities (I really am a talentless hack), and I'm still learning how to be a good friend--and regularly falling short. But I'm also sick of navel-gazing. It's much more fun to enjoy the fact that we're in this together. And the truth is, I am so proud of my author friends I’m fit to burst. They’re crazy talented. The characters they’ve created live in my imagination. Their prose moves me to tears. I love it that there are people who devour their books, and I want to do everything in my power to make that number grow exponentially. The best part? I know my author friends feel the same way about me. And we're not cliquey at all... ;-)
PS - I’ve spent the whole blog post talking about her, now I’d love the chance to introduce you to one of my writing BFFs, Lisa McKay. Isn’t she awesome?!? Please, go out and follow this extraordinary woman on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond. And do yourself a favor: pick up one of her books. I promise, you won't be disappointed.