What do I mean by this ridiculous joke title? That we do not exist in a vacuum. Not as writers, not as purveyors of our word-vomit to the readers, not as human beings.
When I first started screaming into the void, crying out to whomever would listen, “Look at the weird stuff coming out of my brain!” I thought I was alone. I thought it was me against the tide of rejections and likely inevitable failure.
I was wrong.
From the very beginning, I found other writers, professionals, who were happy to help me. Seasoned wordsmiths reached out to me to let me know they were there if I needed anything. Well, maybe not *anything*, but advice, a sympathetic ear, help finding markets, yeah.
It was like I had opened the door to a old west saloon. I had expected the piano to stop cold and all eyes to turn my way, hands on the butts of their six-shooters. What I got instead was a friendly handshake, a hug, a “this first round’s on me.”
I simply could not believe how … nice everyone was. How supportive. How excited they were to meet someone who was new to the field. I was flooded with gratitude, and I never forgot that feeling.
So, when a new writer approaches me, I do my very best to help them out. I point them toward good source material. I tell them how to find markets for their work. I even (sometimes) offer to beta read for them. This last one has backfired on occasion: it’s really hard to communicate in a nice way when a story is truly, deeply flawed. If it’s something fixable, I give them advice on how to maybe make that happen. If it’s just awful, I try to find a way to let them know that they should maybe take some classes or something. I don’t want to crush a person’s dreams. However, I also don’t want to give someone false hope. Telling someone that their story is good, or has potential when it’s garbage is not doing them any favors.
Here’s how I curb this potential problem: up front, I say, “I will give you feedback, yes. But, I will be honest. And, you may not like what I have to say. If you still want my feedback, send it. If you have a hard time taking criticism, you may not want to have me read it.”
This particular, unpleasant scenario aside, I love it when I can help another writer. This is true whether they are novices or friends of mine who are already established.
When a writer friend has a new book out, I’ll read it and review it on Amazon. I’ll share the link on Facebook. I’ll tell people to read it. When I see a writer I admire pimping another writer’s work, I am interested. I want to read it.
Whereas, my gut reaction when I see a writer shouting “Buy my book!” on every social media platform under the sun, is to *not* want to read it. I’m not even sure why this is. Maybe it seems like they’re trying too hard. It makes me wonder, “do they have to scream about it? Why? Can the book not sell itself? Why is the writer the one talking about it and not someone who read it?”
When a book first comes out, I totally get the writer saying, “Hey! Look at the cool thing I just did!” I get that. I do it myself. But, when the same writer is still doing that months later, hitting all the relevant Facebook pages and tweeting about it every nineteen minutes, come on. It smacks of desperation, man. And, desperation is unattractive. Nobody wants to go home with the person at the bar who is wearing the “fuck me tonight” shirt. Nobody. Unless you’re shit-faced. Which is probably the only time you’ll buy that writer’s book, too. Don’t shop drunk, kids. You’ll end up with bad books and that stuff that makes your poop sparkle.
All of this is, somewhat surprisingly still on task with my original topic. By promoting other writers’ work, instead of our own, we are not only more credible to readers looking for a good story, but we are also helping our fellow wordsmiths.
And that, ladies, gents and people who identify otherwise, is what it’s all about. Give it back. Pay it forward. Be the karma.
But, don’t do the thing where you say you’ll promote someone else’s work if they promote yours. This is shallow and self-serving and not cool. I made a lot of rookie mistakes early on, and this was one. Of course, I also used to review anthologies in which I had a story (do not do this – I can tell you from experience that some publishers won’t touch you if do) – I have since deleted all of those. Shudder.
We learn from our mistakes. We learn from others’ mistakes, if we’re paying attention. We can also learn from others’ successes. We can pass on our own knowledge learned from all of these, and we should.
To quote words of wisdom from a great couple of guys who will, I hear, be making a comeback soon, “Be excellent to each other.”
Ken MacGregor 2016
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