Wednesday, September 23, 2009

are you giving what you're getting?

Recently I've been reading in various comment sections of blogs and on forums that writers are very competitive and don't wish to see other writers gain success. I've also read things about writers getting burned by more successful professionals in the business, be it television/film or publishing.

I gotta tell ya, I'm confused.

My experience of writers and potential mentors is completely different. I find writers--at any stage of success--to be nothing but supportive, encouraging, and complimentary. They will buy your book just to give you your royalty (even when it's practically pennies); they'll plug your book even when they're too poor to buy it themselves; they'll refer you to a store or a website or a person that could possibly benefit you and your pursuit of publication and/or sales. They'll offer honest, critical feedback, and help you find your talent when it disappears in the middle of the night. And they'll praise you when you've found it and you're in the zone.

Professionals in the business, the ones who have achieved the success you're striving for, are not much different. They want to help you be the best writer you can be. They want your success as much as you do, whether they have a stake in it or not.

I once got my book into the hands of a big-time editor at a major publishing company. In the end, he decided that the book wasn't a right match. But he gave me excellent feedback and assured me that it had nothing to do w/ the quality of the writing. Wished me well.

I know of another highly successful writer who offers help to his fans -- he's no pushover, mind you. But he freely dispenses advice, and I have no doubt that he'd pick up the phone and use his influence if the writer was really talented and those other factors were clicked into place.

I'm sure there are exceptions to these fabulous people -- there always are -- but my point is this: What is your attitude towards writers, towards success, towards yourself?

I concede that it is a tough business (and we published authors have to remind ourselves about the business part constantly), but if all you ever focus on is the tough part, how do you expect to be break through? How do you expect to be received? Rejections happen, and some of them are so disappointing they downright suck, but there's always something to be gained by them (a reminder that you can't please everyone, for starters; and many agents say that they turn down good writing all the time). The really golden ones are the ones that come with feedback.

The "show me the money" days are over. Of course I want to sell books and make money. But I'll never do it if I maintain the attitude that I deserve it, dammit, after all, I'm a professional, and who the hell do those people think they are... Entitlement is not becoming.

This may seem to contradict what I've said in previous posts about writing being a rather selfish act. In that context, I'm talking about the process and even the purpose. But I don't think it should be in this context. Don't buy into the lie that writers are pitted against each other, and that when it comes to agents and publishing, it's them against us. If that's your experience, then I suggest you need to do some serious introspection before you point the finger outward. What goes around comes around.

You can't support every single author out there. You can't buy every book and plug every single one of 'em. But wish 'em well. Write down their name -- maybe down the line things will change. Congratulate them when they get a win, big or small (writing 1000 words is a win). Pay forward the kindness a fellow writer has bestowed on you. We're all in this together, after all.


Elspeth Antonelli said...

What wise words, Elisa! You should be sitting in a lotus position at the top of a mountain wearing flowing robes with a small fire burning neatly in front of you!

I try to be as supportive as I can. I visit blogs and let people know I was there by leaving a comment - I know how big a lift it can be! I give advice when asked. I have noticed (with some chagrin) that I'm far better at giving advice than I am in following my own! Ah well.

I will admit that money does play into it. I've been paid to write for over 4 years. It's not much, but it's something. I don't think I'm coming from a place of entitlement, but I think I'm deserving of some respect. Maybe not much...maybe a little...maybe I'm fooling myself.

I've never been afraid of asking for advice, but I don't want to look like a fool - especially to someone who has achieved such a level of success that I can't see them for the clouds!


Elisa said...

Oh, I believe we are all deserving -- to believe that is a part of believing in ourselves and our writing. But when we use that as grounds for entitlement we haven't earned, that's not good. I know for a fact that you don't do that.

And of course sometimes people do get legitimately burned, and don't deserve to, and I don't mean them either.

And btw, I still owe you the rest of the feedback on your story! I'm sorry I haven't finished or followed up. When student final drafts come in, I forget about the outside world.

I have to go resume my lotus position now... ;)

Mary Jo said...

Elisa: FAntastic post! I couldn't agree more, esp. your phrase: "If that's your experience, then I suggest you need to do some serious introspection before you point the finger outward."
It is all about attitude in every walk of life and in every relationship.

Love that you mentioned being able to support without spending money. I just posted a similar comment with a link to a list of 10 ways to support writers without spending a dime!
Thanks for saying it like it is!

Elisa said...

Thank you Mary Jo! Glad you liked it!

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

I agree completely with this post. No matter how much success you have had we are all writers we know the road we took to get here. Why not help where you can? But I also have had nasty experiences with writers (one writer actually) who became quite famous and lost perspective and forgot how she got there. No matter what else- I learned an important lesson from her about how not to behave.

Elisa said...

Lauri, I agree that there's a lot to be learned from writers who behave badly as well as writers who behave splendidly. We want to pay forward the good stuff and cut off the bad stuff.

And I certainly hope that when I get to dizzying heights of success (ok, not sure if I want *dizzying* heights, but you know what I mean), I won't forget the people who carried me.

Rob said...

Nicely put.
I feel glad that we've all entered a time where authors are supportive of each others efforts. It makes the aspect of writing that much more appealing.

Tracy said...

Very well written! I have found fellow writers and bloggers to be nothing but helpful and supportive so far, and I have tried to make every effort to return the favor! Writing is very much an art and creative people tend to just have 'good energy'. But 'good energy' doesn't amount to much unless it's shared! :)

Elisa said...

Thanks for your comments, Rob and Tracy -- agreed!