Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting Help From Successful Writers

I recently reached out to five successful writers who don't know me, and got back four generous responses that included personal stories, tips, and offers to answer any future questions. While it's easy to shy away from busy writers who are further along than you, there's a lot that you - and they - can gain if you go about it with genuine interest and the right things in mind.

Approach Someone You "Know" and Admire

Many times, simply showing you've invested time getting to know writers, their products or their work prompts the busiest to take a moment for you. Do you regularly read the writer's blog, or have you heard him speak at a workshop or conference? Let him know if you've been following his blog, career, or love his work, and what about him caused you to send the email. One of the emails I sent was simply to thank a writer for sharing so much of his knowledge online, and specifically for asking a question in his post, which led to an important realization of my own. He wrote back with not only a thanks, but with additional questions I could ask to steer myself in the right direction.

Approach a "Teacher"

There are certain writers who naturally take it upon themselves to coach newer writers and share what they know. I think of them as Teachers. whether or not they've got the official title. If they're bloggers, they'll take the time to respond to every comment, and allow readers to steer post topics. Novelists may teach classes on the side and freelancers may offer free or reasonably priced ebooks containing insider info.

 If you've hit a snag and are looking for guidance, you'll likely find some help and generosity here. I wrote to one such Teacher who, despite managing a top blog and having a book up for publication, took the time to write me a 1,000+ word email to help me with my own career.

Approach With the Right Expectations

While it's nice when writers share advice, they don't owe it to us - and definitely not for free. Whenever I ask for help, I assume the writer will get compensated for it, and ask 1) would you consider helping me with xx? and if so. 2) what would the cost be? Going in with this assumption keeps it fair for everyone, and shows you're genuinely interested and not just hoping for a freebie. In fact, authors of the ebooks I've bought have always gotten back to me with answers to my additional questions.

Approach When They're Not Overwhelmed

Another good reason to approach people you "know," is that it'll be easier to figure out when their schedule's light, and more conducive to answering an admiring stranger's questions.

I sent five emails and got back four. The fifth was sent to an author whose book was just sold to a publisher. Looking back, I probably should have waited until the book craziness had leveled out before making yet another request of her.

Spread the Love

While I try pay it forward, I also try to pay it back. I'm still amazed at the appreciation veteran writers show for a few sincere, kind words. Some other things I've done that have resulted in their thanking ME are:

  • Nominated their work for an award (work I believed deserved it, of course)
  • Commented on a very helpful blog with too few comments
  • Written an email thanking the writer for excellent advice
  • Emailed links that were relevant to the writer's topic or WIP

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