A member of one of my writing groups confided in me that she was fed up with the way that she was feeling used by other writers. This writer is very talented and accomplished, and she’s a member of a few different groups that trade feedback and critiques of each other’s work. “I feel like I get back 10% of what I put in,” she said. And she was losing her energy, thinking about quitting these groups. As she put it, “I’m getting tired of needy people.”
This writer was the victim of what I’d call parasitic networking. When some people think about networking, they think, “How can other people help me?” They join writing groups, hoping to get feedback on their own work, with no regard for how they can help other writers. They write to experienced authors, asking for leads and free advice, without ever planning on “paying it forward.”
Some people would call it karma. I’m not new age-y enough to use that term, so I’ll just say this: when you help a fellow writer, you help yourself. And if you expect free help from someone, you should be thinking about how you can do something in return.
I’m not saying that we have to be “tit for tat” in our exchanges with fellow writers. But here are some examples from my own life:
I have often traded critiques of screenplays with fellow writers. When I do a critique, I try to be thorough, fair, detailed, and helpful. And when someone gives me that same courtesy in return, I remember it—and I try to pay it back.
I got a phone call from a producer who wanted me to write a script for him. I was too busy with my own work at the time, so I said, “I have a few other great writers who I can recommend to you instead.” I sent this producer a list of about three writers who (a) were very talented writers and (b) had helped me in the past with substantive critiques. The producer wound up using one of the writers I recommended, and the last I heard, the film is now in pre-production. That writer then wanted to do something to pay ME back, so he nominated me for membership in an “exclusive” screenwriting group. See how the circle continues?
I once sent an e-mail query to Men’s Health. The e-mail address I had bounced, so I tried to think of who I knew who had written for the magazine before. I recalled that freelance writer extraordinaire Linda Formichelli had written for them, so I wrote to her to ask if she had a current e-mail address. She didn’t, but she did have a contact at Men’s Fitness, and asked if my idea would be appropriate for them. Of course, I wanted to do something for her in return, so we wound up writing back and forth all morning, trading contact information for editors. I don’t know if anything’s come of it yet for her, but I wound up with my first assignment for Prevention.
Numerous times, when a writer does me a favor by writing for Absolute Write, I’ve referred that writer to one of my editors, or written a letter of recommendation for them to use with potential employers.
A wonderful screenwriter offered to field questions for Absolute Write, and it just happened that he was interested in breaking into writing nonfiction books. I offered him my advice, and mailed him a great book I’d read about writing book proposals.
Ideally, my view is that whenever you seek to network with a writer, you should first think about what you can offer in return.
Now, here’s where some writers get tripped up:
Let’s say I’m an unpublished writer. I desperately need some help—maybe some career advice, maybe feedback on my queries or proposals, maybe a referral to an agent or publisher. I’ve found an experienced author who I want to approach for help.
I may want to do something in return, but I think… “What could I possibly have to offer this experienced author?” Good question.
If the experienced writer in question is a book author, here’s what you can offer:
- You can review her books. You can review them on online bookseller sites like Amazon.com and Bn.com, or you can offer them to e-zines, newspapers, and magazines. Authors are ALWAYS in need of good reviews!
- You can help the author with public relations. Help him her set up a book signing, or offer to put flyers for his books in your doctor’s office, your grocery store, or tack them up around town.
- You can pitch articles about the author to magazines and e-zines. (Ask permission first, of course, but most authors are thrilled to get publicity like this!)
If the writer is a magazine writer, you can offer to help her with research, locate experts for her next article, transcribe an interview, pass along leads, or give her your old magazines (hey, we magazine writers can’t afford subscriptions to all the magazines we want to write for!).
If you have experience in one area (let’s say, magazine writing), and you want to break into writing novels, find a novelist who’s interested in breaking into magazine writing and swap information.
There will be some situations where there’s nothing you can do in return except gush your thanks and promise to someday return the favor by helping another writer. Genuine appreciation is payback in itself. Take a moment to write a thank you card, or send flowers, to a writer who has helped your career.
In this life, I believe you usually get what you give. If you see writers as adversaries and aren’t apt to share your contacts, your feedback, or your advice, then don’t expect anyone to help you, either. But I challenge you to see your fellow writers as cherished colleagues. Whenever you can help someone, do it. Kindness has a way of coming back to you.
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of www.absolutewrite.com, where you can get a FREE list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of OUTWITTING WRITER’S BLOCK AND OTHER PROBLEMS OF THE PEN, as well as other books for writers, which you can read all about at http://www.absolutewrite.com/jenna/books.htm if you want to make her day!