On Monday, I posted a slightly facetious explanation of why that author won’t help you. I’ve been blessed with assistance from a number of kind-hearted writers so I know that the sarcastic species of authors I detailed on Monday are not alone in the literary landscape. There are people willing to help you. And today, I’ll try to be a bit more serious when I explain what you can do so that author will help you. Ready? Here comes the big secret…
Nothing. You must do absolutely nothing if you want an author to assist in building your career. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
First of all, we need to get one thing straight. Established authors have absolutely zero obligation to help get your memoir about bingo addiction published. Nada. They don’t owe you a thing.
The problem is that our perceptions are skewed by the rare stories of artistic assistance that appear in the media. We hear about Stephen King using his national column to applaud an unknown writer named Ron McLarty. In the music industry, we read the genealogy of rappers. Dr. Dre begat Eminem, who begat 50 Cent, and so forth.
Entertainment Tonight doesn’t devote time to the thousands of scripts that Martin Scorsese ignores, SportsCenter ignores the thousands of ballers that Phil Jackson never sees play, and TRL doesn’t feature the thousands of rappers Diddy coldly strides by on the street. Those situations don’t enter our consciousness, only the lottery-rare instances of help. So we think every established author wants to help every aspiring author.
Let’s leave the bling and Benzes of the entertainment industry behind and put the scenario into a more mundane context. Suppose you’re the most successful, most prominent dentist in your town. Some guy walks up to you on the street, says he just graduated from dental school, and he’s positive you’ll love his work if you just give it a chance. Would you hire this kid? Would you put your reputation at stake and recommend him to your colleagues? “Just give me a chance,” he pleads. “I guarantee you’ll like it if you see how I cap a tooth!” It sounds simple enough, to just give the kid a chance, but that chance takes time. Time you don’t have to spare and liability you can’t risk.
So, we the aspiring masses, need to realize that authors, editors, and agents don’t have to help us. Once you understand, and truly believe, this fact of writing life, you’re halfway there.
Now that you’re not expecting help from that author, you can approach them from a position of sincere interest in their work. And this is immediately a more effective mindset.
I’ll allow there have been times I’ve schemed, manipulated, and maneuvered my way into meeting an author, agent, or editor with nothing else in mind but the selfish belief that, “this person can help me.” And not a single, solitary positive thing has come out of those interactions. Maybe I subconsciously gave off some needy vibe. Maybe it was just karma. But those people never helped me. And in hindsight, I can’t say I blame them.
However, when I’ve approached authors with no agenda other than saying, “Thanks, I enjoy your work,” those interactions have been quite positive. I meet these people, without expectations and strategies. Then, if we hit it off, we stay in touch. And after some time of building a relationship, they might give me a tip about a new publication looking for submissions. Maybe, after some time has passed and they know me, I might ask for some advice.
The key here is that you must cultivate a genuine relationship, not scheme your way into a chance meeting in a bar. Then, you must show that you’re into writing for the long haul, that you’re serious, that you’re dedicated, not that you’ve got, “A great idea and if they help get it published, I’ll split the profits!” Then, you can politely and respectfully and diplomatically ask for help.
By help, I mean, maybe they can review a short story. A reasonable amount of help. Don’t ask a busy writer to review your whole novel. And also be reasonable in your request. Don’t ask that author to hand deliver your manuscript to his publisher’s vacation home on the weekend of his grandkid’s christening.
So to get an author to assist you, just do nothing. Nothing self-serving that is. If you approach someone from an unselfish position of genuine interest, if you build a sincere relationship, if you prove you’re determined and hard-working, and if you’re respectful and reasonable, then help will come.