3.10.2006

The Clue Gong Sounds for Thee: asking authors for help

Dear Miss Snark,

This might put me in the category of nitwit of the year, but I need to know so I don’t do the wrong thing.
(close but no cigar)

I happen to live in the same town as a best selling author who writes books in the same category as mine.
The author also started out like me, not that long ago, with little credential, but managed to succeed despite the overwhelming odds.

Speaking of these odds, as I begin the query process, little unknown me, I fantasize about a way to connect with this author. The author has connected with other popular novelists in the area (somehow she did it) and I’m wondering if there is a way for me to do same.

I have sent her a couple thank you notes after attending her talks—this is as far as I’ve come. I certainly don’t want to be a pest—and I have a real fear I will be perceived as one. After all, who the hell am I? I’ve even heard her comment about people coming out of the woodwork asking her to read their manuscripts—and she has to turn them down.
(insert sound of ClueGong here)

I know I have no right to ask for anything.
(insert sound of Clue Gong here) But I wonder, is there anything I can ask for? Anything I can do to facilitate a relationship without seeming like a desperate, needy, pest? The part of me that is supposed to be the fearless aggressive marketer sees an opportunity here—but I am having trouble identifying exactly what this opportunity is.

What can I do and if there is something to do, when, if at all, is it appropriate? Part of me thinks that this author was in the same position as me now, so maybe she will be willing to help—however, I’m not blind to the fact that approaching someone simply because you want something from them is never a good idea.

Thanks in advance for your snark-filled wisdom.


You are making the classic networking mistake of asking "what can you do for me" before you've answered the question: WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU.

People will help people who have helped them. You can bet that if Miss Adventure wants her query letter read (this is an example, she's not an author) I'll do it, and do it happily. Why? Cause she's busily indexing this blog, even as we speak. She is helping me with a task that is of real benefit.

Similarly friends of mine in publishing are searching for jobs. I send them leads and intros as often as I find them. Will they be glad to do things for me if I need them? You bet.

The secret of good networking -which is what you are trying to do here- is to be of service to someone. You may have a connection that's helpful, useful knowledge, or simply the fruits of your labors.

If you see this author at events, pay attention to what she says about what she needs. Maybe she needs someone to answer her fan mail. Or an introduction to someone. Or you recommend her book for the One City One Book read...or something.

Networking is not about getting, it's about giving. The best networkers are the ones who think "what have I done for you lately", not the other way around. What is in your Rolodex that might help her? And if not her, then other authors in your town. I'm glad to help people who come to me with an introduction from someone in my network. I figure I'm expanding my reach.

16 comments:

waywardclam said...

This is advice everybody needs, not just beginning authors.

Thanks again. One wonders what one can do for Miss Snark in this light...

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I disagree. You should start hanging around her home, peering in her windows, maybe even break into her house now and then and dress up in her clothes. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and flattery works wonders.

Bill Peschel said...

This is what they need to teach in school, the basics of schmoozing.

Bernita said...

Perfectly expressed.
Thank you, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Rake her yard! Clean her gutters! Shovel her driveway!

Anonymous said...

Empty her bedpan.

kitty said...

Not mentioned so far is if you like her book and her as a person. I realize this is a business, but still ...

I balk when people try to schmooze me while I never forget a kindness.

Anonymous said...

what is not being said here is that even schmoozing her is not going to get this manipulator published. ultimately, if her work sucks, it doesn't matter who may facilitate her way--best to depend on your own abilities--not try to claw your way up by standing on someone else's shoulders.

Anonymous said...

I would have to ask -- what, exactly, is this person hoping to get from the "bestselling author"? Friendship? A referral to an agent? A blurb to help her sell her book? That's not entirely clear from the question. I hope she doesn't expect the author to read her manuscript and critique it because -- as Miss Snark has just blogged elsewhere -- honest criticism is seldom gratefully accepted, and the bestselling author likely knows this.

Also, tone of the question ("bestselling author got there without being particularly qualified") makes me think there's not much respect on her part. Rather, it sounds like resentment. ("Why is she successful and I'm not?!)

I don't like this at all. And I'm sure neither will the bestselling author.

December Quinn said...

Hey, Terry Pratchett doesn't live too far away. Maybe I'll go to his house, and ask him for nonspecific help.

Why not? I do live near him, after all. That should be enough to convince him I deserve his time, right?

Figure out what sort of help you want, whether it's reasonable, and how you can repay the favor before you even attempt to invade this person's privacy.

Then think again, and don't do it.

Anonymous said...

Terry Pratchett lives on a flat planet held up by four giant elephants who stand atop a gigantic tortise. Why are you lying about where you live, December Quinn?

Or maybe Discworld has internet access now. If that's the case, go rake his yard and clean his gutters and shovel his driveway.

New Yorker said...

The writer of this letter comes across as earnest but a little star struck.

People often don't realize that meeting a famous person doesn't make you famous by osmosis.

Moving to New York and mingling regularly with successful peers would be a far better networking plan than hoping to run into the local star in the Supermarket.

Lady M said...

Au contraire.

Most famous people dislike being famous and dislike having people like them "just because" they are famous.

It has got to suck when everyone walks up to you and asks you to help them out and you don't even know them.

It's one thing to ingratiate yourself by way of networking - but to explicitly contact a person who is famous - just because they are famous... in order that they can expedite your work, is a bit hard for me to swallow.

I've met plenty of "famous" people who truly are gems, once you get past the exterior of mistrust.

They believe everyone wants something from them... without really wanting to know them... and after awhile, that gets tiring.

And sad.

I don't like it when people approach me at my job or wherever I am and try to get me to do something for them... just because I can do something or have connections.

I, however, don't mind someone I know asking for help.

However, if you go out and meet this person just because they can help you, that's a little manipulative, as well.

If she's teaching a course, the appropriate time would be to ask her ---- not in front of all the course people - but at the end or in a comment sheet.

But do like I am doing - read all the online stuff - get all the mags - get all the addy's and ask questions of all the people like MISS SNARK - or some of these fantastic authors around here.

Get in the know. Knowledge is a precious thing!

I think the fantasy should remain just that.

That's just my take on it all.

Miss Snark is 100% right LISTEN - PAY ATTENTION - if she offers something that she needs and you can do it - help her out. Trading is always acceptable.

But I did like the (GONG-SOUND) LOL!

Lady M

December Quinn said...

LOL Anon. Didn't you know that the Discworld is actually located in Somerset?

Because of a crease in the space-time wusname and yet another failed experiment by Bloody Stupid Johnson, the entire Discworld fits in a small village there.

Anonymous said...

Run. Run far, far away. I was in the position of acting as assistant to a NYT and USA Today bestselling author at one time. This BSA was even given the title "Queen of (insert genre) and took it to heart. I was a fan before I was a writer. When she came to me with a job offer after we'd moved in the same circles for awhile, I was thrilled. I polished up my rose-colored glasses and felt on top of the world. After a request to her from another published author, this BSA asked me to join their critique group. Boy, I was really "in" now. But as it turns out, and I'll spare the details, my rose-colored glasses were shattered.

I guess, in my long winded way, I'm saying I hope you'll be careful for what you wish for. Network with writers of all kinds, they don't always have to be 'bestsellers' to have wisdom. They don't always have to be published either. (But it helps!)

And, of course, don't hesitate to heed Miss Snark!

Anonymous said...

Publish your book and wait for her call.