It’s easy to slip into thinking your writing is just you—the author. Your readers and those dreaded gatekeepers are way over there. In essence, it’s you alone and then everyone else you are trying to reach across some great expanse, whether real or imagined.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
It should be you—the author—surrounded by the people who support and uplift your career in different ways.
I want you to start segmenting your support networks into categories and then understanding what each support category does for you. Your support system is not a two faction entity—this or that—it’s multi-faceted.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Your readers are people who open your book, read your words, and like them. They will often read more of your books and like those too. They will talk about, review, and recommend your books. The ultimate support a reader can give you is to talk about your book to others. That is reader endgame.
But make sure you know if your readers are also your buyers.
Wait? Aren’t they the same thing?
Your buyers are the people who open their wallets and purchase your books. These can be the same person in the case of most adult fiction, but don’t assume it is.
For Middle Grade and Young Adult, the buyers are mostly parents/guardians and librarians. The adults are often the ones with the final say in what kids read. Knowing that is crucial to setting up your marketing plans or structure your story to be sure the people with the money get the message, but the reader gets the experience.
Even if your reader and buyer are the same person nurturing them as a readers and selling the next book to them are two very different things.
Your efforts with your readers should be on nurturing them into advocating for you. Save the hard marketing for your buyers.
Your peers are other authors who are in a similar place to you. Not to imply that only debut authors can network with debut authors or that traditional authors must stick together. I mean, people who are struggling with the same things you are, or hitting similar milestones. If you’ve released your first book and are trying to get it into more reviewers’ hands and another author has 12 books out and is working on her first 100K month, the two of you don’t have relevant advice to share back and forth.
The hallmark of a peer relationship is that it’s mutually beneficial. You need to network with authors who have similar struggles because each of you will have different strengths to lend to each other. You will be able to speak the same language, commiserate together, hold each other accountable, and cheerlead each other.
A word of caution here: Beware the Author Whirlpool!
The Author whirlpool is my term for clusters of authors that begin to treat each other as readers. I’m not too fond of newsletter swaps for this reason (and others). I’ll share your book, you share mine. I’ll buy your book, you buy mine.
Authors all hang out together in big Facebook groups where they inadvertently build a readership of other authors and not readers. They pump money into ads and target authors and wonder why their conversions are low. It becomes a whirlpool and continuously flows in on itself but never expands beyond other authors.
Your peers are not your market.
You need to learn. Learning and growing as an author happens through formal or informal education. Finding a mentor, teacher, or coach isn’t mandatory to a successful author career, but it sure does speed things up and make them way less painful. Your agent or editor qualifies a mentor as well. Mentors are always more knowledgeable or more experienced than you, and the flow of help runs from mentor to mentee (even if the author is paying for the help).
The best way to find a mentor is to be active in author circles to respectfully and tactfully conduct yourself within those spaces and hold back your urges to defend yourself when receiving feedback. There’s nothing more off-putting to an established writer than a newbie asking for advice and then proceeding to refute each point. No one wants to waste their time teaching someone who does not want to learn.
Hiring someone if you have the funds is the best way to know you’re getting the support you need from someone who believes in your writing and will show up for you as they promise (because you’re paying them and if they don’t show up you will stop paying them).
People who aren’t in the writing community don’t often understand the writing community. If I had a dollar every time, someone asked me a silly question or made a stereotypical assumption about what I do…
But here’s the thing with your home-front support.
You don’t need them to support your writing.
You need them to support your time and energy.
So many authors don’t get the support they need at home, but a lot of authors also don’t articulate their need and desire. You hole away behind a computer screen, and your loved ones become resentful that you are distracted and distant, not that you’re writing. You tried to talk to them about your books, and they were dismissive, so you fell silent and steal bits of time here and there, never telling anyone what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Just because your husband doesn’t like your genre doesn’t mean he won’t support you. It might mean he won’t ever read your books, but is your husband your target audience? Not likely. His opinion on your writing isn’t going to be helpful.
But him taking the kids to the park on Saturday morning so you get some time to write? That is what support of your time and energy means.
The real secret here is honest communication. Talk to your family about how much you love writing and how it makes you a better parent/partner/friend. Set real expectations that they can understand around your time and energy, not your books. Be open to compromise and flexible to changing it up.
“I need an hour to work on a project that makes me happy, when can we fit this into our schedule to work for our family?”
“Writing helps me clear my head, gives me a creative outlet and fills me with purpose. When I feel that sense of purpose, it makes me more confident, fulfilled, and excited about life. That makes me show up better as a parent/partner. I need a space of my own in the house to do this work. How can this work for all of us?”
Once you settle on your time and space, protect it.
Be patient but firm with them if you are safe to do so. It takes time to shift expectations and set the foundations for your boundaries. They aren’t going to get it right, right away. Remind them what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how their support is helping.
I tell my 5-year-old that she’s helping me write my book when she’s coloring/reading next to me—that my words are a direct result of her support. I show her how many words I wrote on the screen, which she finds fascinating and is pretty proud of herself for being a part of it.
I report my writing progress to my husband, not as a sarcastic jab or justification, but as if my writing is a job just like his. I ask him how his day was when he gets home and what happened at work.
I started telling him how my day went too in a casual way. No snark, no passive aggressive nonsense that would only make him shut down. I talked about how many words I got down, if they were a struggle, I complained about characters as if they were co-workers and celebrated milestones which helped him understand the process better.
After a while of me doing that, he started asking about it. More than that, he began to understand that I was working toward something that mattered to me. My chatting about it normalized it in my family and extinguished any assumptions he had about what I did behind the computer screen.
Next week is the final post in the 4S Author series and it’s often the things authors skip straight to, which is why I strategically left it for last. See you next week for a chat on SALES.
If you need some extra support, reach out to us here and we’ll help you get back on track with your writing.