Face it, there’s a reason you’re not getting an agent: it’s not because your writing sucks. If your writing sucked, you wouldn’t be getting encouraging emails from agents saying they are sure it will find a market at some point. You would be getting only standard boring-as-hell, form-rejection letters that probably don’t have your name on them (if you are getting only this sort of rejection, quickly go take a writing workshop or writing class and find out why—the problem is likely technical and easily fixed)—but no, YOU are getting rejection letters that feel like apologies for not wanting a second date after a great first one… Short little half-apologies with lame excuses. Often it’s that your subject matter isn’t easily marketable, that your novel isn’t easy to categorize, that it doesn’t fall within typical guidelines, or just that the agent ‘didn’t connect’ with the material. I mean, if you were writing a zombie detective novel, or a torso-baring typical romance novel with a main character named Delphinia who at 27 is still a virgin, it would already be in print. But then you, dear author, wouldn’t be you.
Now the advice I’m about to give is time consuming, so listen up. I’m talking about FRIENDS here. I’m talking about people that you went to grad school with and held their hair as they puked and didn’t post the photos to FB (okay there wasn’t FB back then, but whatever) – I’m talking people who went to your kid’s first birthday party and who you swore to be friends with forever. Don’t let one-sided success screw up a good friendship. Just don’t!
I am NOT talking about the crazy guy from the MFA program who keeps friending you from other accounts because you sat next to him one day and were nice. I’m not talking about the crazy bitch from day care who keeps haranguing you to have a playdate because she has just written her fifth novel manuscript and wants you to blurb it (oh wait, crap, that’s me, nevermind) – and I’m certainly not talking about anyone that you don’t actually LIKE.
But that does leave a handful of friends. Even writers, you know who you are, have friends.
So what can we do to help each other? Well, you’ve done the first step: you’re seeking community. We really CAN help each other. It’s just that the one-on-one “here’s my agent’s cellphone number” help isn’t going to happen. Here’s a list of what we can do for each other:
- 1) Read your friend’s books. (yes, some of them will suck. But just the fact that you bothered to put them into your long reading queue will mean SO MUCH to your friend that the next time his agent asks if he knows someone who writes X and you do, your name might come up.) – this goes for published and NOT published books. If you have three novels under your hat and your best friend from grad school is still struggling, well, do the shlub a favor and read his MS. And be honest: tell him, you need to take a writing class (he will hate you, but he won’t hate you more than if you keep NOT reading his MS). And vice versa: “I’m working on my own novel” is no reason not to read that friend’s book. Skim it. Read pieces. It’s not nice not to. If it’s awful, be gleeful in private and plan how yours will be better.
- 2) Review that book wherever you’re a member, but keep the review really short (it was a great read! Or I loved this book!) – long reviews for friend’s books seem nepotistic. But do give your friend five stars if they deserve five stars: that’s just being nice. Plus (added nepotistic bonus) they might thank you in their blog which has 20,000 followers. And if the book really sucked, just skip the stars and say what you liked “great character of Pauline on page 245!” And published author-dude and dudettes: if you do read an MS that was great, guess what? Your 20K followers might want to know that too. You don’t have to be embarrassed to say “I just read a friend’s unpublished novel and really enjoyed it; I hope they find an agent soon!”
- 3) GO TO YOUR FRIEND’S EVENTS! It’s so important to stay in touch, and if you are the only one who showed up at Barnes & Noble on that rainy Saturday, it will mean so much. I learned this from my days as an actor: I can’t tell you how many auditions I got (mind you, it wasn’t jobs, no one hires you without trying you out: not in theater and not in books) – just because I showed up at a friend’s show. And it’s really good for YOU to go to these events: you’ll meet other authors. You’ll meet your friend’s agent. You’ll be able to network. Maybe you’ll meet your next editor, or at least know one editor’s name when you send your book out. Hell, just leaving the house for something other than a milk-run is a bonus these days.
These are super-easy things to do. Well, okay, the events thing might require a babysitter, but in general, what I’m saying is that we are a COMMUNITY. It is important to stand up for your friends. And yeah, Stephen King might not really notice when you show up, but he’s a freak of nature anyway. You went to high school with him and were best mates and now you saw him at a live event? Blog about it, cc-his alumni email address or tag him on the Facebook note, and maybe, just maybe, he will reply. Which will earn you a “like” on your site, which will lead to another blog entry, which will gain you a few Twitter followers, &etc…