Last week, a college-age person put a note on a chat forum that featured a wide range of writers. He requested that someone volunteer to act as a mentor in helping him finish his novel and getting it traditionally published. The individual knew in his heart that it was a great story and he had put part of his soul in it. He went on to say that he now knows that writers work as a community and he needed and desired help to make the next steps in his career.
I waited a day or so to see if anyone else would respond because my own answers were less than flattering. What happened?
And more waiting.
The silence was so profound that you could hear the distant chirping of crickets in cyberspace.
I get frustrated because I rarely get feedback from agents on my queries. Simply saying “it’s not right for me” doesn’t help me understand what was wrong. So I figured this writer, like me, deserved an answer. I wrote my less than flattering opinion as nicely as possible. Happily, several experienced people responding with the general equivalent of “yep, that is the way it is,” and “tell it like it is, girl!” I have not heard back from the college student to know if he believed me or even wanted to discuss the issue further. His non-reply was disappointing. What the kid (yep, at my age college students are kids) failed to realize was that I had stepped up to a mentoring role he asked about.
I told him the blunt truth.
We all want an older, wiser expert to take us by the hand and guide us through the pitfalls of creating and publishing books. Personally, I would choose Patricia Briggs or Charlaine Harris because they really rock in the urban fantasy world.
Guess what? It does not work that way.
Let us break it down by the kinds of people who might consider being a mentor to a beginning novelist.
The Theoretical Authors have finished but unpublished manuscripts sitting in desk drawers at home. They should not give advice because they have not “leveled up” in the game of traditional book production. Whatever they are doing to reach the Elysian Fields of the big publishing houses has not worked yet. Most authors never get their first, second, or often third book accepted by an agent or publisher because these manuscripts are not good enough yet. These early works act as the training grounds for creating a story that is exceptional enough to see a bookstore shelf. Read about the struggles of some of your favorite authors and you will see this is true.
The Debut Authors have one or maybe two books on the market. They will not step up to help because they are busy promoting their paperbacks or working on the next manuscript because chances are, their first published book will not be a breakout novel. Plus, publishers like having a second book to quickly follow the first, particularly in a series.
The Veteran Authors are the Gods of Literature. We wish we were them and gather at conferences to hear pearls of wisdom flowing from their lips. Individuals with a breakout novel will not volunteer either because they are running hard with promotions, book signings, and conventions. They also must continue to write the next great hit. However, it is more than just being too busy. To be honest, dozens of newbie writers want the established folks to help them. After all, success is sometimes related to whom you know. However, helping one may result in a new flood of requests so it is easier for the bestselling author to simply say no to everyone.
Finally, the main reason why no one will serve as a mentor comes from the answer to this question: what is in it for me?
As altruistic as most folks want to be, time is money.
More importantly, we writers viciously guard our creative time from any and all intrusions. This includes spouses, pets that want to go outside ten times in an hour, day job demands, self-promotion, or even sleeping. No matter how long an author sits at their desk every day, it never seems like enough. So taking time out of our schedules to do everything we can to promote your new work, particularly without anything serving as payment back, simply is not good business.
So where should young writers go for help? The answer is easy but potentially expensive: conferences, workshops, writers’ retreats, and critique groups. The review clubs provide one-on-one feedback, while most of these others include how-to-write information, how-to-query secrets, and interactions with experts in the industry. Invest in these opportunities to get the tools and knowledge you need for your own career path.
It is not easy, but nothing worth doing well is ever easy.