We writers are often advised to “find our tribe,” to reach out, to network, to put ourselves out there. But I sometimes get the sense that many aspiring and even published writers don’t fully understand why this is so important—both creatively and professionally—or why the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be.
Through my years at WD, I’ve championed the value of the writing community. Yet it’s taken on new meaning for me as I’ve added novelist to my resume, with my debut, Almost Missed You, set to release from St. Martin’s Press at the end of March.
Along the way, I’ve been sharing takeaways from my publishing journey (see also: How I Got My Agent—and Book Deal; 10 Lessons Learned Behind the Scenes of a Book Deal; What Every Writer Should Know About Book Covers; 5 Steps to Surviving Your Copy Edit; What No One Tells You About Page Proofs, Blurb Requests & More). But it’s been awhile since I’ve written such a post simply because a few months ago I entered the pre-pub waiting period: whereby, having signed off the book’s final pages, your attention is now split between writing your next manuscript, promoting your forthcoming release, and nursing a near-constant nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something.
These have also been the months when the importance of fellow writers has become clearest to me. They’ve even reminded me of some of those things I might have otherwise forgotten—and I have no doubt that the right tribe at the right time will do it for you, too.
First, the basics:
Where might you find—or expand—your tribe?
Start with local writing groups/workshops, membership organizations for your genre (Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, etc.), Facebook groups (we have a wonderful article devoted to these in the May/June 2017 Writer’s Digest), Twitter chats (hey, there’s one on these in there too!), bloggers you admire, and/or conferences/courses.
If you’re just starting out, don’t overwhelm yourself: Aim to make a few meaningful connections, and they’ll almost certainly lead to others.
What should a good tribe encompass?
Aim to connect with writers at your level (a group just for writers who are self-publishing can be a valuable place to share trial and error; a buddy who’s also querying agents can yield insight into response times and agent styles), above your level (you don’t want to fall into a trap of the blind leading the blind), and at a more beginner level (it’s nice to give as good as you get).
So what can fellow writers offer you, really, that your existing network of well-meaning family, friends and coworkers cannot?
1. Fellow writers know how awkward promoting yourself can feel.
We’re all supposed to be building platforms, right? Before we publish. While we publish. After we publish. But it’s easier said than done.
Did you know, for instance, that if you consign your authorial Facebook life to a public Page (as most authors do) rather than a personal profile, Facebook’s mysterious algorithms treat you as a business, making your posts visible to most of the people who follow your page only if those posts draw “likes” early on?
You find this out soon enough when you create an author page and get accustomed to the sound of crickets chirping. Fellow authors know this and have a tendency to be generous with their likes on one another’s page posts.
This isn’t just for Facebook, of course. Once someone knows how it feels to tweet into the abyss, they’re happier to dole out hearts and RTs for those in the same shoes.
2. Fellow writers share your questions.
Does this pitch pull you in? Has anyone heard from an editor at this magazine? What the heck are bookplates, and should I order some? Even if you have a relationship with an agent or an editor, you’re not going to want to ask him everything. In fact, you might sometimes feel as if your questions are … well, not particularly smart. (Who, me?) And while resources like Writer’s Digest work hard to supply answers, some questions are subjective or specific.
In the Women’s Fiction Writers Association I belong to, members ask and answer on matters ranging from blog titles to experiences with freelance editors to the drawbacks of cursing in dialogue. Even when there is no right answer, the perspectives offered are food for thought. Sometimes knowing you’re not the only one who feels in the dark is enough.
3. Fellow writers do have some answers.
A lead on an affordable printer for bookmarks? Voila. Is that pricey conference worth the trip? Someone has been there, done that.
4. Fellow writers understand what kind of support is important.
Don’t get me wrong, I have wonderfully supportive friends, coworkers and family. But certain things, as The Fresh Prince so wisely said, parents just don’t understand. Your tribe, however, does.
What your friends & family say: When is your book coming out again?
What your fellow writers say: Saw you’re doing another Goodreads giveaway! I entered so everyone on my feed would see it, though of course I’ll preorder regardless. Two months to go! Your newsletter looks great, by the way. Got any tips for navigating Mailchimp?
What your friends & family say: Goodness, are you still editing that thing?
What your fellow writers say: How do your page proofs look? Mine just got here and I found the most horrifying typo on Page 1 (!). I’m not sure I’ll ever feel ready to sign off on this thing! But I promise I’ve spelled your name right in my acknowledgments.
What your friends & family say: Your book is almost out—are you excited? I bet you’re going to be famous!
What your fellow writers say: Your book is almost out—how are you holding up? I recommended you as a guest poster on this great blog I contribute to, so keep an eye out for an email from someone named Katie! I have my calendar marked for your release day and will post my review to your Amazon page first thing.
5. Fellow writers remind you that you are a part of something wonderful.
When I reached out to a certain bestseller who I’d only briefly met—quite nervously, I might add—to ask if he might consider reading a galley of my book and perhaps lending an endorsement blurb if he found it worthy, I wasn’t prepared for the sure grace of his response.
Not only did he say yes, but he included an assurance that the invitation to blurb a forthcoming book is not a thing to begrudgingly add to a to-do list, but instead a wonderful opportunity to read something great before the rest of the world gets to read it. When you feel as if you’re begging favors, to be told that it’s not a favor but an opportunity is both a kindness and a gift.
As a member of the 17Scribes group for authors debuting this year (which is open to anyone with a first novel publishing in 2017), I’ve been the lucky recipient of advance reading copies from a number of talented new authors. Every time I read one of their books, I marvel at what a talented group they are. And then I marvel that I can count myself among them.
Finding your tribe isn’t just about getting support when you need it. It’s about actively participating in a wonderful community to which you belong, sharing in one another’s successes, reading work that will share the shelf with yours, and making real friends in the process.
We’re all in this together. And thank goodness for that.