Last month I talked about how we treat teenage fans, and today I'd like to talk to you about how we treat aspiring authors. I've always been welcomed into writing communities with open arms, but I've seen pros be dismissive of or even rude to aspiring authors, and it fills me with a deep sadness.
As professional writers we have a duty to nurture the writing community.
We need the writing community to thrive, and it needs us. Besides, we're all here because of the writers who came before us—and it's our duty to pass that forward. Inspiring the next generation of books (because let's face it, authors are all ages) is part of our job.
Why I use aspiring authors instead of "aspiring writers"
You might have noticed that I've decided to replace the more common term, "aspiring writers", and use aspiring authors instead. This is because the idea of "aspiring writers" is a misnomer. Anyone who writes on a regular basis, and who loves writing, is a real writer. They are not aspiring to do it. They are doing it. And anyone can become a writer simply by developing the habit over several months.
Authors, on the other hand, are writers who have published at least one book. People can be writers without being authors, but authors must be writers first. Some writers are only interested in writing for themselves, but in this article I'm talking about writers who aspire to become authors. As such, I think "aspiring authors" is more appropriate.
Rules for professional interaction with aspiring authors
1) Be encouraging
The last thing you want to do (I hope) is crush somebody's creative spirit. You don't have to sugar coat the writing life, but you should encourage them to keep at it. Even a simple "keep at it" from a beloved author can bring joy to an aspiring writer's day. Hell, if they love your writing enough, it could inspire them for the rest of their lives.
2) Offer resources
You may not have time to give every aspiring author personal advice, but you can give them a place to start. Or several. Create a "Writing Resources" page on your website—it can be hidden so only people with a direct link see it—and list all your favorites. You can even organize them based on common questions aspiring authors give you. This is a great way to support writer fans without spending hours individually answering every question.
3) Set boundaries
Only you know how much time you can devote to your fans, and more importantly, how much interaction you're comfortable with. You need to be accessible to fans in some way, but you decide what that is.
If you have lots of time to interact with individual fans, that's great. If not, be clear about your limited ability to interact with people. Offer specific opportunities for fans to connect and skip everything else. Taking care of yourself and your writing career comes first.
4) Remember that you were an aspiring author once too
As a professional writer it's easy to lose sight of how difficult it is for the average person to make time for writing. I earn most of my money from freelance copywriting, but it still affords me far more time to work on personal projects than most jobs. It pays well enough that I can get by working part time, and there's no commute, which is ideal because I get motion sickness if I try to write in transit.
Remember that most writers live in a very different reality. Yes, many published authors manage to push out impressive word counts despite day jobs and families, but most have been doing it for a long time. You get faster with practice. That doesn't make someone else's 10 or 50 or 100 words any less worthwhile than your 1,000.
You're allowed to believe differently, but I believe an author's job is to do more than entertain. Our job is to inspire others to tell their own stories, live their most authentic lives. This is the true power of our words. With some careful thought, it can also be the power of every interaction—especially with aspiring authors.
Dianna Gunn is author of YA fantasy novella Keeper of the Dawn and columnist at Writer's Corner, writing both Professional Interaction for Authors and Creating Great Characters. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.
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