The other day I was reading an article about a certain health care executive for my day job (which is in health care marketing) and I realized the exact same advice she gives for developing leadership skills in that industry could be applied to authors.
What’s her advice? I’m going to outline it and then talk about how I think it applies to us.
Build a network of great colleagues that represent a variety of connections in [the industry] – I think we writers do some of this without really thinking about it because we are so happy to be with our tribe, to meet people who understand what it’s like to have characters talk in your head, or conversely, to suddenly stop talking, and all of the other oddities that make us writers. I met all of my fellow Spellbound Scribes on Twitter several years ago when we were all trying really hard to finish books by the end of the year. I think we were maybe connected by the #amwriting conversation. (Do any of you remember for sure? I remember we called ourselves #teamawesome for quite a while.) Sometimes, it’s just that easy.
Join professional organizations/volunteer – Networking should also be something we do consciously. Almost every major writing genre from horror and mystery, to romance, historical fiction and women’s fiction has at least one (if not multiple) professional associations. Join up. It’s okay if you don’t do much at first while you get the lay of the land, but then get active. Go to conferences. Join a committee. Volunteer to write or run something for them. The more you get out there, the better your chance of making friends and getting more out of your membership.
Identify leaders you want to be mentored by. Don’t be afraid to make a list of the top authors in your genre and make a concerted effort to meet them. Got to their signings or to conferences where they will be attending. Say hello. In the meantime, create lists on Twitter of the hot authors your genres and slowly get to know them through social media. That way, when you finally do get to meet them at a conference or signing, they will hopefully remember your name or at least an interaction we’ve had.
I’ll give you a brief example of how this has actually worked for me. A few years ago, I fell in love with Patricia Bracewell’s writing. I tweeted her and told her how much I loved her debut novel Shadow on the Crown. She wrote back and was very gracious, so I started following her. We’d tweet from time to time. Then about a year or two later, I got to meet her at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver. I told her my name and reminded her of our conversations. I was fortunate that we got to talk for a bit there. Then the following year, I asked her for a blurb for my book. She wasn’t able to give one, but she did tell her fans about my book’s publication. Now, next month, I’m going to be on a panel with her at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland. All because we stayed in touch via social media.
Mentor those just starting out. This is key in any industry, and it’s just a nice thing to do. Think about when you were a green newbie. Chances are good that someone took you under their wing, or at least took the time to answer your questions. Now, you are that expert, so it’s your turn to give back. Whenever I speak at an event, I make sure to hang around after to answer questions and I always let the audience know they can email me anytime (and I give out my business card). When they do email, I respond quickly. I may not always have the answer, but at least I can try to point them in the right direction. If you’re in a local chapter of a bigger organization, seek out the new members and do your best to make them feel welcome. Even if you don’t believe in karma, helping those who are new is the right thing to do.
Think big – We should all be planning our publishing empires. How many plot lines are in your head? How many series can you envision writing? Do you plan to branch out into other genres? Who might you want to team up with to co-author a book? If you write fiction, what non-fiction topics could you tie in and write about? Have you considered writing a companion book to one of your series? What about opening your copyrighted world for development by other authors, like Kindle Worlds allows?
Why stop with ebooks when print and audio are reasonable to produce? Have you thought about boxed sets (either producing your own from your books or joining with other authors)? What steps can you take to get into foreign markets in English? What about translations? Who can you talk to about merchandising or TV/film rights? Even if you know these things won’t happen for years, be thinking about them now. Cultivate contacts and learn new skills. That way, you’ll be ready when the time comes.
Anticipate changes – This is easier said than done unless you are a natural futurist, which I am not. I’m sure we all wish we could have foreseen the advent of self-publishing, but we can do our best to look for trends within the bigger industry or at least stay informed of what visionaries are thinking. Join newsletter lists, follow blogs, join Facebook groups. That is how you’ll know what’s going on, and over time, you’ll start to notice trends. Here’s one that’s been going on for a while, but is popping up all over again lately: traditional publishers (especially the Big 5) devoting fewer and fewer marketing dollars to mid-list and emerging writers. If you can recognize trends like this, you’ll be able to do something about them. In this case, maybe you set aside a percentage of your next advance to hire a publicist, or maybe you learn how to design your own ads.
No matter how you are published, you’re your own best advocate, and you always will be. By taking that leader’s advice and incorporating these thing into your career as best you can at the moment, you’ll be positioning yourself for success. Our industry is tough, but if we can demonstrate the same qualities that make a good business leader, we will attract positive attention. Like anything else, you get out of your writing career what you put into it.
Does any of this resonate with you? Why or why not? What other advice would you give? What have you done to be a good leader in the writing community?