Altruism for Authors

I’m a great believer in supporting the writing community wherever possible and whenever practicable. Of course, there is competition for representation, for publication, and for funding, but most of that activity happens in the privacy of one’s outbox and those all-important decisions are beyond our control once we have pressed send.

How can novel writers support one another, I hear you ask? (Don’t worry; I have a very active imagination.)

Several ways come to mind for helping out your fellow authors:

  1. Sharing on social media. It’s not so much that you’re expected to wield great influence, more that you are likely to know people (and communities) that the other writer doesn’t know.
  2. Hosting a blog post. Often the author will provide something for you to host. If not, a simple Q&A format, with one or two quirky questions thrown in, helps the author talk about their work in a fresh way for a fresh audience.
  3. Reading and reviewing. This can be controversial because there may be expectations of a shining review for a less than shiny book. Alternatively, it may not be your genre, or your thing. Sometimes authors will agree to mutual reviews, which can take on the nature of a poker game! Honesty is always the best review policy. Amazon has some baffling rules – which it doesn’t share – about reviews so don’t be surprised if a review suddenly ups and disappears.
  4. Become a beta reader. You get to read the book first, sometimes as a work-in-progress, and other times it’s the pre-launch, basically good-to-go version. Here, the focus for feedback tends to be around grammar, formatting glitches, and consistency. You might even end up in the acknowledgements for services rendered.
  5. Making recommendations to your own readers’ list. And if you’re a published author and you don’t have one, you need to think seriously about creating your own list.

Why you ought to consider it

If the notion of good karma doesn’t light your inner flame, there are more tangible positives to author altruism:

  • By participating in the community you are raising your profile, both to other authors (and possibly their agents / publishers) and to your own followers and readers.
  • Interacting with other authors can be an education in other people’s creative process, which in turn informs yours.
  • It is an opportunity to see how other authors market themselves and their work, and then consider what you
  • More diverse authors and posts on your blog and social media streams.
  • Frankly, it takes you out of your own ‘magnum opus’ centred universe. Sometimes we need a little perspective and visiting someone else’s universe can be a great way to do just that. It normalises what you might think of as your unique struggles, when you realise everyone goes through the same old crap!
  • Maybe, just maybe, other authors will go the extra mile for you. Who knows, you could start a trend!

Reservations

I know what you’re thinking (I did say my imagination was active): what about the downsides? Well, as long as you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you have realistic expectations…oh, okay then, here goes:

  • Other authors might be doing much better than me! In the words of an old friend from Staten Island, “Deal with it!” There will always be more successful (and with a better reach) and less successful writers than you. That’ the nature of the beast. But the ones ahead of you may have a bigger community for you, while the ones behind you may appreciate you all the more for your kindness.
  • What if people don’t help me back? Well, like the rest of life, sometimes that happens. Altruism is not a payback scheme.
  • Surely I should spend my time on my own writing? Yes, when you need to be writing. Only you know what time you can spare, but why not spare some of it to make a difference to someone else’s book / chances / day?
  • Isn’t altruism unrealistic, nay, self-defeating, in a competitive environment like the arts? If you see supporting others (and let’s face it we’re talking about small ways, not making a sandwich board and marching up and down Oxford Street for hours) as a drain on energy you’d rather devote to your own book, then this is not for you. I think it comes down to personal values. I’m not convinced that 20 minutes spent sharing the load of another author will be the decider between my success and my failure. I’d rather feel good about helping someone than see it as a winner takes all, rat race with pens.
  • I feel pressured / guilt tripped / manipulated to do something I really don’t want to do. Then it’s not for you. No sale; no drama! But maybe let the other writer know, so they’re not building up false expectations (or a grudge!).

Supporting your fellow authors may not advance your own agenda one iota; that’s not the point. It may, however, make you a more fulfilled human being, a more rounded author, and a much appreciated contributor to the writing community.

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