Writers mentoring writers

Throughout the years that I have been an agent, I have represented writers who work in many different categories.  And, early on, it became obvious to me that some authors are not at all supportive of those coming up in their category.

This past week, though, I experienced a situation which was quite the opposite.  Brad Meltzer, a bestselling novelist, read the work of someone who approached him at a writer’s conference. He was so taken with this material that he spent time researching who might be the best agent for this new writer and he sought me out.  When we connected over the phone, we had a good talk about this new writer, his work,  and Meltzer’s reaction to it, and I now have two of his novels and am excited to read them.  I might add here that I had never spoken with Brad Meltzer before and so was really blown away by the fact that he went out of his way to help a newbie.

This episode also reminded me of years ago when my client Gus Lee’s first book, CHINA BOY was about to be published.  His editor introduced Gus to bestselling author Amy Tan over the phone.   Amy read the book, loved it, and provided a wonderful quote for it.  Subsequently, Gus and Amy became very good friends.

These two experiences underline how valuable mentoring others can be.  Not only does the mentee receive help and support, but the mentor, I think, also gets a great deal of satisfaction out of it.

I wish there was more of this support among established authors and new writers.  Our industry, I think could really benefit from this kind of thing.

Do you have stories of established authors who have mentored you or others you know that you want to share?

8 Responses to Writers mentoring writers

  1. Some great points, Jane! And if you’ll allow me, I have my own story to share.

    Shortly after my second book came out, I was asked to do an anthology with three other established writers, and one of those was Nancy Martin. Nancy not only read both of my first two novels – along with my submission for the anthology, she sent me one of the loveliest notes and said something like, “Keep writing, girl, because your series shows every sign of having legs!”

    I still get teary-eyed when I think about how much that note meant to me. It both inspired and deeply affected me for years afterward. To put it simply, I was blown away, and so touched. It gave me such confidence and emboldened me to not only continue writing in that series, but to craft two more.

    To this day Nancy continues to show herself as a class act, and I often see her promoting the works of other authors, both established and new. And, because I know first hand how amazing that kind of support is, I’ve done my best to encourage and help other newbies any way I can.

    What I learned from Nancy was that promoting other writers to my own fans doesn’t take away from my readership – it helps build a bigger fan base for all of us, and that is always good for the soul, book lovers, and, let’s face it, good for business!

  2. Joelle says:

    The writer Eileen Cook was still awaiting publication of her first book when we met, but I didn’t have an agent at that point. She helped me over and over navigate the query waters and then, once I signed with Michael and my books sold, she walked me through much of the confusing stuff that follows signing the contract.

    Also, Sara Zarr and Arthur Slade gave me important info while I was editing and at a loss. My editor is WONDERFUL, but generally, edits don’t seem to come with directions, and these writers took the time to explain what was expected of me at each stage in the editing process.

    I have recently helped someone through the query/landing an agent stage (two people, actually), which is about all I have to offer at this point, but “sending the elevator down” from whatever floor I’m on to the writers on lower floors is something I intend to do always.

    One author I’ve noticed who does this all the time is Meg Cabot. She gives out a lot of blurbs and also features debuts on her website regularly.

    P.S. I know I kept complaining about how I couldn’t get your captcha thing to work, but the change you guys made is working now! Works every time. Thanks. :-)

  3. Ryan Field says:

    “P.S. I know I kept complaining about how I couldn’t get your captcha thing to work, but the change you guys made is working now! Works every time. Thanks.”

    Not for me. The captcha thing works one out of five times if I’m lucky. And I won’t even try it on a tablet or my iPad. I lost two comments today and don’t have time to leave another. I hope you’re not losing comments because of this.

    • Joelle says:

      When I couldn’t get it to work before, I always highlighted my comment and copied it so I could repaste it and try again. GRRR!!! It took me eight times once, but about a week ago, it got easier to read and now it’s not a problem. Weird, eh?

  4. I’m no one important, but when I meet writers or talk to them–I encourage them. Why not? If they’re good, maybe they’ll pull me up with them. If they’re still struggling (and who isn’t?), maybe something I said or did will make them successful–and my industry will be stronger and I’ll have more of a chance to succeed myself.

    I don’t get why someone would want to denigrate another writer. Not only is it unprofessional–it simply doesn’t pay.

    I just got back from a writers’ conference where I met a few unpublished writers. I’d say without reservation every single one of their ideas sounded interesting. Not every book pitch sounded marketable as-is–but they were uniformly creative and fun and different. It was not much effort for me to be truly interested and find something supportive to say, and if I had someone that who’d be interested in their book, I’d steer them to that person.

  5. Sarah Henson says:

    I hate to hear of established authors who don’t support up-and-comers. My experience in the writing community has been very different. For example, I recently participated in a big writing contest, The Writer’s Voice, put on by agented authors (Krista Van Dolzer, Brenda Drake, Monica Bustamonte Wagner, and Cupid–anonymous author who started Cupid’s Lit Connection blog). The four authors took two-hundred submissions total, then each picked ten. They mentored the entrants, polishing first pages and query letters, then posted them on their blogs for agents to read and request.

    As if that wasn’t enough, they then contacted other authors and agents who further reviewed and edited the first pages and queries. I’m not sure who the other teams got, but Carrie Harris, author of “Bad Taste in Boys” read mine and provided excellent feedback.

    And if that still wasn’t enough, they went back over some of the original two-hundred entries and commented/critiqued their queries and first paragraphs for them.

    That’s just one of many examples, but it’s one of the things I love most about writing. I haven’t seen much disdain or contempt for new writers, rather encouragement and support. I hope that’s something that continues to spread. It’s one of the things that sets this great profession apart from others.

  6. The generosity of established and struggling writers to provide advice and encouragement has amazed me since I began trying to write commercially. Being a sitting Federal Administrative Law Judge, I have served and encouraged others to mentor upcoming women lawyers, but have observed many are too frightened of their own status being challenged to be effective mentors. My experience as a writer consistently has been the opposite. Whether I was working on a short story or Maze in Blue, my 2012 IPPY award winning debut mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, Noah’s Wife author, T.K.Thorne, always was willing to read or comment on my work. More importantly, she took the time to clarify the concepts that a writer needs to understand to show rather than tell. T.K. balances a day job, civic volunteering, writing her own books and stories, and being treasurer of the Alabama Writers Conclave, but she stilll goes the extra mile to mentor wouldbe writers. Thorne is a solid example of the qualities of Brad Meltzer that you wrote about. As a writer who was offered a contract for Maze in Blue without being represented, I have valued the guidance and help T.K. Thorne has given and continues to give me. The learning curve in writing is steep, but having a mentor makes all the difference.

    Debra H. Goldstein
    Maze in Blue – 2012 IPPY award

  7. As part of my creative writing program through the University of Toronto, I took a course with bestselling author Joy Fielding. I submitted a chapter of my manuscript, Repentance, which she liked so much she asked to see the entire novel. She read it in one sitting then invited me to her penthouse to go over revisions she suggested.

    Though she was immediately drawn to the protagonist, she said the story needed a stronger plot. Grateful for her time and advice, I went back and revised Reptentance, with the protagonist’s husband guilty of running a Ponzi scheme. He commits suicide leaving his wife and children with nothing but stained reputations.

    Thanks to Joy, Repentance became a much more powerful story, but even more importantly, her confidence picked me up when I felt like giving up.

    Now, I’m seeking representation for Repentance and feel as if I’ve grown as a writer because of my relationship with Joy. We still keep in touch, have enjoyed lunch, and send e-mails back and forth updating one another on our writing progress. When my first novel–Rachel’s Secret–was published, she was my biggest supporter!

    Someday, if I become a well-known author, I will mentor new writers because I believe we need to encourage one another creatively, not work against each other.

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