Birds of a Feather

by Chris McMahon

No, not a Plague of Doves.

I was at a local Brisbane book launch last night for writer Trent Jamieson , kickoff for the Business of Death and the first of the Roil books, The Nightbound Land (steampunk). It was a good night with very smooth and amusing speeches and a few choice readings. I saw many of the usual suspects from the Brisbane writing scene coming to support a writer they have known for years, as well as many more people I did not know. Trent has long been a very successful short story writer, now he has broken through at novel length in a big way, with four novels hitting the shelves in the last twelve months.

It just got me reflecting how much our success in many ways relies on the support of fellow writers. It’s about the group. Not a Shrewdness of Apes, or a Battery of Barracudas, Chatter of Budgerigars (although there was plenty of chatter:)), Drove of Bullocks or a Quiver of Cobras – no –  in this case I think I can coin a new collective noun:  A Launch of Writers:)

There used to be the old cliché of the writer sitting in their garret, giving an image of isolation, but nothing could be further from the truth these days. Not only do writers need the support of their community to improve in their craft through workshops and critique groups, they also need that same support when they step out as published writers as well. It’s quid pro quo – you come to my launch and by a copy or three of my book and I’ll come to your lauch and buy a copy or five of yours. This might be a little less relevant for those who have their first books auctioned in New York for a million dollars, but for the rest of us, it’s a matter of stepping up the steep slope one step at a time by dint of hard work, dedication and the help of writer friends.

You can’t discount the value of information either. That same network is the crucial grapevine, where news about new anthologies, new novel length publishers, or  news about the change in status of closed markets arrives first.

Nowhere is this solidarity more apparent than at the most well situated bar of the SF convention. Coffee and tea are for when the bum is in the chair, alcohol when you are let out to play:)

How has your own writing community, or writing buddies, helped you as a writer?

12 comments

  1. The big help from other writers that I get comes in two forms. One is in the form of fora like this one, where folk like you present information that can help me with my own career development.

    Another one is where social contacts with other writers turn into direct business contacts: a friend of mine asks me if I’d like to write for “Lawyers in Hell” (shared world anthology) which turns into a short story contract for the book; a fairly “big name” SF writer, chatting with me at a con, says “you missed these two publishing houses and here’s the editor at this one you want to write, oh, and it would be a good idea to be familiar with things like that this editor just won a Hugo”, or Kristine Kathryn Rusch, responding to a FB message asking about her experiences with a particular house telling me that she was, for the most part, happy with them and pointing me at Dean Wesley Smith’s page where he shows that “no unagented submissions” is not such a hard and fast rule.

    Only one of those “personal contacts” has paid off so far the others are in play at least.

    1. Hi, David. It’s hard to know which lead will net anything, but I find that leads or markets that come through word-of-mouth or from writing contact have a much higher chance of success. At least you have more of a sense for what they are looking for.

      One example is short stories. I’ve pretty much given up sending to markets blind, I just don’t have the time to play the numbers game. These days I just park the stories and wait until I hear about a particular anthology with a theme that suits my story. In some cases I get asked, which is really nice. My novella Memories of Mars was like that. I wrote it in around 2005, and I could just not get it into a market. I shelved it, then last year Keith Stevenson asked me if I had anything for his Anywhere but Earth anthology. I can’t tell you how chuffed I am to have to story see print! It was always one of my favourites:)

      Lawyers in Hell, eh? That sounds like fun. Maybe you can work in some lawyer jokes:)

  2. LOL Chris, after that lovely dinner we had, after Trent’s launch, all those authors and their friends around the table, I was driving home trying to think of a collective word for a group of authors.

    1. Rowena, the collective term would be:
      A Thirst of Authors.

      I have this on very good authority … 🙂

  3. Chris, if it weren’t for fellow authors, I never would have submitted anything. I have a couple of VERY supportive established writers who have more confidence in my work than I do, and they regularly kick me in the seat of the pants and order me to finish writing the peices I start, and then to submit them somewhere.

    1. Hi, Stephen. There faith is obviously justified. I only have myself to kick me in the pants, which is very awkward and explains the cramping sensations I get in my thighs:)

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