Give and take
I can’t speak for everyone, but this writer is socially awkward and uncertain. Last week I talked about networking as an Indie author, and creating a barter system that would help those with no budget, but time, get off and running. What if I don’t have a network? Was asked.
Well, here’s the thing about networking. It’s a mixture of being willing to ask, and being willing to give. The system is one built on trust, like any other relationship, and that makes it a delicate balance for those of us who aren’t terribly socially ept. I can’t help much, other than to talk about my experiences and how I tend to feel like a clumsy ox when it comes to human interactions.
Writer’s groups are the best place to start building this network, of course. I first joined one when I was submitting bits of stories for critique to an online forum, and was invited to take part in a small group. That didn’t go very well. I hear horror stories about the impact groups can have on delicate young writers egos, but for me it wasn’t an impact on my writing, it was a terrible feeling of having to pretend to be something I wasn’t, in order to keep from being attacked and flamed. Because I didn’t trust them on one level, I couldn’t take seriously their criticism of my work – and most importantly, looking back, I couldn’t fully critique their work. That meant I wasn’t giving my best to them. I was afraid that if I pointed out flaws, they would come back at me saying that I was only bashing them for other reasons (I was not the same religion they were, and much of the OT chatter was bashing my religion). Later still, after I’d moved on from that group, I did hire one of them for editing, only to have to hire another person to revert those edits… It was a nightmare.
Lest you think I’m trying to discourage you! I am not. I am saying that if you don’t fully trust the people in the group, it’s a sign to bow out and move on. I got lucky, for values of luck, when I did at last wind up invited to a group mentored by Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer. The group was run by another writer, Darwin Garrison (whose stories are worth looking up) and it was a far better structure than the small group (remember the song in the Music Man, with the women singing “pick a little…” That was the first group) in that it was targeted at becoming better writers. Not that there wasn’t off topic chatter, it’s the first place I saw in-depth discussion of what the publishing world was really like. And ultimately it led me here.
That group went the way of most communities – the attrition of time washed some of us away. I stopped writing for some years, dealing with illness and depression as my marriage spiralled into darkness. I reconnected with some of them on Facebook, and in time I started writing again. At that point I also started to consider the writing as a business, once I’d finished a novel. I had a bunch of stories, not all finished, in a drawer. I had very little money, so I knew I’d be on my own for things like covers and formatting. I decided early on that I would hire an editor… The first time I used money I’d saved and set aside from my other business. After that, all monies from sales were put back into the writing biz until it turned a profit.
I’ve always worried about asking too much of my friends, who were accomplished writers when I was struggling to begin. I’ve been blessed with good friends, but I try very hard to give as much as I get. I took a workshop on cover design (Dean Wesley Smith, it was $300 four years ago) so I could do my covers and help others. Later there was a class on design at college. I spent countless hours on art, learning how to take incoherent elements and make something that would sell a book. At this point, I have a skill I’m confident has value, which I can trade with others, towards editing my writing. I can edit, but I enjoy the art and design. You get the idea – if you are confident that what you are offering in trade is worth it, you’re more likely to ask for a barter.
Bartering is a trust relationship. If you’re trading loaves of bread for a chicken, it’s very physical and immediate. Trading skills takes time, and you may not see the results immediately. It’s important to know the other person well. And building that kind of relationship is not a quick and easy process. I suspect there’s a reason money has remained so popular over the ages. Friendships come and go, the work remains. I suspect that a more formal barter network for Indie Authors would be of use, some way to offer a skill you have, and say “I need x done” and there would be recommendations that paired you up. Pitfalls exist (don’t they always?) In that cliques would form, monetary values would have to be set (if someone is convinced their editing ought to be $500 per novel, they might not be happy to receive a $250 cover in return), and people who fail to deliver would have to be removed from the list (see the first pitfall).
So how to start forming your network? Start talking to people who are like-minded. Don’t limit the conversation to writing, only. Be an encouraging voice. And when you need help, ask. When help is asked for, offer to help. If you worry that you are asking too much, say that.
I’m bad about some of this. When I am deeply stressed, I tend to retreat from human contact. Some of this is a relic of my past, so when I feel I’ve upset someone, I go into full retreat mode with profuse apologies, which used to be the only way I could defuse an explosive rage. I know that this is not that, but if I’m not thinking clearly it is breathtakingly difficult to stop, open up, and reach out again. I’ve been trying to do this recently, and if you are like me, I encourage you to crack the shell a little, and take a risk. Writing may be a solitary occupation, but writers are healthier with friends.