Pub Rants

A Pearl Of Wisdom?

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STATUS: Great because I’m taking a little ski break in Winter Park for the “long” weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Well the local bar has some Reggae music going. I’m sitting in the lobby to get the wireless connection.

Since I’m supposed to be on vaca, I’m going with blog light for the next 2 days.

As I was hiking through one of the beautiful National Forests of Colorado with Chuts and my hubby, I was thinking about one piece of advice I would give to writers if I could only give one.

Ultimately I decided that the most valuable asset a new writer can have is a mentor–preferably an already published author.

Having such a valuable resource can make a world of difference in how the publishing world unfolds for an aspiring author.

A published mentor can share the hard times, be a real critique for current work, and really give an inside perspective that only a previously published writer (who has been through the process) can offer.

In any profession, a good mentor is worth her or his weight in gold–this is especially true in publishing.

38 Responses

  1. Tweety Pie said:

    Great advice but the problem comes in finding such a person to be able, willing and acceptable/ready to mentor a newbie or aspiring to be published author.

  2. Lisa said:

    I am a novice writer working to transition from the job I have now to something that will allow me more time to write and to learn to do it well. It’s going to take quite a while before I’m ready to pursue publication. Your blog and others have been extremely helpful and inspiring. About a month ago I emailed an author (a first for me) to say how much I enjoyed her debut novel and we’ve since exchanged several emails. We’re actually from neighboring towns originally and have a similar background. She has been very enouraging about what I’m doing although I haven’t told her much more than what I’ve said here. At this stage, encouragement is probably the most important thing for me. In time she may be someone I can look to for advice. A working writer who would be willing to do that would be extraordinarily generous, but I’m amazed at how many writers (and agents) seem to be willing to do just that. If it isn’t her, I have a feeling I’ll meet the right person, but I do wonder how most published authors really feel about reader/wannabe-writer emails. I have to assume they must get a lot of them so the idea of trying to establish contact feels pretty awkward.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I agree with Tweety Pie…published authors aren’t that easy to come by. And finding one who wants to help you, would be ever harder. I am sure authors with even marginal sales get bombarded all the time by wannabe authors who are more delusional than serious, as evidenced by the number of insane queries many agents have to wade through.

    Nice idea, but almost impossible to do. Why would they want to share what they have learned through their own hard work and struggle with some amateur? That’s what paid seminars and classes are for.

  4. Judy Merrill Larsen said:

    At the risk of setting myself up here. . . I think many authors (especially those of us with just one or two books out) are more than happy to encourage newbies. We were once in your shoes, and, just speaking for myself, there were some very generous people who stepped in to help me and I feel an obligation, almost, to return the kindness. I have found other writers (and agents and editors) to be among the kindest people around–for one thing, we all have a love of books in common. So, I’d say, send an e-mail, ask your questions, be patient and gracious, but don’t expect hours and hours of time or a line-by-line edit.

  5. Karen Dionne said:

    I think you can’t actually go looking for a mentor – it’s something that just happens as you pursue your writing career.

    If your work shows promise, and your attitude toward learning the business is eager and open and willing, some of the people you cross paths with as you’re writing and going after publication will respond to that, and want to help you.

    You might find a mentor among the published writers in an online writers group, or on a chat board, or at a social network site like MySpace or CrimeSpace, or perhaps even in the comment trail of a blog like this. You might strike up a friendship with an editor at a literary magazine, or it could be an author you meet at a writers conference or at a booksigning. Recently, one of the judges of the Backspace conference scholarship program was so taken by the writing of a 17-year-old who submitted that even though the boy didn’t win (and the judge knew he wouldn’t because his work wasn’t quite there yet), the judge saw such promise in the young man’s work that he’s planning to get in touch with him to offer him encouragement and advice.

    I interviewed Jim and Carolyn Hougan (who write thrillers as John Case) a couple of years ago at a Bouchercon convention. The next year when I saw them at that same convention, we had a nice chat. Some months after that, I sent Carolyn the opening 50 pages of my novel (she’d agreed to give me a blurb for the submission package that my agent was about to send out editors), and from there until her recent death due to cancer, she continued to act as a mentor to me because she really liked my work and thought I had potential, and because we clicked and had become friends.

    The same thing happened with Gayle Lynds. I met her at a convention, and because she was so warm and friendly, some months later I asked her if she’d read those first 50 pages too. She loved them, shocked me by calling me on the phone to discuss my work, said she wanted to recommend my work to her editor when the time came, gave me her unlisted phone number and encouraged me to call if there was anything more I wanted to discuss, line edited my pages and sent them back to me, and most importantly, in the course of that conversation, gave me a piece of advice that inspired me to write a new and better ending to the novel. It took another four months, but the novel just sold last January, and I really believe that without that improved ending, it wouldn’t have. Truly, I owe my success to her help.

    I would never have asked these best-selling authors to read my opening pages if we hadn’t met. And we wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t gone to those two conventions. And of course I didn’t ask either of them “will you be my mentor?” either – it just happened.

    BTW – several other best-selling authors read my pages and gave me wonderful blurbs (you can read them on my website if you’re curious), but that was the end of our interaction. I wasn’t asking for more, and they didn’t offer, but they did help as far as they were moved to, and I most certainly appreciate it.

    I’d like to second Kristin’s thoughts that a mentor is an incredible help to a new author’s career. Keep writing, join online groups, go to conventions and booksignings and yes, send your favorite authors fan mail, and you just might find one. And while you’re at it, offer to act as a mentor to someone who’s not as far along as you are in your career. It’s good karma!

  6. Karen Dionne said:

    I just want to add that when interacting with successful authors, it’s important to keep in mind that the demands of their careers make them extremely busy people. If you’re asking for a favor, make it a small one, and if they say they’re too busy with their own deadlines, know that’s no doubt the case, and don’t take it personally.

    Accept any help they offer graciously and gratefully, and don’t impose on them for more! A mentoring relationship is not one between equals, and the person being mentored needs to recognize that, or it won’t work.

    That all probably goes without saying, but I’ve said it anyway. 🙂

  7. Virginia Miss said:

    Sadly, the unpublished outnumber the pubbed, so although most published authors are helpful, their time is limited and they can only mentor so many wannabes. Like so many other things, it’s a resource issue.

  8. Laura E said:

    In absence of a mentor, there are other resources available. Critique groups, yahoo groups, and blogs like these are helpful to the unpubbed like myself. I belong to Linnea Sinclair’s yahoo group and a few others where published authors hang out. There aren’t any pubbed writers in my critique group, but the feedback I get is indispensable. So you can’t find a mentor, that’s ok. There are substitutes.

  9. Karen Dionne said:

    That’s true, Virgina, but not every unpublished author is ready to be mentored by a published one.

    A mentor is a teacher. A child learning to ride a bike doesn’t need to be taught by Lance Armstrong – his parents or an older brother or sister will do just fine.

    If an author is just starting out, they can learn by taking writing classes or perhaps from a critique group of their peers.

    If they’ve finished one or two novels and are looking for an agent, they can get help and advice from those who are just ahead of them in the process – even if those authors are not yet published.

    If they’re agented but not yet published, in my experience, published and even best-selling authors are more willing than you’d think to lend a hand because they know you’re serious about your career to have reached that point.

    My earlier point was that anyone who helps an unpublished author by acting as their teacher is a mentor.

  10. Kimber An said:

    I have several mentor-type Blog Buddies which I found through maintaining my own humble blog. I visited their blogs, commented, asked questions. No one likes to be dogged by any annoying creature and no one likes to feel used. Try to be kind, patient, and emotionally stable. Be someone an author wants to hang out with because authors are humans too (as far as I know ;).)

  11. Ryan Field said:

    This is good advice, but if you can’t find a mentor than maybe working on your publishing credits might help build confidence and make you more credible as a writer. There are so many opportunities on the web these days.

  12. dannyboy said:

    On what kind of basis would people expect a mentor to work?

    I’m a published author (8 books and counting) and I do a lot of other stuff on the side (teaching, etc) but such are the demands on my time and my bank-balance that I’d never be able to do something like that for free. I’ve just started a critique service and I’m developing a mentoring service alongside that.

    (I’ve offered former students free advice by email and in one-to-ones on short extracts of their work, but if you start letting unpaid work take over, it’s just shooting yourself in the foot.)

  13. Kimberley Griffiths Little said:

    Boy, I can relate to this. I spent 15 years writing without knowing a single other writer. (This was before the internet). It was HARD and LONELY and my writing inmproved so slowly. I did manage to sell to magazines occasionally, but it wasn’t until I discovered a local conference, submitted to a contest (mainly to get the critique) and then took a class from two professionals who were offering critiques to their students did I finally get my novel up to snuff and sold it.
    It’s difficult to find a mentor and that’s where conferences and writing organizations are gold to network and meet people. We have to (politely and kindly) put ourselves out there.

    Please check out today’s installment of my Enchanted Friday interview. I spotlight a great new YA writer. I’d love comments, too. Thanks, and have a great weekend everyone!

  14. Kimber An said:

    This is strange. I’ve never had to pay any of my mentors. They’re sweet, generous people who are just as crazy-busy as other published authors too.

  15. Mary said:

    I’ve learned tons and been so encouraged just by reading blogs of authors, agents, and editors. What a wonderful modern tool to connect people.

  16. Stuart said:

    Adding to the good advice here, I encourage all unpublished writers to find either an online or real-life support group. It’s easier than ever with all the established communities on the Internet.

    I’ve been a part of two online communities and one real-life one. Two of the three didn’t help, since I didn’t connect with anyone, but the third (online) has opened the doors to a now tight group of fine writers.

    Another way I met some great writers was through an open call by a publisher. After we all entered, we got to know each other pretty well in the wait. One of us won and several made the call back for other projects. Now, I think there are nearly 8 from that original group who are now (or will be within months) published novelists.

    If available, a published mentor is obviously the best resource. Given the unlikeliness of finding one, don’t knock your fellow un-pubs. Today’s fellow un-pub may be tomorrow’s connection to your own opportunity.

    Seek out a group of fellow realistic, non-whiney, non-entitled writers and culltivate the relationships. You may be surprised how much you get and how much you in turn give.

    (Another way to meet a published writer in a setting that could lead to a mentorship is one of the various writer’s camps around the country. Professional writers often lead these camps and develop professional relationships with their students)

  17. RenaissanceGrrl said:

    Amen to that!

    I recently acquired my own mentor and she has been an invaluble resource and blessing to me as I make my way into this buisness.

    CP’s are great but there really is nothing like someone in the business who sees your talent and can help you nuture it.

  18. Karen Dionne said:

    “On what kind of basis would people expect a mentor to work?”

    No one expects a mentor to work. Mentorship is a gift, offered by the mentor, and not asked for by the one being helped.

    The help is offered freely, and it’s done to whatever extent the one offering has the time and inclination for. It’s a spontaneous arrangement that comes about when one person decides they want to help the other.

    I guess a paid arrangement like you’re describing could be termed a mentorship if you’re talking about pairing new authors with experienced ones, but to me, a paid critique or editorial service is a whole different animal.

  19. An Aspiring Writer said:

    I am a pre-published author and have two such mentors and both are INVALUABLE to me.

    The first I met at the RTCon last spring, just sitting in the lobby waiting to check out. It turned out she was from my city and had a similar background. We were instant friends and have lunch regularly. She’s not only published but just signed the contract for books 4 & 5 of her series. She encouraged me to join a local writers group which yielded me not only a wealth of new author friends, but a small critique group lead by another published writer who is rapidly becoming a mentor.

    The feedback and encouragement I get from these two ladies is invaluable to me. They truly have been there, done that, and they are more than willing to share their experiences and encouragement. (Thank you Jeanne, thank you Cher!)

    So … yes, my advice, go to a convention, introduce yourself to authors, talk to them, take them to lunch! And most definitely join a local writers group. Not every group is for everyone, so look for one until you find a good fit.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I’m part of a web community with several published writers and it’s already been an invaluable resource. I would like to establish a one-on-one mentorship with one of them, perhaps, but I wouldn’t know who to ask or how to go about it… there is also a writer apart from that I email whose work I adore… all very helpful and I’m grateful for their willingness to help.

    I do have a question. Most pubbed writers say that legally they cannot read other people’s stuff unless it’s for a blurb (which implies the unpubbed writer is at a level I’m not at yet). So while I love general conversation and advice, I don’t see how getting feedback on work is possible…? Can anyone speak to that? Thanks!

  21. The Anti-Wife said:

    Book clubs are another wonderful source of advice and criticism. A friend belongs to one that has been together for several years and has read and discussed over 150 books. They have agreed to read and critique my 3rd draft when it’s done.

    They may not be experts, but they love books and read all the time and I look forward to hearing what they have to say.

  22. Karen Dionne said:

    “Most pubbed writers say that legally they cannot read other people’s stuff unless it’s for a blurb (which implies the unpubbed writer is at a level I’m not at yet). So while I love general conversation and advice, I don’t see how getting feedback on work is possible…? Can anyone speak to that?”

    This may be actual fact in some cases (that their publisher has told the author not to read unpublished stuff), but I think a lot of authors say this on their websites as a means of deflecting approach. Regardless, what a statement like this says is that this person isn’t a likely mentor candidate. (I once approached an author for a possible blurb and they wrote back, “Do I know you?” Uh, no – and I guess you’re not going to! LOL!)

    I know for a fact that Lee Child read the opening 20 pages of Cornelia Read’s novel A FIELD OF DARKNESS at a conference as part of a workshop, and was so taken by them he took her under his wing – even invited her to tour with him a year or so later when they both had new novels out at the same time.

    At the Backspace conference in New York this spring, part of the workshop Gayle Lynds is offering on writing thrillers involves people bringing her their questions and plot problems and she’ll act as troubleshooter.

    I’ve shared unpublished writing and ideas with maybe a dozen different best-selling authors, so from those examples and my own experience, I don’t think the hands-off position is true right across the board.

  23. Beth said:

    Why would they want to share what they have learned through their own hard work and struggle with some amateur?

    Because some believe in paying forward. I’ve been lucky enough to know an author like that.

  24. Cindy Procter-King said:

    I’ve had some wonderful critique partners who have to stop critiquing when they sell–too many deadlines too close together. A published mentor sounds and probably is a wonderful thing, but my experience is that it really eats into a published author’s time.

    I agree with Karen Dionne that you can’t really go looking for a mentor. It has to happen naturally, with the instigation probably coming from the mentor.


  25. Debby G. said:

    When I was unpublished, I never asked another writer to mentor me for free. I did take a weekly read and critique class run by Judy Reeves, who was a wonderful mentor and charged for her time. I learned a lot from her and from the other writers in the class who critiqued my work AND I learned a lot from critiquing others’ work.

    I am not famous at all, but I probably average two or three people a month (strangers or near strangers) asking me to critique their work. I just don’t have time. I will be doing paid written critiques for a writing conference I’m speaking at in May, I’m in a critique group where we exchange manuscripts, and I have a young adult novel and a chapter book due in May along with a newspaper column to write every other week. I also have three children.

    Why are authors, who don’t usually make very much money as it is, asked to donate their time and most other professionals are not? Kristin, are you sitting down with wanna-be agents showing them how to negotiate contracts and how to edit client manuscripts and what to look for in a query letter? Are you doing that for two to three people a month?

    This is my advice to new writers: Join a critique group. If it’s a good one, most of the people in the group will get published eventually, and you can mentor each other. Learn from blogs like this one and how-to books. Take some writing classes and use the teacher as a mentor. Post questions on message boards. Do not ask authors to critique your writing for free.

  26. Kimber An said:

    I knew I was lucky to have several mentors, but I had no idea just how lucky! They all take time to answer my questions, but I have never come out and asked any of them to crit for me. Several have critted for me after they offered to do so. I never asked. To me, that’s like inviting one’s self to dinner. Besides, I don’t want any of them to think I only value them for what I can get from them because I don’t. Their friendship is infinitely more important.

  27. Anonymous said:

    Try looking at and going to the forum section. Dean has nearly 100 novels under his belt, teaches at seminars around the country, and generally tries to help beginning writers by offering advice and answering questions.

    That’s what a mentor does that a critique group doesn’t, and being able to do it online means that a lot more people can benefit from his generosity. He may not always be right (we argue from time to time), but he has the experience and the knowledge, and he’s willing to answer questions – just like Kristin and Miss Snark, and many others online.

    I agree that a mentor relationship must develop naturally, that it is the result of two people that “click.” I also want to second the notion that the invitation must come from the mentor to the mentee, in some form, to move from the stage of getting short, simple answers to fairly general questions to specific advice and reading of manuscripts.

    As for “I can’t read for legal reasons,” I think it’s a polite fiction that pubbed writers use when they are not willing to read, but don’t want to be rude — and sometimes it’s true, too. (Having worked in several tie-in worlds, I know it happens.)

  28. Tweety Pie said:

    Joining a critique group can be a help and a hinderance depending on how picky people are about certain issues. Some want there to be perfect grammar and sentence structure and read crafts books all the time but they don’t know how to give a good critique.

    You have to listen to your own voice, style and rhythm and not just change them. You also have to look at the intent/agenda of those who are critiquing for you. Some can do it with ease and grace and be helpful while others do it without style and with such vinegar it’ll leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and questioning whether you can actually write a coherent, cohesive sentence or not.

    Joining a critique group isn’t for everyone. Just like in a mentor type relationship you have to have the right fit (“click”).

    Another problem comes in the form of the more shy, quiet, perhaps less confidence writer/aspiring writer.

    If you have a mentor then that’s good and if they can help you I think that’s great.

  29. SarahP said:


    A mentor can be wonderful, somebody who’s hacking her way through the jungle, calling directions back over her shoulder…

    I have a mentor who’s about 18 months ahead of me at the same publisher, and her advice and guidance has been so incredibly helpful.

  30. Kim Stagliano said:

    Oh my goodness yes. I have been most fortunate to have met up with a woman who is taking the publishing world BY STORM right now. Her debut comes out in August. She has been amazingly helpful to me – we even had breakfast together last week. Mentoring, human kindness, call it what you will. It’s glorious. I do the same in my own world – I’ve adored benefitting from it in the writing world.

  31. Debby G. said:


    I’m happy to answer writers’ questions (at least ones they can’t find the answer to after five minutes of Internet research), and I have blurbed a few books, and I’m happy to read my friends’ work if I have time. But I don’t want to give up the little free time I have to read a manuscript from someone I hardly know.

    The critique group I’m in now is composed of both published and unpublished writers. The quality of their critiques isn’t dependent on their publication status.

  32. Diantha said:

    I too am benefitting from the wisdom, experience and patience of others. These are gifted people for whom part of the gift is the willingness to share.

    The author Kim S. spoke of has that kind of spirit which is evident through the blog she keeps. (Something I’ve only recently discovered.) There are different types and levels of mentoring available. I consider the time that Kristin puts in on her blog as a form of mentoring. Granted, it’s not like she’s critiqueing our individual manuscripts, but she’s providing a wealth of information.

    You just have to be open to both the sources and variations or mentoring. One of my mentors came to me through an odd and fortuitous twist of fate per another area of my life.


    P.S. Kim – you are sooo lucky to have been able to meet Pat. I can’t wait for that book!

  33. Anonymous said:

    Sounds great in theory, but even people who were very good friends before they sold no longer have time to help those on the threshold. They want to, but the demands of meeting deadlines and copy edits, writing that next book, etc. just don’t allow it. I don’t need encouragement. I’ve written five books, so I know I can do it. I’d like to get a recommendation to an agent or editor, something that will help me leap that final hurdle. But even though my published friends supposedly love my writing and think I’m right on the verge, that kind of help isn’t forthcoming.

    It all gets a little discouraging sometimes.

  34. kelljones said:

    Here’s a different perspective: why not spend some time thinking about how you can help other folks, instead of just wondering how you can get help?

    I like the comparison karen dionne made to learning to ride a bike. I’m not a published author, but I’ve written several novels, and I know some of the places I get stuck. I wish I’d had someone I could ask during that first round — why not help someone else?

    So, when a local high school contacted me to see if I’d be willing to mentor a student who was writing her first novel for her senior project, I said I’d meet her and talk to her about it. I needed to make sure she was serious about it, that I understood the time commitment involved and could meet it, and that we were comfortable working together. (Other things to consider if you try this: expect a background check, references, and some detailed questions about how long you’ve been writing, etc. Make sure you both state your expectations clearly at the beginning — it can get pretty tough when things get hard, and you’re both busy. Remember to encourage, not just critique.)

    Would she have rather had a published author? I would have, when I was in her shoes! But I was able to connect her with other (unpublished) writers I know, and I encouraged her to ask them questions, too, and get other opinions. I’ve never had an “official” writing mentor, but I do feel like a lot of people have helped me along the way. None of the “in-person” kind have been published authors, though I’ve learned a ton from their blogs, books, etc.

    Will I be able to help her get published? Nope. But she wrote her first novel, and plans to write a second. She felt like she had someone rooting for her that understands how hard writing can be. That’s something I’m proud of.

  35. Tweety Pie said:

    I agree with anon 3:35 –

    I’d love and appreciate the help and now I can write and finish a manuscript and have it come off pretty well polished (cause let’s face it nothings perfect) but it’s the other foot in — agent or editor recommendation. Even if it’s a no, could help or be more helpful in the long run.

  36. tcastleb said:

    I’m lucky enough to have three mentors, though I admit I’m paying for them. I’m getting a Master’s in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program ( ), which takes all kinds of genre fiction including romance, sf/f, thriller, mystery, children’s and YA, and has published authors working as mentors. Most of it’s online, so you don’t even have to move there. I pay for it, but the benefits for me are enormous; everyone, students, alumni and teachers, are all wonderfully supportive and provide great connections. And I wouldn’t trade my mentors for anything; they’ve already helped me improve my manuscript a lot. Before I got into that program, I also went to some community college classes with wonderful teachers (and cheap!) and Clarion (SF/F 6-week workshop) and found more mentors and support there. And I agree with those who said go to cons and meet people, especially if the cons have a workshop with crit sessions featuring pubbed authors. It takes work and luck, but it’s worth it.

  37. Anonymous said:

    Conferences and workshops are good – I agree but money is a major issue right now.