by Doug Lewars
My experience with authors is that they’re a pretty supportive lot. This is not always the case. I remember reading comments in a group by one author who refused to have much to do with others. Her argument was that her time was limited and spending it with other authors was sub-optimal. Maybe someone like Stephen King or JK Rowling doesn’t benefit to any great extent from working with others but I believe in general it’s a good idea.
First is the sharing of information. People have different experiences. One can always learn something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be explicitly about writing but a small nugget of information filed away may be useful in a story someday. For example, I learned quite by accident that if you plan to take action against someone in small claims court, you can save money and have good results by using paralegals. I have no plans to go to small claims court but it’s good to know. Even if I don’t need this advice, it’s possible that someday one of my characters will.
Another advantage is that my strengths might well be different from someone else’s. There’s a woman in the writers’ group to which I belong who is also serious about her work. We trade stories back and forth for editing purposes. The things she spots in mine are things I never would have noticed. I can read a paragraph and think it sounds pretty good. She can suggest changing just a couple of words and it goes from good to excellent. In her work she sometimes uses words that aren’t English which works up to a point, but I can assist in pointing out where a reader might get lost when she goes a bit too far. Together I think we’re both better off.
Lessons learned the hard way can be shared so that others may avoid pitfalls. Today I learned that heads-down writing concentration might be an asset when writing a complex scene but it’s not a good idea if you happen to have a pot boiling on the stove and an aversion to eating charred carrots. In addition, shared experiences can help avoid disappointments. When I uploaded my first book to Smashwords and successfully got it through their formatting process I was excited to think that dozens, possibly hundreds of individuals would see and enjoy it. Well that certainly didn’t happen. I had two or possibly three readers and I was a bit disappointed until I realized that there are hundreds of thousands of books on that one platform and the probability of me being noticed was extremely small. Since then I’ve been able to let those in my writers’ group know of my experience so that their own expectations aren’t set too high with the release of their first masterpiece. Sure they have hope. Everyone does. But while they might be a bit disappointed they won’t be devastated. Plus they fully understand the importance of marketing.
There are also some social benefits from cooperating with others – particularly in writing groups. Interactions on social media are good but there’s nothing like meeting with other individuals who share a common interest not to mention common frustrations. In addition, some writers – well, me for example – have a tendency to spend a bit too much time behind a computer screen and meeting others in a cooperative environment serves to force one to physically get up, leave the computer and discover that there’s an actual world out there that extends beyond the imagination.
It is, however, impossible to ignore the fact that there is an element of competition to pretty much everything in this world. Financial resources for authors are limited and growing more so every year. Here in Ontario, Canada, average author remuneration is slightly less than 1/3 of what would be made working a 40 hour week at minimum wage. But I doubt that even that tells the whole story. I think there are a few quite successful authors and large numbers who earn next to nothing. It’s probably a good thing we enjoy what we do. Publishers need to make money, have limited resources and will have to back that subset of books they feel will do well. Making list is a definite challenge and simply entails being better at any number of things – not only writing but marketing and selling as well.
Competition is not necessarily bad. It’s possible to learn a great deal from those works that make it to the top. Presumably it’s quite satisfying to win any of the major literary awards although I certainly can’t state that from experience.
There is much to be said for both competition and cooperation; however, from my perspective, I have had more satisfying experiences working closely with other authors and learning from them than trying to strive against them.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on Smashwords.com.