Traversing the world of writing has been an extremely interesting experience for me, as I have learned about independent publishing, met many other authors, and worked towards achieving personal goals. One thing I have learned is how important it is to have an author community for support.
Not just "support" either, as in people to help you do stuff or to answer questions. But "support" as in people to convince you not to quit when you are convinced everyone hates your work or as in people who show up at 10 PM with ice cream and a good book and drag you and your bloodshot eyes away from your computer.
Many authors (such as I!) are the solitary type. I of course have family and friends, but when I need personal space, I NEED personal space, and I need personal space far more often than I need human interaction. I love my computer and my living room and my work, and it can be super tempting to dismiss any need for interpersonal interaction as a distraction and focus solely on whatever project I'm working on.
But other authors, especially with the advent of independent publishing, have never been more supportive or accessible. I have received invaluable critique, support, and guidance from the authors in my community, late night complaining sessions and self esteem boosters, people to do authoring stuff with--and wouldn't be where I am today without them.
Here are just a few things I have gotten from my writing community, and these things (at least the general concepts, not probably the specifics) are things you can get out of whatever community you are a part of.
Knowledge is power.
You never know what you don’t know until someone else points it out to you, and my author community has done this for me. For example, what is self publishing? I had no idea, until my friends told me. How do you do it? Still not 100% sure on this point, but I'm working on it. :)
I have learned a ton from my author friends – strategies for marketing my book, errors or issues with my work, recommendations for platforms, website construction, the various elements of publishing, and more.
And I'm still learning (thank goodness)! Information is everywhere and it can be ridiculously difficult to figure out what is worthwhile and what is not. A team can help you sift through stuff and figure out what is worth remembering.
Cost-sharing can help make self-publishing more affordable.
For an independent author single-handedly funding my own career, cutting costs wherever and whenever I can is crucial. My amigos and I have teamed up for festivals and paid events, traded work (copy editing for cover art, for example), and shared tips on other ways to save, such as where to buy the cheapest bookmarks. Of course we all have different goals (mainly to sell OUR OWN books), but we can still drag each other along the writing highway of hell.
It's important for us to remember that it's not always a competition. Books aren't like refrigerators--once you have one, you can buy as many more as you want. A reader will walk into a store and buy half a dozen books. I've been at events where someone comes up and buys one book from each author at the table, or when I'm on my own, bought a copy of every single book I had available (thank you magical book lovers/author supporters! I love you!).
Teamwork! It makes the dream work! Or something like that.
Marketing is the bane of every author's existence..
Seriously though, we hate it. I don't think I've ever met an author who said, "I LOVE MARKETING!" Most procrastinate on it as much as possible. Some even pass off the responsibility to a spouse or a friend or a sibling.
Without a publisher behind you to promote your latest work, the impetus for driving sales falls squarely on your own shoulders (and it frequently does even with a publisher). Being a part of a community of writers makes this process much easier as you can help each other market, decreasing the stress of selling your book while simultaneously making new friends. In addition to teaming up for in-person events, you can host or participate in blog tours, social media takeovers, Google+ Hangouts, online libraries, anthologies, and more.
Critique hurts. It also helps.
Possibly the most difficult thing to get used to is having valid, constructive criticism levied against your work. Although you can certainly find beta readers among your friends and family, there is a huge value to having a professional writer or author review your work.
Inexperienced family and friends, if unwilling to hurt your feelings, might just say, "I really enjoyed it!" or if they are trying, might say, "Maybe just clean up some of the dialogue" (or some other vague and less than helpful feedback. Another writer might say, "this scene is irrelevant to the plot and should probably be deleted," or "this plot device is a trope and you should aim to add something else here." It's sort of like being put on the rack--you get stretched and stretched and stretched, and it hurts, but at least you're a little taller in the end.
Because an independent author is self-reliant throughout publishing process, it can be easy to think, “my book is perfect and you don’t know what you’re talking about” approach to critique. But your work probably isn't perfect. It might even suck. So if you truly want to create the best book possible, critique is critical, and you can find it in the author community.
General support for general things in general.
Sometimes, all you need is a thumbs up, whether in person, via text, or on Facebook. The one thing the author community can give you that you cannot receive from any other group of people is empathy for what you are going through. Independent authors have a different set of challenges than traditionally published authors, and it can be a huge stress relief to simply have someone to talk to that understands your frustrations. CreateSpace sent you a box of purple books? Or books with weird glue? Your internet cut out in the middle of uploading your ebooks? You have stagnated and your Facebook page isn’t generating any more followers? You have writers' block? You discovered someone else already wrote the book you are working on? MS Word crashed? AGAIN? Ugh. Your author friends will understand, and possibly even help you overcome these difficulties.
The author community is big, and whether you write science fiction, non-fiction, poetry, romance, or new adult paranormal urban fantasy dystopian, you can find a community that will support you in your work and help you advance to the next level.
Everybody else is awesome, too.
Now, this whole post isn't designed to negate the importance of the rest of your community. I wouldn't survive without Josh there to tell me to stop being so hard on myself or to buy me little Google ads as random surprise presents. Or without my big brother who I call and harass about marketing, sales, money, computers, websites, math, and other annoying things.
Or my little brother, with whom I commiserate about being self-employed and having to work with other (dare I say it) humans. Or my mom for reading everything I write and loving it, even when it's terrible but also telling me when it's terrible. Or my dad for always being supportive and upbeat, and never giving up on me. Or my best friend for listening to me blab on and on and on and on about anything and everything. Or my other plethora of friends, family, and community members who give me encouragement, support, and buy my books (yes this is a key self-esteem booster and really important form of support).
I would be lost without them. But I would be lost without my author friends too. It's a team effort, just like sky diving is. Or bear catching. Or model airplane building. Or cooking. Or steam engine racing. Or space travel. Or just life in general.
If you're looking for an author community of your own, check out a few of these!
- The Genre Underground
- Infinite Ink Authors
- Indie Inked
- Independent Publishers of New England
- Your Local Library!
And as long as we're making lists of things, here are a couple of my friend authors that you can check out, who provide some of that support I mentioned. :)
- Zoe Cannon (YA Dystopian)
- Christopher Kellen (Sword and Sorcery Fantasy)
- Stefanie Jolicoeur (Kids books and Middle Grade novels)
- KD Mason (Adult Mystery)
- J Zachary Pike (Fantasy)