Come Alongside

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Janet and I are getting ready to head down to Scripps College in Southern Californian the next couple days to talk to the students about writing and publishing. Six sessions over two days. I have to admit, we love talking about books and publishing. And what fun to come alongside these cream-of-the-crop students.

If you read many agent blogs, you’ve probably been treated to an overload of complaints. Sometimes the frustration with the day-to-day avalanche of work overflows onto agents’ posts. Yes, there are too many queries to be able to handle them helpfully.  Yes, publishers sometimes care more about the platform of an author than about his ideas. And yes, writer-hopefuls do send us the strangest queries, but, press any of us agents, and we’ll admit there’s nothing we’d rather be doing.  So as I spend the next few days doing what I do best, let me tell you a few of the reasons I love my job.

A little background: For thirty years I’ve been considered one of the world’s leading sculptors and doll designers. I had my own company for a quarter century and won every top award in the industry, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. I also wrote books at the same time. I have more than a dozen titles in print. All that to say that I have had my turn in the spotlight. When I began itching for a new challenge, my own agent, Janet Kobobel Grant, asked if I’d be interested in joining the agency almost twelve years ago. It didn’t take me long to decide. I knew that all my experience in marketing, product development and the toy industry (a parallel world to publishing) would translate to a perfect arsenal of skills for literary representation. I said yes and began to build my client list and learn the business under Janet’s mentorship.

It wasn’t long until I discovered that I had chosen the perfect third career. The first (and best) thing an agent learns is that “it’s not about me.” After two careers in which I was the “brand” or the personality, I would now be behind the scenes. It’s a healthy change. Recently I was looking back in my prayer journal and found an entry where I prayed that the Lord would help me develop a servant’s heart. Bingo! This new career provided that opportunity.

My philosophy as an agent is lifted from Henry Blackaby’s wonderful book, Experiencing God. To paraphrase, he says that God is already at work. Our job is to see where he’s at work and come alongside. That’s exactly what I’ve done. When I’m evaluating potential clients, I get most excited when I can see that God is already at work in their lives and their careers. All I’m called to do is come alongside and work with them.

For me, some of the unforeseen benefits have been a delight. I’ve found that I love getting my fingers into so many different projects, different careers and different ministries. This job is never dull. And when you get to handpick the people you work with, well it just doesn’t get any better than that. Just think, I get to be involved in books that touch millions of readers.  I celebrate every victory with my authors–bestseller lists, awards, starred reviews and lives changed. I also get to be part of the disappointments that only make the later victories all the sweeter.

Agents don’t have to hog all the fun, however. You don’t have to be an agent to get your fingers into lots of projects and come alongside fellow writers. I did it long before I was an agent. I’ve been critique partners with six other writers for more than twenty years. I’ve been on writers’ prayer teams. That made me part of their projects and allowed me to come alongside them.

So tell us–how have you come alongside other writers? How has it enriched your writing and your own walk? Ideas? Comments?

25 Responses

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  1. Carol Ashby says:

    One of the best parts about getting established in any field is being able to mentor and open doors. I’m not to the point where I have the key to many doors, but I’m past the point where I’m a newbie. I love sharing bits of information I’ve picked up about the craft and business of writing. I love working with my critique partner. We improve each other’s writing every time we bounce it back and forth. Even better, we pray for each other for our writing and other things. Having a kindred spirit who loves Jesus and loves to write things that glorify God is a true blessing.

  2. “I love getting my fingers into so many different projects, different careers and different ministries” — Ah, Wendy, still sculpting.
    * Not just writers, Wendy. Everyone. I believe that God puts people in my path, for a moment or long-term, so that I can encourage them: a word of praise, a bit of constructive (never destructive!) criticism, a nudge in another direction, a blessing, a prayer for discernment and especially (when people don’t even want what I have to offer) silent prayer for their shalom. My work is never done!

  3. First of all, Experiencing God was a life-impacting bible study for me. And the whole idea of joining God in His work has challenged me to look for where He’s working, rather than doing my own thing and hoping He’ll join me, if that makes sense.
    *I loved reading about the many ways you’ve been able to come alongside your clients and other writers. I have had the privilege of praying for other writers as they’re moving toward deadline, or working toward representation by an agent, and other aspects of their journeys. I’ve been on a couple street teams. And I’ve loved being able to read and give feedback when another writer asks.
    *What was fun most recently was when a friend confided she feels like God has given her a calling to write. I loved talking with her about that and sharing a bit of my journey.

  4. What a great question! My writing journey has been a very lonely one. But in the last 5 years or so the Lord has seen fit to bless me with other writers to journey with. My wonderful critique partner Jenn has pushed me to grow so much, and I hope that I have been half as helpful to her! After attending our local writer’s conference every year for the past 8 years, I’m starting to get to know people. But more importantly, my occasional appearances teaching creative writing in some of my sons’ classes have turned into a weekly class with a few very enthusiastic 7th and 8th graders. I’m getting the chance to show them how to write to a publication’s specifications and send that first submission to a magazine! That is thrilling and this Friday I was invited to present at my old high school for career day. They tell me that 80 kids signed up for my presentation, that’s about the size of my graduating class! I’m so awestruck, all those excited young writers wanting to know the process and longing to create. I just hope I don’t squelch their enthusiasm with too much reality while also resisting the urge to paint it all as rosy hued and easy. Argh!
    I think that sharing lessons learned about writing has been one of my greatest joys. So so wonderful.

  5. Thank you for this interesting and heartening glimpse into your background and motivation, Wendy.
    * I don’t have the professional or personal qualifications to be any sort of mentor, particularly in writing; I can offer encouragement and prayer, but that’s all.
    * Too, there is a season for everything, and it does behoove one to recognize the turning of the leaves, lest one come alongside from the wrong place, and with a message that is well-intentioned but may not be beneficial. There are times one must recognize that God’s call is to step away.
    * To encourage the dreams of others with a full and unstinting heart one must hold one’s own dreams with equal care; it’s part of “love they neighbour AS thyself”. A fatalist sincerely trying to build the Ladder of Optimism for others to ascend is ultimately using nails that are too short to grip, and it’s gonna collapse.

  6. Every time someone asks me for help … I know my eyes widen, and I think … Me? Me. A well known author and friend recently asked me to look at her work before she had it published … just to double check for errors, ensure it all made sense. Me? One thing I really love to do is to take a picture of my favorite books, especially ones with beautiful covers, and share with my world … I don’t know if it helps the author much, but it’s my way of cheering for them and loving on them.

  7. The Lawton Dolls! How wonderful! I’ve long wondered why you chose to move away from such a successful endeavor, and I appreciate the explanation above. It makes perfect sense, and is a testimony to your servant heart.

    I have never considered myself seasoned enough to “come alongside” in any mentoring capacity, but I can encourage, and do so when I have the opportunity. The past week at Kathi Lipp’s Leverage conference was a wonderful opportunity both to encourage and to be encouraged. It is astonishing, at times, to see whom God drops onto our pathway. This is not the appropriate place for the full story, but one of the more mind-boggling ones related to the Leverage trip involves my picking up a hitch-hiker who had run out of gas. I never pick up hitch-hikers, but God had a plan here. The man had gotten out of prison the day before – I was able to come alongside and witness to him for almost 30 minutes straight! He was a captive audience! 😉

    Open eyes, open ears, open heart … Be used by the master potter.

    Victoriously in Christ!

    – damon

  8. My writing experience has been fairly lonely when it comes to the traditional sense for a long time. I’ve been belesser with a great community of support on the parenting blog for which I’ve been a contributor for the last six years. I also have been given some wonderful editors who have helped guide me in the process of writing for print publications. In the way of my novel, I’ve had some
    Wonderfully generous folks take a look at it and offer amazing insight and thought to help me continue to hone and polish it. But I’ve yet to find a real tribe, as it were. I had a critique partner but life got in the way and she was unable to continue. I’ve struggled to find a local writer’s critique group abdntime and money have prevented me thus far from attending any conferences. But I know Gos is working and weaving and tweaking and he will open the doors for those things in his timing.

    I love what you said about seeing where God is working and getting to be a part of touching the lives and hearts of millions of others. That’s how I felt when I was working for the literary PR firm. I loved being even a small part of helping authors get their words into the hands and hearts that needed them most. It was an honor.

  9. Wendy, I enjoyed reading about your journey to becoming an agent. I agree it’s fun to “come alongside fellow writers.” My skills are still in the developmental stage; however, I love to encourage other writers once I’ve read their book or blog. Promoting books I believe in brings me joy too. The book you and Janet wrote is included in this list. “The Inside Scoop” is a must read for serious writers who seriously want to be traditionally published. I appreciate that it’s divided into small chapters for ease of finding specific information. 🙂 Reading and promoting books is a win-win because good writers read good books. Enjoy your trip to Scripps College.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  10. I try to be as helpful as I can. Also, I’ve learned to set my limits in terms of helping, because anything spread too thin is useless.
    As I moved through the writer jungle, I watched many of my more established writer friends reach out to help others further their career, but they all had a very careful balance as to who, and how, they helped.
    As much as I want to help all kinds of people, I can’t. None of us can.
    And it’s fun to crit and proof for writers in totally different genres, as it keeps the mind fresh.
    In coming alongside those whom God has sent, I’m learning to see the wealth of talent hidden, learning to NOT be envious of the gifts of others, and learning to accept that my path is different than everyone else’s.
    I’ve learned to keep setting one foot ahead of the other, keep my eyes on what is ahead, and leave the albatrosses of comparison behind me, and if I could counsel anyone? I’d say that exact sentence .

  11. Kiersti says:

    So true, about agents being servant-hearted…all of you at Books & Such, at least. 🙂 Thank you for the lovely example you set for all of us!

    And I loved your insight about how we don’t have to be agents to come alongside other writers, Wendy. It’s been such a joy for me to get to see and give feedback on my critique partners’s stories in the early stages, then see them get even better, and then even get published! When I hold those books in my hands, I almost feel like they are my “godchildren” or something. 🙂

    Then now, teaching high school English, I love coming alongside my students who have a bent for writing and giving them a chance to explore their creative side in writing short stories. It’s fun to pass on tidbits I’ve learned in these past few years of writing journey and see them put them into practice.

    Blessings, everyone!

  12. Penelope Childers says:

    Many others give their time and talents to mentor me as a writer. In return, I help others. Just last week, I met with two amazing young writers to help prepare them for an editors meeting. This gave me an opportunity to introduce them to Mount Hermon. Both committed to going next year.

  13. Carol Ashby says:

    Not off topic because it’s truly coming alongside. Andrew’s having a really bad day. Prayers appreciated!

  14. Sue Harrison says:

    Such an amazing live you’ve had, Wendy!!

  15. I’m in two critique groups and two other groups for writers that have monthly speakers, etc. I’m in charge of an online prayer and support group for writers and try to attend writers conferences. I also follow some blogs about writing, like this one. As I may have said before, writing is a solitary business, but writers are communicators, so when we get together we click. We understand each
    other as nobody else can.

  16. Dana McNeely says:

    I’m reading your blog a few days late, but am glad it came today to encourage me. “God is already at work. Look for the ways in which he is working and come alongside.” In the dark hours of the morning, when it’s me, my Bible and devotionals, and God, I whisper “Show me.” (Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m often inarticulate when I pray.) Then there are these little areas of guidance. An email request for a short story. A memory. A theme. And a character with a burning desire, like all of us have.

    How I’ve come alongside other writers? As a recipient of many critiques, I’ve learned empathy. As a financial analyst, I’ve learned to recognize disconnect and variance – which somehow translates to manuscripts. So, I critique for other writer friends. They tell me I’m helpful without being hurtful, and I hope so.