{Between the Lines}

The Agents of Books & Such Literary Management Muse About Books, Publishing, and Life

Writing Community: Every Author Needs One

Janet Grant

A Vietnam prisoner of war recounted to an interviewer that the soldier spent the majority of his eights year in prison in solitary confinement. He and other prisoners developed a Morse code using taps on the wall to communicate with each  other. They conducted French lessons, had engineering discussions, and sent simple messages like “GBU”–God bless you.  Studies show that creating that sense of community was a key factor in the men’s survival, both mentally and physically.

It Takes One to Know One

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by stress, one of my instincts is to tap into my circle of colleagues (on a keyboard rather than through a wall) and just be honest with them about how I’m feeling. I belong to an online group of agents formed so we could

  • ask each other professional questions, (“Anyone else having trouble getting publishers to agree to __________ in contracts?”);
  • keep each other informed (“Did you hear that _________ is leaving _________Publishing House to go to ____________?”);
  • and vent (“A publisher just went directly to one of my clients and made an offer for a contract. I’m steamed!”).the-gang-blowing bubbles

The group is a safe place for us to destress. As one member wrote the other day, “It just isn’t the same telling my wife about my good days and bad days as it is telling this group.” Yeah, it pretty much takes an agent to understand what it feels like to be pummeled by bad publishing news one day and then to be showered with good news the next.

In our agency, we five agents frequently turn to each other for cheering up, cooling down, and straightening out our convoluted thinking as we try to solve a knotty problem. And we do a lot of that sort of communicating during our weekly staff meetings, which we hold every Friday morning using video conferencing since we have four different office scattered around the country.

The Solitary Business of Writing

Writing is such a solitary act (unless you count the characters you spend time with as you write your novel), that you need to form a circle of supportive colleagues. They will be your boosters in good times and bad. And who can speak truth to you when you’ve overreacted about how your next book’s cover is going to kill your writing career. Or help you to see that you’re not really done with your manuscript–and send you back for rewrite #99.

Where to Find Fellow Writers

Writers conferences can be a great place to form a writing community. Critique groups (both online and in person) bring people of like interests together as well.

Editors have associations they can be a part of , and agents often have ad hoc groups where they can let off steam to each other. Who better to understand the stresses of publishing than others who are in it?

What does your circle of supportive colleagues look like? How did you find your sidekicks?

Feeling writerly stress? Form a writing community. Click to tweet.

#Publishing is stressful. Find other writers to bring relief. Click to tweet.