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IWSG: In case of fire, break glass

I’m not great at asking for help.

Beyond being a single woman who prides herself on her independence, I’m also an only child who was raised to be self-reliant. Growing up, I mostly had to entertain myself, and I took care of my own laundry and other me-centric chores when I was still pretty young. I got a job as soon as it was legal, and there were times I juggled three or more simultaneously. While I would have loved all the expensive vacations, clothes, and other perks my friends enjoyed, I’m glad my parents taught me how to manage my own money and take care of myself.

But…

Sometimes we can’t do it all on our own. Lately I’ve struggled with a lot of self-doubt about my writing career. Even though that inner voice is screaming that I worked in marketing for over ten years, and should be able to figure out everything about book promotion on my own, it’s a lot easier to promote other people–at least, that’s what I’m finding. I’ve been grappling with some pretty big questions. Keep submitting to agents and editors or stick with my smaller, sure-thing presses? And if I keep submitting, when’s the cut-off mark so these books aren’t on the query-go-round forever? What should my next move be? What’s the best way to find new readers and turn them into loyal fans?

Finally, instead of always whining about how I needed a writing mentor but had no idea how to find one (sadly, there’s no Mentors-R-Us), I decided to do the unthinkable and ask for help. Unfortunately, people who are at the level I hope to get to tend to be extremely busy. I asked anyway, even though I felt terrible about imposing.

As expected, some of the people I asked for help were too busy, even when I offered to pay for their time. But most were more than willing to point me in the right direction, and one dear writer friend offered to ask a USA Today bestselling author to mentor me. Another offered to introduce me to his agent. While I was incredibly touched by their generosity and openness, I wasn’t overly surprised. Writers are, in general, the nicest, most giving people on the planet. And most of them, no matter how far up the ladder of success they’ve climbed, remember what it was like to be beset by doubt and fear. Some of them still are, even the ones who have achieved the success most of us only dream of.

Sometimes it’s great to figure out a problem on your own. But other times, it’s even better to ask for help.

Do you have a writing mentor? If so, how did you first connect with them? What’s the best way you’ve found of marketing your work?

Thanks to Lee Murray, Tim Waggoner, Ronald Malfi, and Hunter Shea for always taking the time. You’re good people–the best.

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The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

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46 Comments

  1. I struggle to ask for help too but I don’t always think that’s a bad thing – I’ve learned the hard way, but they’re lessons I won’t forget. It’s fantastic that your writer friends have come through for you and given you some contacts to help you out. Good luck with the next stage of your journey. I just know you’re going to land a fab publishing deal!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, I hope you’re right, Debbie. Some days, I just pray someone will throw me a life preserver.

      Thanks for the kind words. x

      Reply
  2. You’re not alone. All writers (at least those who aren’t delusional!) struggle with self-doubt. Even best-selling authors can be crippled by it. Every time I finish a book, I’m convinced it’s not as good as the previous ones I’ve written. During the writing, I keep wondering where that talent went that allowed me to write the other books and short stories. Then you finish it, put it away, and start something else. And when you come back to it, you realize it’s not so bad after all!
    As for submitting, I go by the story. I’ve written some stuff I know the mainstream press will never publish, so I immediately look to smaller, more open-minded publishers. If I think the book has commercial appeal, I start with larger presses and then work down. I don’t worry if it takes a year, two, or three to sell something, because in the meantime I’m working on other things.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good points, JG. It is sad that no matter how big you become, you can never outrun the self-doubt beast.

      Reply
  3. Promotion and marketing is so daunting to me. I’m stumbling around trying to figure it all out. I think it’s fantastic that you’re actively looking for a mentor. It takes courage to ask for help, but it’s worth it in the end. Writers are a pretty amazing bunch of people, that’s for sure 🙂 By the way, I’ve seen some of the FB ads you’ve been doing pass across my feed and I think they look great. Love your graphics.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Ellen. I hired the same woman who does my covers to make them, the insanely talented Kelly Ann Martin of kam design.

      Reply
  4. I’ve had a series of mentors. Some formal: professors in my undergraduate creative writing classes. Some informal: other writers I’ve talked with at author events, conventions, or just at the bar. Some in-between: critique partners. Plenty of writers mentor me without knowing they have because I learn from them by reading their work or their interviews. Building a writing life has a life-long learning curve, so I hope to keep finding folks who I admire to learn from. @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s amazing, Samantha! How lucky to have all those mentors.

      Reply
  5. That’s what I’ve found – writers and authors are the most giving bunch. All we have to do is ask.
    And I’m not as good at promoting my own books as I am others either.

    Reply
  6. I struggle with asking for help, too. Good for you for reaching out and yeh on the encouragement and support you received. I’m with you on how wonderful so many writers are.

    (Side note – fan of Ronald Malfi’s – have his story collection in my TBR pile.) 🙂

    There’s a saying I like about how, as we climb the ladder of success, we should reach back with one hand and help someone who is climbing behind us.

    Reply
    • JH

      I so agree, Madeline. I’m often asked for help, and even when I don’t feel I can spare the time, I try my best, because other writers helped me when they were busy too. It’s so important to pay it forward.

      Ron is awesome. He’s blunt and funny and always tells it like it is.

      Reply
  7. What an encouraging message today, J.H. A good reminder that we can’t do it all alone, and that, yes, writers are wonderful people who WANT you to succeed. The more good books the better! I need to find someone. I’m drifting.

    Reply
    • JH

      Sorry to hear, Mary. I’m always willing to answer questions if you need. If I can help, I will.

      Reply
  8. I do have a writing mentor. I met her through Sisters in Crime. It’s a great organization, with lots of resources. The professional (published) membership is very supportive to those of us who are not as far along in the journey.

    Reply
    • JH

      Good to know, Lee. I was a member, years ago, but not long enough to really benefit.

      Reply
  9. I’m glad you found a mentor. I’ve never had one, but there was someone in my critique group that would never fail to let me know when I’d messed up. His input was incredibly valuable.

    Reply
  10. Asking for help is hard. Even now, when I have a few writer friends under my belt, some who have had a bit of success and have offered other writers help, I still have trouble asking.

    But the few times I have, the writing community really goes all out. And I’ll share the advice of another author about asking “successful” authors for help. She said that she asked authors she didn’t even know, lots of them, and one major one found her email interesting enough that she read her book and offered to give a positive quote for her to use in her marketing. She was thrilled.

    You just never know!

    Reply
    • JH

      True, Tanya, and something in your response sparked an idea re: another person I could approach, so thanks for that!

      Reply
  11. Holy mackerel! It’s like you’re writing my own thoughts! I’m constantly fighting doubts about my own writing career – every single day, in fact. It’s brutally tiring. Haven’t found a lot of individual help yet either, except for God, prayer, and my wife. Right now it’s all about going forward and doing the best that I can.

    I hear you about marketing too. Selling books consistently is DIFFICULT work, probably the hardest I’ve ever worked at. I’m trying to figure it out, but if you get there before I do, let me know what you learned.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve learned a lot, but I still have plenty more to learn. I do try to share what I know in these monthly posts. Sorry to hear you’re fighting doubts as well, James.

      Will I be seeing you in August?

      Reply
  12. Asking for help is always tough! I’m not great at it either. I don’t have a mentor, but I did start out learning with 2 incredibly talented writers when I joined AgentQueryConnect.com quite a few years ago. That really helped!

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome to my blog, Jemi. Hope you return on non-IWSG days.

      Reply
  13. Sometimes you just have to ask. I understand it’s hard, but as you discovered, people like to step up and lend a hand. What often surprises me is the hand up I get without asking.
    Here’s to finding the mentor(s) of your dreams!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee. Think I’m still looking.

      Reply
  14. Much like yourself, I have a lot of trouble asking for help. It drives my wife nuts, but if she stopped asking me to move furniture around then I wouldn’t have to keep lugging it up and down stairs by myself.
    But yeah, no, I haven’t gotten to the point where I can ask for writing help yet. I still have trouble even admitting to most people that I write at all.

    Reply
  15. Writers are a helpful bunch. I had a mentor in the beginning.

    Reply
  16. It’s way easier to rave about someone else than yourself. =) I love that you were bold enough to ask for help, regardless. I have had a couple mentors. One was an agent I connected with while living in NYC. Another was a writing coach from a contest. Thank goodness for them both! What would we do without a hand up?

    Reply
    • JH

      I just whined to bigger-than-me writer friends about how I didn’t have one. 🙂

      Reply
  17. I think asking for help is one of those balancing acts. I think for most of us (who are responsible, caring people, writers or not), it is easier to offer help than ask for help. We feel asking for help is showing our vulnerability, that it is a last resort. Than, there is the worry we “owe” something back, or the worry about being declined the help. Funny things, those emotions and anticipations.

    I don’t have a writing mentor. I sure wish I had one, because I seriously need one. Never having taken any writing courses, and not even growing up with the English language, I could use all the (literary) help I could possibly get. But, I decided to give writing a memoir a try anyway, and see what happens. That has been my lifetime motto anyway… “Let’s see what happens.”

    Hurrah for writers and their personalities!

    Reply
    • JH

      With me, it wasn’t so much showing vulnerability, or worries over owing something or being turned down, than it was not wanting to bother anyone. Everyone’s so busy these days, even the retired, and I never want to come across as a drain on someone else’s time.

      Since I believe the memoir is your first book (am I right?), and you’ve not yet published it, there are many people who could advise you and point you in the right direction, which is great. While mentors are wonderful, I don’t necessarily think writing courses are necessary.

      Reply
  18. I also dislike asking for help, especially when I think I should be able to figure things out all on my ownsies. Most of the time, when I finally stop being silly and just ask for assistance, people are more generous than I can imagine. I count you among those generous ones. So thanks. Really.

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome. It ’twas nothing.

      Reply
  19. Egads, I am terrible at asking for help. It’s bitten me in the butt when it comes to household management. My husband has gotten used to me handling everything that he just leaves it to me now.

    I hope you find the mentoring and help you want. I know I’m way below your level, so the best I can do is cheer you on. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, I don’t feel that way, Loni, but thanks. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I’ll keep looking.

      Reply
  20. I agree about writers being a wonderful group of people. When I started out I was timid and scared, and it took me a year to going IWSG, and it was the best decision I ever made.
    Happy 4th.

    Reply
    • JH

      So glad the IWSG helped you, Cathrina. They’re the best!

      Reply
  21. I am overwhelmed with admiration that you were able to ask for a mentor! I’ve never had one, other than teachers/professors way back when who encouraged me. I do have writing friends who are at about my level who are the most wonderful, helpful and supportive people, and I love that I keep making new friends all the time.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Rebecca. I didn’t ask so much as I whined about not having one. That seemed to do the trick. 😀

      Reply
  22. Self-doubt is I think everyone’s nemesis. Wonderful about finding a mentor I have read that can make a huge difference and change in a writing career. Best of luck and Happy IWSG!

    Reply
    • JH

      Not too sure about the mentor yet. It looks like she may be too busy after all.

      Reply
  23. It’s great to be independent. But, sometimes you need help. And that’s okay, too. The writing community is so helpful. I couldn’t have gotten as far as I am without help. So I try to give back as much as I can and help other writers as they start out on this crazy journey. Best wishes.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a great idea to pay it forward, especially if you’ve been helped by other writers in the past. I’m forever grateful for those who’ve given their time to help me.

      Reply
  24. Like you, I’m much better at promoting others over myself. It can be hard sometimes to ask for help, especially when it hasn’t always proved helpful. Still, most authors are willing to help. It’s a very welcoming group of people.

    Reply
  25. High-five to a fellow strong, independent only child! 🙂 I was raised to do a LOT at a pretty young age. My own laundry, chores, etc. And when I got older I learned how to do a lot of stuff with my vehicle. My parents never wanted me to be the “spoiled” only child stereotype and they never wanted me to feel helpless. I’ll admit, it makes it hard to ask for help sometimes, but I’m thankful for my upbringing!

    Reply

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