Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Your Posse Says About You

I have a few clients who give me continual insights into new blog posts. They are the clients I tend to have lengthy and I guess deep writing conversations with. In talking with one client and her “posse” of fellow writers I came to an interesting realization. When you look around at a major conference like RWA or Thrillerfest and see who is hanging out with who, you tend to notice a trend. Bestselling authors hang with bestselling authors, and in most cases these authors were friends before any even fathomed reaching that list.

What does that say about us or what does that say about the business. My client thinks that maybe like meets like, and I think she’s right. But how? Do these authors all have a similar writing style that we should emulate? Are they all just incredibly lucky?

No, I think one of the things these authors all have is the same drive. The drive to succeed and not just succeed through publication, but push themselves to the top. These authors find each other because of their drive and stick together because they constantly push and support one another. They don’t get into petty fights or go into jealous rages when one succeeds and the others don’t. Instead they see that as another step for them all to reach for and they see the success of one as the success of all. After all, there’s nothing like friends to give you the leg up you might eventually need.

Authors who are in a bestselling posse or future bestselling posse didn’t fall into it. They dove in. They weren’t afraid to leave their first critique group for another that pushed them harder and farther. They are able to maintain friendships with those who helped them along the way. And they know what that golden ring really means to them and aren’t afraid to say it.

So when you’re analyzing your own writing posse don’t be afraid to look around and really think about what that posse says about you. Is it saying what you want or is it time to make changes? I’m not saying you throw out the old friends for new, I’m just saying maybe it’s time to grow the posse a little.



Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

I find your blog fascinating and useful. Thank you.

I followed one of Bookslut's links and found an interview which included a couple of lines that made me go 'hmmm.' I'd love to know your professional opinion. The interview is here:

The lines I'm curious about are:

'The problem is, though, that seeing a book into print takes up a lot of time and energy that could be spent writing other books. Normally an advance gives one something to live on while one writes the next book; if one doesn't have that, one is using up one's own money, that could otherwise be used to buy time to finish a new book, to see one already written into print.'

You recently said that one should stop futzing and get onto writing book B, and that when book B is finished, in addition to writing book C you'll be editing and publicizing book A. Surely editing and publicizing are just as important to a writing career as writing - a badly-edited book won't sell as well (one presumes) and even a book that sells through word-of-mouth needs some publicity.

But how much time does this generally take up, and does it eat into the writing of book C enough to make sense to avoid it?

Kimber An said...

Absolutely, Jessica. I've seen all that too.

You all give such sage advice here. I'm kind of sad I won't be querying you for Manic Knight. After much research, I think it teeters too far over the edge of what you all accept.

imabooklova said...

Reminds me of great author C.S. Lewis and his group of fellow writers called the Inklings which included J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. Some of their first books were read aloud as they - and many others - gathered in the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!

Amy Nathan said...

The key is finding the posse that suits you as you are now. For me that's not easy, even with all my writer-friends being online friends and acquaintances. It's not easy to find the right writers to surround oneself with, but always worth it. The blogosphere - writers - editors - agents provide a great resource for doing so. It's a bit of trial and error...and sometimes sad when you know that you've outgrown a particular group.

Cat Schield said...

I think it makes sense that you attract friends who are where you are in your career. It makes sense that likeminded people stick together. They both feed off each other's experiences and support each other. I just listened to an interview with Jim Butcher and his wife Shannon. She wrote her first book after helping her husband with his novels for years. She has an engineering background with no interest in writing prior to that. Now they're both bestselling authors.

Sheila Connolly said...

I think writers, like most humans, are herd animals, and we seek out our own kind. Your observation about the big conferences is bang on: the eager fans or wannabe writers are in awe of anyone who has a book published; the newly published worship the successful ones with multi-book series or NYT bestseller credentials; and the ones at the top hang together to compare notes on promotional tours, and how to find time for anything else in their lives (I think--since I'm not one of them). It can be intimidating to try to break into the upper circles.

All the same, I have met very few writers who are not supportive and encouraging to other writers, and gracious to their fans.

Mark Terry said...

I've noticed this phenomenon, too, although my take on it is slightly different. (I don't disagree with your take, but I think there's a little darker edge to it sometimes). One of the other things I've seen at cons is the less successful or even unpublished writers sort of glom on to the bestsellers in a way that suggests they're trying to get something out of the relationship. They're thinking, "If so-and-so was only my friend, he could introduce me to his/her agent/editor/publisher, or read my manuscript or..."

And if enough of that goes on, and I think it does, pretty soon the bestselling author is going to keep everybody but people at their same level at arm's length because they don't have to question motives.

Writer Dad said...

"Authors who are in a bestselling posse or future bestselling posse didn’t fall into it. They dove in. "

True that.

Vicki said...

It all goes back to the words from our mother’s when we were young. Who you hang with tells people who you are. Okay, my mom didn’t say it exactly like that, but close enough.

This is just my opinion, but if your posse is not going anywhere and happy to sit back and relax for months at a time, you’re more than likely going to join them. But if they’re constantly moving and working, well then you have to keep up or wave to them from a distance.

I’m very blessed to have close writer friends (posses) who are at the top of this career as well as those starting out. The biggest thing for me is that we’re all working to achieve the goals we’ve set for our careers. The NYT authors have different goals then the friends who are just starting out, yet there is one important goal all of us have. To keep doing it, keep learning more of the craft and then giving back to the others.

Our group, in my chapter as a whole is extremely supportive and when one of our posse sells, wins a contest, finds a great agent, or hits the list, it doesn’t spur jealousy, instead it puts a fire under us to continue on with our work.

Anonymous said...

OMG! This is too timely. I've been critiquing with the same people for the last two years. They're all lovely folks, and I've learned so much from them, but (you knew that was coming)...

I'm faced with the dilemma of not moving forward in the direction 'I' want to go with my writing. One person in particular chastizes me for the 'darkness' of my writing. She writes romantic comedy, and there's nothing wrong with it. Personally, I love reading it, but RC simply doesn't suit my writing voice or writing style.

Now, I'm in the position of having met someone with similar writing interests, strengths and goals. I believe the partnership with the new c.p. with be mutually beneficial.

God, I feel like I'm dating again, and I have to break up with the last girlfriend before I ask the new potential girlfriend out.

Robena Grant said...

Our posse, The Four Fabulous Fictionists met at my home in L.A. for two years. I ended up moving and not wishing to critique online. I felt I needed to find my own voice. To learn in my own way. That was maybe good and maybe bad. I'm the only one in the group not published in romance.

We stayed in contact though, and each author acknowledged me in her first pubbed book. We critique whenever someone says "can you take a look at this." We just don't do the manuscript critiques each month, like we did in the old days. We get together at every conference, we email each other every few weeks or when anyone has good or bad news. We are totally suppportive of each other.

At RWA National, I heard Nora Roberts speak. She said every year she rooms with the first friend she made at conference back in the early eighties. That's so sweet.

tina gray said...

Another great post, Jessica! Two of the gals in my crit group are successfully published, and one of them is about to skyrocket into best-sellerdom with her new thriller series.

The other day, out of the blue, she got a call from the publisher and VP of Minotaur Books (an imprint of St. Martins), Andrew Martin. He told her there’s a buzz regarding her latest book at St. Martins and invited her to NY to meet some key people. She’s going within the next couple of weeks.

Do the rest of us envy her? Absolutely not! We’re thrilled for her! This is well-earned. She’s been writing for over ten years, and it’s high time she receives notoriety for her talents and hard work.

I think it bodes well for us as a group, as we are all equally driven to succeed and “top the charts” in our perspective genres one day. To see it happen for one of our own in such a big way, well to me that’s indicative of what waits down the road for each of us. So long as we remain patient, stay on task, and work just as hard as she did / is.

My agent and I will soon be sending my first MS around to publishers, so your philosophy that authors “find each other because of their drive and stick together because they constantly push and support one another” is especially timely for me.

I happened upon this group only a few months before I got my agent, and ever since I’ve been with them, amazing things have been happening one after the other for all of us. I can’t help but have a good feeling about my own book… :-)

Ulysses said...

This post is interesting because of the thoughts I've been having about my own writers group. I'm concerned that they just don't take the efforts as seriously as I do. As a result, I don't think their feedback is as rigorous as I need it to be. I feel like we're the blind leading the blind. But how do I find a group as enthusiastic and driven as I am?

Julie Weathers said...

I was thinking about this a few weeks ago.

I've been beta reading for a few friends and it struck me how powerful and beautiful the writing is. I often have to read two or three times to actually make comments because I get so caught up in the story.

There are samples of Beth's writing at The Stone River. You can see why I am so fascinated by her work. She sent me a message one time about a round of critiques one of my chapters was going through and cautioned me to weigh the advice carefully and not lose the joy and spirit of the piece. I think that is the secret to your perfect writing circle. They aren't afraid to give you the hard comments, but they recognize the soul of your work.

It astounds me that I have been included in this circle of talented people. I am eternally grateful for them and their support. Jessica is right, I think like minds will gravitate to each other and it's something more than writing styles.

Even though three of us write fantasy, they are all very unique and distinctive. No one tries to make another's work sound like theirs. We revel in the different voices.

I thought about the Lewis and Tolkien group and their comradery. Not that I compare our writing to theirs, but rather the friendships and support.

I blogged about horse sales and the writing business a while back and it did make me realize that inner connection is important. When I'm looking for a personal horse I have to make that connection. So it is with my writing circle. There is a spiritual bond between us.

I suppose Mark Terry is right about part of that, but I think there is more. I became friends with several writers on the Books and Writers forum and many of them have gone on to successful writing careers. We were friends before their success and remain friends. I think of myself as part of that herd. I just wandered away from it for a while.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:57~
I have a writer friend who has published several books. She is comfortably mid-list, but wants more. She insists on sticking with her critique group, who are her chapter buds, but write different things and from what I can see are not changing with the times.
These writers cannot benefit her writing. If anything, since there is no challenge, they take away from it by stealing her time. Whenever I suggest she find another group, she gets upset. I don't do that anymore.
I figure she needs this "cheering section." But it is so frustrating because she won't write without them critiquing the already-written chapters!
I guess it's really scary getting out there, even when you've achieved a level of success.

Julie Weathers said...

Ulysses, try Books and Writers. This forum is serious about writing and they have a novels workshop where you can exchange critiques.

It really is like a continual writing class. Aside from the excellent nuts and bolts of the business, these writing circles do form and you find your writing mates. That isn't to say there are cliques. Everyone is very helpful to everyone else, but it does seem like you find your writing soulmates there.

Loreth Anne White said...

Reminds me of a comment made by motivational speaker Jack Canfield. He said we humans tend to be the sum of the five people we spend the most time with.

Daryl Andrews said...

This post is reminiscent of the same conversation I had, not four days ago, with my daughter. It was day one of her freshman year in high school. Our presence, what we exude, attracts winners and dreamers with a magnetic power. Or, it is blood thrown into water. And the sharks circle.

When I first dipped my toe into the world of author and agent blogs, I was lucky enough to do so at a time when several of my writer friend’s first books had sold, but not launched. As I struggled through rewrite three and then four, their words of encouragement gave me hope. The role of mentor is powerful. They did not have to reach out, they chose to.

I kicked it into gear for myself and my family when one after the other, my friend’s books appeared on the NYT Bestseller lists. Not to compete. To watch firsthand their success fueled my own desire. The initial dream, worn thin by the mundane and fear, was suddenly flush with life again. And I could breath.

Kristin Laughtin said...

This makes sense. I notice in my own writing group (which really isn't all that formal), those of us who are really determined to be published someday are the only ones writing/plotting/outlining, or even discussing writing, or even just writing things for practice that we never intend to try to publish, on a continual basis. The ones who aren't as serious...they're still there, but don't provide much input, and the rest of us just tend to stick together more. Our small group works for us right now, but I suspect it will expand if/when we feel the need for more serious critique.

Kate Douglas said...

What a terrific post--and apropos. About eight years ago, I began looking for CPs who would challenge me more than the good friends I'd been working with. I found a group, all published with small press pubs, who didn't hesitate to push me beyond what I thought I could do. Now, years later, three of them own their own, very successful "Small press" publishing companies, one regularly hits the NY Times bestseller lists, another has made a name for herself writing for another well-known small press, and another is a successful editor. All of them have helped make me a better writer, and not one of them hesitates to tell me where I can improve. Best of all, we are all close friends who encourage one another at all times. Am I jealous of my NYTimes lister friend? No, I'm absolutely thrilled every time she hits, but dammit it all, I want to be like her some day!

Anonymous said...

Well, I would also bet there are a couple other things going on:

1) These authors also have non-bestselling authors as their friends. Could be they aren't thriller writers or haven't yet been published. So, just like the rest of us writers who have some writing friends with published material, some with agents, some still writing away....they have a variety of writing buddies. Not just best-selling author buddies.

2) Like tends to befriend like. As in, if you go to the same conferences, visit the same blogs, etc., you probably will end up meeting at least 1 person in that time who will end up with similar goals as you. And then if you both end up as bestsellers, well, of course you will gravitate to the one person you know.

From my experience with critique groups, there comes to be a point where you are giving more knowledge than you are receiving back. You've outgrown most of the people in your group, so either you find one or two people in that group with the same drive or you don't. It's a natural progression to drop those writers who don't help you moving on from kindergarten to first grade.

ccallicotte said...

Wow - I feel like your post was written for me! I've been involved in a writers group for almost 3 years, and I've been considering leaving for some of the reasons you state in this article - differences in level of drive, and petty jealousy. Thanks for your insight - it seems clear now that I have "outgrown" my group!

Elyssa Papa said...

This blog resonated with me, too. It spoke volumes. I love my CPs and they've continued to push me onward and forward with my own writing.

Anonymous said...

Birds of a feather...and all that.
There is merit to your suggestion. But in most areas of writing, the author must operate as a lone wolf. The group won't get his/her book an agent. Or published, etc. Maybe it's me, but other than generalized networking, I prefer to keep my projects to myself. When I've finished them, polished them to the point they are ready, I'm for sending them out to agents. I find that critiques are often so all over the place they do more harm than good. But again, that's me. I'm a lone wolf. Awrrrhoooooo

AstonWest said...


I'd also second Kristin's comments here:

...those of us who are really determined to be published someday are the only ones writing/plotting/outlining, or even discussing writing, or even just writing things for practice that we never intend to try to publish, on a continual basis. The ones who aren't as serious...they're still there, but don't provide much input

One thing about being around those who aren't as serious is that the longer you hang around, the more you'll become like them.

Santa said...

There is a bond that aspiring writers forge that lasts, and even grows stronger, as some of us agent, some of us publish and some of us continue to hone our WIPs. I feel it within my own 'posse'. I am ever grateful that we dove in together.

Kim Kasch said...

"Friendships that have stood the test, time and change are surely best."

So, "make new friends but keep the old," those are silver these are gold.

Natalie Hatch said...

Jess, I'm now imagining Catherine Cookson, James Patterson and Ken Follett all hanging together with hoodies and bling talking the talk at writers conferences. lol. Thanks for that.

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