How Do I Build A Writing Team?

Team #myWANA: Outwit, Outplay, Outlast...

Once the school year begins, driving through L.A.’s freeway gridlock is pure torture. Nine times out of ten, I sit in my car (going about 10 miles an hour) and contemplating weird crap.

Maybe I tune in for the traffic report so I know why I’m sitting in a sea of brake lights. I might listen to some news. USUALLY, it’s all stock prices and traffic and which celebrity is being stalked (it is Southern California after all), but sometimes I hit the jackpot.

A few months back, I had a business report catch my attention with the four character requirements of teamwork, which I’ll now share with you. Especially with so many of my Row80 pals doing the Platform-Building Campaign with Rachael Harrie, teamwork is important to analyze. Teamwork is comprised of the following four qualities:

  • Openness
  • Generosity
  • Flexibility
  • Patience

Many writers feel that they are flying solo when nothing could be further than the truth. Those of us who hang out at #myWANA with Kristen Lamb know We Are Not Alone, unless we want to be. The process of getting a book published requires a massive amount of teamwork and every single one of the above qualities.

Your Personal Team

During the early stages it helps to have other creative people on your team – to plot with, critique with, and (most soothing) to commiserate with. If you have a family, do not discount their importance as they help feed and house you and put up with your constant mumbling and forgetfulness while you are consumed with your work in progress.

My husband usually knows how things are going by where my keys are. If I’m on top of things, they will be on the kitchen counter in their cute tray. On the bad days of tortured plots and tangled chapters, they have been found in the refrigerator, the pantry and the linen closet.

Openness: Julia Cameron describes this better than I can, but the gist is that she recommends that “you show up to the page and allow the work to move through you.” Unless you lay your heart and mind wide open to the possibilities in your universe, your muse will not come visit and your writing will fall flat. Jennifer Crusie calls this process: “listening to the girls in the basement.” You must open that door if you want to hear what’s being shouted up the stairs.

Generosity: Writing is a fearsome thing. When those girls shout up from the depths of your psyche, they often tell you ugly, sharp, embarrassing things. If you are not generous with your good opinion of yourself, these messages can chip away at your spirit. Yes, we want to be generous with others, but I think it’s most important to be generous to yourself first.

Flexibility: If you are a plotter, this one is often the roughest part of the writing road for you. Those hussies in the basement will inevitably try to drive your story to a place that isn’t in the outline. Just go with it – that is what the delete key is for. The small increments of time where they elbow their way into the driver’s seat of your novel will always pay off. I promise you they will.

Patience: This is the hardest thing for me, both in writing and in life. My inner Diego – that’s my name for that arrogant, nitpicky internal critic who tells me this writing thing will NEVER work – says the darnedest stuff. “Is it done yet? This is crap. Can’t you write better than that? This is boring…” That Diego is a terrible team player.

Be patient. Novels take time, no matter what that Diego dude says. What does he know anyway? In the meantime, go hang out with your writer friends till the sting wears off.

Your Publishing Team

Once you are submitting or publishing yourself, your personal team offers priceless support in helping you cope with the multitudes of rejections that 99% of writers get. (If you want to feel better about your rejections, read this blog by James Hughes.)

You are now trying with all your might to build your publishing team with an agent or an editor. I highly recommend Laura Drake’s blog series on The Great Agent Search as you hunt for your perfect representative. To do your part as an author, all four teamwork cylinders MUST be firing when you interact with these potential pub team members.

Openness: You must be honest with your publishing professionals about where you want to take your writing career. If you want to do book tours, ask them how to make that happen. If you have small children and don’t want to travel, tell them that too. If you don’t feel you can write more than two books a year, SAY IT – it’s not like they won’t find out.

They can’t help you achieve your dreams if you don’t share what they are. I’m not telling you to demand, but asking is always appreciated. The worst they can do is say no.

Generosity: Editors and agents do not lay in wait ready to pounce and shoot unsuspecting writers down. Quite the opposite. They read thousands of pages every week, hoping and praying to see a submission that follows their guidelines, is well constructed and chock full of great writing.

These same individuals are ready to cry happy tears when they see all of the above plus a marketing plan, a book blurb and an author with a platform already built that they can leverage. If you are scratching your head, thinking “Excuse me, platform what?” you need a heavy injection of Kristen Lamb and Bob Mayer. Visit Kristen’s blog and read Bob’s book by the same name, Warrior Writer. You’ll be glad you did.

Lastly, I recommend that, if you do get published, you thank your editors and agents often, remember their birthdays and send them chocolate. They are working to get your book(s) to a wide audience and you should express some gratitude for this. (Note: I didn’t say fawn over them. That would be creepy. Just send chocolate, or whatever else it is that they adore, and give them your sincerest thanks.)

Flexibility: Understand that you might need to do some things you didn’t plan on when you sat down to write your book. It could be that if you want publicity that you will have to do it yourself for the first few books.

If it doesn’t terrify you down to the bone, you might consider approaching writing chapters, libraries and bookstores about speaking for them or having a book signing. We’ve talked about phobias and public speaking before during Techie Tuesday. (No worries…I’ve got your back!)

If crowds freak you out, perhaps consider doing radio. Barbara DeMarco-Barrett does a weekly show called Writers On Writing, plus there are blog tours that can be done from your own home. Anne R. Allen wrote a great post on the benefits of the blog tour.

Patience: After all your hard work writing the book, it is difficult to wait for it to “take off.” I know it is challenging to face, but the first one might not be your breakout book. In fact, it is quite rare for a debut novel to be the one to hit the NYT Bestseller List.

Bob Mayer talks about his friend Susan Wiggs who took 20+ years to hit the bestseller list. Robyn Carr, who writes lovely women’s fiction for MIRA Books, became an “overnight success” THIRTY years after she began publishing. Your job is to keep writing books that you’re proud of and to build a team that you trust to help promote them. The rest will take care of itself.

Your Public Team

When the momentous day comes that you get THE CALL, you add a whole new dimension to your team – The Reader.

Every published author will tell you that readers are the most important team members of all. Though we write for ourselves first, we are really writing for our readers, whether they are real (critique partners, family, your new glorious agent) or imagined. A great reader is a golden gift and a blessing to be treasured.

If you want to keep your readership and grow it, your “Fab Four” teamwork qualities are vital:

Openness: Your readers want to know about you. Every book you write shouts, “This is who I am” so it is a safe bet that your readers will feel that you are already their friend when they meet you. It’s just the way it is.

If it makes you uncomfortable to be praised and loved on in person, make sure that you have an interactive website or that you keep an active blog. Get on Twitter or Facebook. Post often. If you need help getting started with Twitter, click here for Twitter help.

Generosity: Donate books to contests and worthy causes. Authors receive a certain number of free copies when they publish (how many depends on your contract) and it will only help you to give some of these away – send one to our soldiers overseas, offer one as a door prize for your next monthly writers meeting, donate one for a contest prize on your website or blog. The goodwill generated from this is amazing.

Try to answer your fan mail and blog comments – it goes back to openness and helps your readers feel more connected to you.

Flexibility: It could be that you will be called on to do new or unusual things to promote your book or interact with your readers. You might have to emcee an auction, take a bus tour, sit next to an author FAR more popular than you and watch her sell books (while you don’t).

You might not be able to envision all of the things you’ll do in the name of promotion right now. That’s okay. If it doesn’t hurt you, try to roll with it. If you need ideas, ask other authors or your agent what they recommend to help you connect to your readers. If you don’t know who to ask, here is a blog by Alain Miles with seven suggestions for engaging your readers.

Patience: I will never forget hearing one of my favorite authors, Rebecca Forster, speak about her first book signing. She said, “I sat in that bookstore at a tiny table with a big stack of books, a pen and dish of candy. The candy was the only thing that moved all day.”

It is a sad fact that in the early part of your career, your book signings might not have all the hoopla of Janet Evanovich or Nora Roberts. If you are showing steady sales and making friends with the bookstore owners, you are still doing your job at these events.

Note: Always sign all of the books a bookstore will put in front of you. And bring your own “Autographed by Author” stickers in case they don’t have them. Not only does that sticker really help move books, when combined with your signature on the title page, it keeps the bookstore from stripping and returning them to the publisher.

So, there you have it…my take on building your writing team. I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for author team-building as well.

Who’s on your writing team and what qualities do you recommend writers bring to the equation? Enquiring minds always want to know here at More Cowbell.

Jenny

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About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! My passion is finding those qualities that are unique in every person and every piece of fiction. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com). Write on!
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31 Responses to How Do I Build A Writing Team?

  1. Hey Jenny. I like how you broke this down into Personal, Publishing and Public. I’m doing ok with the Personal, ok with the Public and will be focusing on the Publishing in the next few months. I see where I could set goals and improve — and take my ok Personal and Public to super-duper. I’m going to check the links you offer here to get a feel for how. Thanks for another great post!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Kate,

      I’m glad that worked for you…I feel like the three teams require different uses of the same skills. Please feel free to come back with any groovy links you find as you explore this topic. Thanks for taking time to leave a great comment! :-)

  2. Great piece, Jenny. All good advice to remember along the way.

  3. I am jumping over to Twitter right now to promote this post! Every writer should be thinking this way – even the ones with BIG representation.

    Thank you for sharing your secrets, Jenny!

    AGAIN.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL, Tiffany…no secrets. I just spend a lot of time with people helping them build business teams and I see a ton of carryover into writing. :-)

      Thanks for pimpin’ me out!

  4. amyshojai says:

    Excellent as always. Glad to see I’m doing at least some of this write…er, I mean “right.” Still need to work on that patience part.

  5. Excellent! I do love how you broke this down into Personal, Publishing, and Public.

    There is so much here I think I need to let it simmer :) Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are very welcome, Raelyn. I’m hoping to generate some discussion with this post. :-)

      You’ll have to come shout out what’s on your mind once you’ve simmered…

  6. Ah, I need a name for my inner critic.
    Excellent post. It put everything into perspective for me – because you know, we think about this stuff, but it’s always abstract as in, some day…
    Thanks for sharing this great advice!

  7. Jenny Hansen says:

    LOL, Tameri…I think giving that evil entity a very snooty, over-the-top name helps to put them into their proper place. :-)

    You’ve made my day with this comment – THANK YOU! We always hope a post will help so it’s really great when it does.

  8. K.B. Owen says:

    Wow, what fabulous advice, Jenny! This is a keeper!

  9. Laura Drake says:

    Excellent post, Jenny! A great reminder. Thanks for citing my Great Agent Search!
    So proud to count you on MY writing team!

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Your Great Agent Search is the original source for “Business Panties!” It HAD to be included. :-)

      Back atcha on the “proud member” thing. I guess that sounds a little wrong with all these romance writers reading this. Hmmmm…

  10. Another great post I’ll be marking for my favorites. These are all great suggestions. I particularly liked the suggestions for Generosity under The Public Team. It’s a win/win for everyone.

    On the other hand Patience under The Public Team gives me day/nightmares. I’ve bought books I really didn’t want because of those type scenarios. I couldn’t stand seeing the author sit there while everyone walked passed them as if they weren’t there. I’m glad the physical touring thing is no longer a hafta.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Thanks, Angela. And I’m sure the patience bit is giving lots of writers nightmares. It’s part of our rite of passage. But I’m also happy that the blog tour is on the rise. :-)

  11. Great post Jenny. Getting in the action is so important. No one wants to sign a passive person. Teamwork is awesome!

  12. Hartford says:

    I get to have a TEAM!??! I love it. I had no idea. I love these informative posts. I am starting to feel every day like I have a much better idea of what I am getting into and what I’ll need going forward. THANK YOU!!!

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  14. GREAT post, Jenny! I’m still working on my team, but I’ve really grown to appreciate my friendship with Jen L. Kirchner and Amber West, in addition to my entire WANA group – you included! I don’t know that I’d still be writing today if I didn’t have the support and encouragement I do from all of you. To me, that’s the most important team outside my family. :)

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Tiff, you are one of the best team-builders I’ve ever seen. Seriously, you’re a natural. I’ve never seen anyone shoot into the stratosphere as fast as you and it has been wonderful to watch.

      Jen and Amber rock the house so those are some good people to have in your corner. And what would we all do without our WANA posse??!

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  17. My writing team is only a 2 person. Of course, that doesn’t count the mentors I’ve accumulated over the years.

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