Vicki Hinze © 2001-2011
Q. I’m upset and I’m not sure I have the right to be. If I were a “good” person, I wouldn’t be. Right now, I’m not good, I’m angry and disappointed. Can you help me sort through it? I help other writers a lot. Like you, I don’t charge fees for advice or critiques or anything. But now I need help getting the word out on my book–I’m new at this so I need the push word of mouth gives–and no one is willing to help me. Not even my friends. Not one person showed up at my first book signing. Not one. I’m devastated–and angry. Should I be?
A. The short answer: no.
The long answer:
Don’t waste your energy being upset on something you can’t control and have no ability to change. That you help and can’t get help is sad, but it’s also the way it often goes. Too many humans are interested enough to engage only when the effort they make affects them personally. If you seek to blame that on something, hectic lives, mounting pressures and demands, and being human are as good a reasons as any.
Know that you’re not alone. Many times in the past fifteen years I’ve asked for help and no one has been home. And like you, I was hurt, disappointed, and early on, devastated. But then I was lucky enough to get critical. Not critical of those who had accepted my help and then ignored my call for help. Of me. I looked inside, where we all must look to resolve issues such as this. I asked myself one question that I’ll now ask you:
Why do you help others?
This seems simplistic, but it’s not. It is the core of your motivation and that wells from the core of you. So it’s vitally important to you to know. It impacts you emotionally and spiritually, which of course, affects you physically.
I’ll warn you now, that you might not like the answer you give yourself. It might make you uncomfortable, make you feel less noble and as if you’ve taken a giant leap backward on your personal growth chart. But it is not a step backward. Recognition is key to making adjustments and refining your personal journey in your life.
So answer the question–not to me, but to yourself. Be both blunt and honest.
Then consider the following facts. I attest that they are facts from my personal experience. In yours, the facts may vary a bit, but my guess is, not much. There are enough common factors in our experiences to keep the results fairly constant.
1. Helping other writers does not increase your own book sales. If you’re doing what you can to help others because you think it will increase your own book sales, it won’t. Actually, you are sacrificing time promoting your books effectively to help others. Many who accept your help, even often and over a long period of time, never read your books.
2. Helping other writers can open doors to agents/editors–but do you want them open? I need to explain myself quickly on that one, or you’re going to be shaking your head and wondering if I’ve lost my mind.
Of course, you want open doors with editors/agents. And a friend or acquaintance might be willing to refer you to their editor/agent. But asking is putting that author on the spot. If they wanted to refer you, they would do so without your asking. And having a referral might get your work read, but it can also put the agent in a touchy position, and you in a less than desirable one.
If the agent passes on representing you, has s/he created an uncomfortable situation with his/her referring client? If the agent offers to represent you, is it because s/he loves your work or because his/her client asked? Can you ever really know?
When I changed agents five or six years ago, I had a referral but I didn’t use it. Actually, I didn’t tell my agent about the referral until after we had decided to work together. I wanted that agent to love my work enough to represent it well. I didn’t want outside influences impacting that. It proved to be one of my better decisions.
3. Helping others does not assure their support when you need it, whether it is at book-signings, posting a review of your book online at Amazon or one of the other stores, when you lose an editor or agent, deal with a contract challenge, or any other challenge, professional or personal. Very often, because you do help others, when you encounter a challenge, you end up flying solo. If you’re very blessed, you have a friend or two who will listen and be there for you.
Let me give you a “blessed” example. Recently, I found four acres that I wanted to buy. Someone else put an offer on it. I don’t typically get so attached to things, but I really wanted this piece of land. It felt like home and I’d finally found it. (That’s a biggie if you’ve never felt that way about a piece of ground.) Anyway, that someone else had made a preemptive offer knocked me to my knees.
I emailed a friend, who immediately emailed back appropriately indignant and outraged that anyone else would dare to buy MY four acres. It was the perfect response. My friend came through for me, and I wound up writing two chapters that day instead of mourning my acres.
I know it’s hard to sit through book-signings when no one you know comes to them. If it helps, know that very few authors haven’t had the experience. Most authors dream of having readers lined up through the store and down the street, but the truth is, selling about a dozen books is considered a good signing. Yes, I’ve known authors who have sold 400 or more, but very few. And many sit in stores for hours and the only words spoken to them are: “Where’s the bathroom?”
But that experience doesn’t have to be a lemon. You can choose to make it lemonade, and we all know lemonade goes down more easily. Use this opportunity to get to know the booksellers, the clerks who are actually selling your books. Browse the shelves, see what’s there, what’s appealing. Talk to them about what readers are telling them. These things are important, too.
I suppose you’ve gotten the point. Helping others does not equate to your being helped. So if your motivations for helping others is seated in personal gain, well, you already know that’s not the way things work.
But if your motivations are more universal, then you will be blessed with many wonderful experiences and worthwhile rewards. It’s like the old Ben Franklin saying. Expect nothing, then whatever comes is a pleasant surprise.
When I started Aids4Writers, I did it as part of a personal growth program. Every year, I choose an aspect of my character to try to improve and focus on improving it through the entire year. That year, my personal motto was to “do good for goodness’ sake.” In other words, I would focus intently on helping other writers not for what I could gain, but for what I could give. No other motive. Just giving.
I intended to run the program for a year and then focus on another. But so many people from this list contacted me saying they needed it, I’ve continued. I think that’s been four or five years ago now. I can’t keep up the daily-post pace anymore, but I do try to post a couple of times per week.
The nugget in all that is that my motivation remains the same. I expect nothing from those I help here, though over the years, many have been gracious and helpful and supportive. There have been rewards, though perhaps they’re of a different nature than you referenced. Posts from people saying that reading a post had light bulbs going on in their minds. Saying a hard-to-grasp concept finally made sense. One of the cutest posts I’ve gotten was from a writer who said my posts were like reading cliff notes. All the junk you don’t need is left out. I loved that one.
So the rewards are there. They don’t affect your wallet, but they sure affect your soul.
We all get twenty-four hours in a day. Each of us must decide how to spend those hours.
Some will choose to do that effective self-promotion and they’ll likely reap significant financial rewards (and probably do their fair share of worrying about whether or not they’re fulfilling their life’s purpose).
Some will choose to help other writers and they’ll reap significant non-financial rewards (and probably do their fair share of worrying about money).
A lucky few will find the balance and do both.
Neither is right nor wrong and we all get to choose which path we will take.
Once we do choose, it’s really important to be comfortable with our choice. If you choose to pursue financial success, there’s going to come a time when you wish you’d chosen people. If you choose to help people, there will come a time when you really wish you’d followed financial success. It’s human nature.
The whole point of sharing all this is so that you see there is no one answer that’s going to fit even one person on all occasions. Regardless of what you discover in your personal motivation self-examination, and what you choose to do about it, you’re going to experience times when you wish you had taken the other path and wonder if it would have been wiser.
The thing is, you have life and you don’t want to squander or waste a second of it. So look to your personal philosophy. What hint does it give you on your motivations and where you’ll find harmony?
Mine is, “Ich Dien.” It means: “I serve.” For me, that’s more than a hint, it’s like a being smacked in the head with a blunt object. Most philosophies are more subtle. Check yours. It can help you come to terms, make peace with this.
Two last reminders:
1. You can’t control the actions of others. You can control your actions and your reactions to the actions of others. Everything outside of you has only as much power to impact you as you give it. That’s important to remember.
2. Regardless of which path you take, learn the value in the words of John Andrew Holmes. “There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”