Is it profitable for authors to share the secrets of their craft?


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One thing I’ve learned in my years as a fledgling writer is that I have a profound respect for professionals who share their knowledge with would-be competitors. In fact, many of the authors I read are those who have contributed to my cause in some way or another.

When I first discovered the Writing Excuses podcast, I had no idea who Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor were. In truth, I was a fan of their show long before any interest emerged in their works. And while I did eventually buy their books, it had little to do with the stories themselves, but because I felt I owed it to them.

In a way, they became mentors, churning out hours of free content, condensing years of hard-earned experience into tiny bite-sized earcasts that I was then allowed to gobble up free of charge. It just didn’t seem fair.

So I read their stuff. And if I couldn’t read it, I shared it with friends. And I still do, for what it’s worth.

Since then, I’ve discovered other authors this way. My desire to learn has lead me down many a strange path, and I’ve read a lot of peoples’ stuff for the very reasons mentioned above.

I once bought a book by Ray Rhamey, for example, called The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles. To be clear, I am not the target audience for this kind of book. I’ve never been a fan of vampires, and while I do like cats, I don’t much care to read about them. But I did read this one. Why? Because Ray Rhamey posted a generous critique for a sample I had written on his site, www.floggingthequill.com.

I honestly have no idea how profitable this strategy is for authors. I do know there are a lot of desperate writers out there looking for mentors. And in an industry where getting your name out there is paramount, I can’t help but see this as an opportunity for those looking to engage more readers.

So, all of this has me thinking. Is this give-and-take relationship as successful as it seems and, if so, in what ways can it be exploited?

I remember an episode of Writing Excuses (Episode 4.32: First Paragraphs) where the hosts critiqued the works of their listeners. It was a fantastic show and one I’ve been hoping to see repeated.

One idea I’ve seen mentioned is to have a panel of contributing authors offer feedback on aspiring authors’ stories. It wouldn’t have to be a regular cast, per se, but just a few pop-ins here and there. Barring that, maybe some writerly Q&A’s or idea workshops.

Now, I am aware of the many amazing critique sites out there, and I don’t doubt their merits. But there’s something so damn appealing about having a pro take the time to look over your work. I’m also aware that many authors host workshops online (Cat Rambo’s Online Classes for example), but I lack the time and resources to participate in most of those. Lastly, I’m sure I’d have better luck asking someone this question directly, but my blog is woefully lacking in content so I might as well post it here.

I’m sure these things exist, I just don’t know where to find them. At any rate, if by some off chance you’re still reading this God-awfully long post (Hi!), and know of where I might find such a thing… Please, do be kind and show this wayfaring stranger the way.

Thanks.

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