Paying it Forward

PhotobucketTen years ago, a movie called PAY IT FORWARD hit the theaters. The plot was based on the notion of repaying a favor not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people, and so forth and so on until the world was revolutionized by peace, love, and happiness. I got to say, I like the concept. It appeals to my idealistic side, as well as that part of me that says, “Hey!  I could really pull something like that off.” And then it occurs to me.  I see this happening every day in the world of publishing.

(*insert sound of tires screeching to a halt*)

“What?” says the unpublished writer. “I just got three new rejections in my inbox. I’m not feeling the love just yet.”

“Pssh,” says the best-selling novelist. “I just received a 40-page editorial letter for my third novel, and my kids have the chicken pox. I don’t have time to do good deeds.”

Well, with all due respect, I’m suggesting that none of us can afford not to.

It’s no secret that marketing has fallen more and more on authors’ shoulders and, because most of us have no formal training in marketing and public relations, it’s this concept of paying it forward that is an overlooked and undervalued marketing tool for writers. What I’m trying to say is, supporting the writing community is a FREE and POWERFUL tool for self-promotion.

Use it.

“Okay, okay,” you say. “I get your point. So, how do I do this?” Paying it forward is something we can all do because no matter where we are in our writing careers, there’s always someone just one step behind, hungry to learn. Here are some ways to “pay it forward” that I have experienced from both sides of the fence.

Offer to Review Another Writer’s Query Letter: Sure it’s time consuming, but the goodwill that spreads about you after helping out a fellow writer is like butter on a griddle. Believe me, people talk. This goodwill equates with better name recognition, loyal fans, and . . . in the end . . . more dollars in your pocket. (Of course, the peace, love, and happiness doesn’t hurt either.)

Follow Other Writers Back on Twitter (even those who aren’t on the NYTBS): It’s as easy as clicking a button, and the impact on a new writer when a favorite author follows them back is astronomical! Developing a name as a writer is easy to do these days in the world of social media, and the people you meet online will be your first fans when your book comes out. In short, the more accessible you are, the more readers there will be who are willing to give your work a shot. (For more on this subject click here.)

Share Your Resources with New Writers:  Imagine you are at a writers’ conference and the person sitting next to you says, “I’m just so new to this. I wish there was some place I could learn X.” This is the perfect opportunity for you to lean over, introduce yourself, and scribble out a handful of helpful writing websites, blogs, agents’ names, etc. It takes a long time to learn the publishing industry. Withholding “secret information” doesn’t help you or anyone else.

Given the fact I am only able to make this post because Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton decided to “pay it forward,” I would be amiss if I didn’t thank them for the opportunity.  In addition to Therese and Kathy, I’d also like to give a shout out to those writers who, in my experience, are paying it forward every day of the week.  So without further ado.  Thanks for all the peace, love, and happiness:

  • Malena Lott, author Dating DaVinci; founder Book End Babes;
  • Kristina Riggle, author The Life You Imagined; Real Life & Liars; editor Literary Mama;
  • Allison Winn Scotch, author The One That I Want; Time of My Life; Department of Lost and Found;
  • Kelly Barnhill, author The Mostly True Story of Jack.

May you all live long and prosper!

Photo courtesy jilliansvoice


About Anne Greenwood Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown) writes MG and YA fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates, and is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press). Her new book THE TWISTED LIFE (Albert Whitman & Co.) is anticipated for March 2016.


  1. says

    Fantastic post! Idealist that I am, I, too, love the concept of paying it forward.

    It’s important to remember though, that some people to whom one “pays it forward” may just take and never pay it forward in turn. I’ve learnt not to let that stop me from “paying it forward”. I’m left with a happy feeling when I help some other writer, no matter in how small a way.

    And, inevitably, on a day when I most need a boost, someone else, somewhere, will do something completely unexpected and special that lifts me up.

    So…let’s keep on spreading the peace and love around! :)
    Judy Croome

  2. says

    This is the antidote to the ‘zero sum game’ thinking–that someone else’s success means your failure. That way lies envy, anger, and loss of creativity.

    I am so thankful for the writers I’ve encountered on the way who have given me their time and generosity of spirit to encourage me. How can I not do the same for newer writers?

  3. says

    And a few more suggestions which I put into practice:

    Write blurbs for newer writers’ books

    Interview writers on your blog / put up their links

    When giving workshops or presentations mention those authors whose work you love, including new or up-and-coming writers

  4. says

    What a lovely post!

    I’m amazed every day by the amount of “paying it forward” that happens in the writing world and I feel so lucky to be part of this great community. We have writers who put together free online conferences (like and established writers who share simple words of encouragement with emerging writers (like me).

    With so much good karma going around, it’s hard not to jump in and want to be part of it. My only hope is that someday I’ll be able to pay it forward as much as it has already been given to me.

    Thank you for such a wonderful, encouraging article.

  5. says

    Anne, this is excellent. And the same wisdom applies to the rest of life, too. Where would we be if people didn’t reach out, connect, open up and share?

    And I echo your thanks to Therese Walsh, Kathleen Bolton — as well as to many others whose generosity has been so helpful and uplifting.

  6. says

    So true, and so affirming.

    I also would add reading/reviewing author’s books either for your own blog or Amazon/Barnes&Noble, etc…

  7. says


    Well said! I am lucky enough to be part of a group of writers, editors, journalists, videographers, designers, and assorted others in the media business (Boulder Media Women) and I both see this done and participate in it on a regular basis. And it makes a difference in many ways–not simply in sales, but it is food for the soul, it keeps us going.

    Melanie Mulhall

  8. says

    I do this regularly, but in the bookselling arena. I formed a business called Author Guy, and I sell all the books my publisher publishes in paper. Sometimes when I meet fellow authors at book festivals I offer advice in bookselling techniques I’ve learned.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  9. says

    Yes yes yes! There are a thousand things we can do for each other, at every stage of the process. It took me more than 10 years to write the right book, draft the right query, find the right agent, and strike the right deal. I learned a lot along the way. Why should I keep all of that — any of that — to myself?

    As others have said, it’s not a system of favors, where you do something for someone and that someone does something back for you. It’s more about being a member of the community. It’s a powerful community, and a huge source of support and information and know-how, from all directions. I can’t count the number of times another writer has given me critique or advice or information that made a huge difference to me.

    This post feels like a great big writerly hug. Thanks, Anne!

  10. says

    I totally agree. Everything is so complicated and wild out there right now. The littlest things can be of huge help. Social media is ONE thing writers can actually have some control over.

  11. says

    Paying it Forward was a good film.

    When it comes to author promotion and marketing, paying it forward is a great concept and perfect for the shy-to-marketing types.

    Sometimes I find it hard to promote myself, but give me another author, I would be happy to do it.

    Paying it forward good for the shy and not so shy.

    Thanks for the post, Anne.

  12. Kristina Riggle says

    Thanks for the shout-out, Anne!

    I think some people have a notion that a writer with a book deal in hand, or a bestselling writer, needs nothing from anyone else. They’ve Made It, and therefore should only give, not receive.

    Not true! We still need and appreciate support.

    I’ve gotten a couple of ham-handed, ballsy requests — nay, DEMANDS — on my time from people I’ve never heard of, who showed zero interest in my own work and didn’t even have the sense to FAKE that they’d read my stuff, or even might at a later date. So yeah, those requests were ignored. (An aside: are they running around talking about what a selfish snot I am? Possibly.)

    But I’ve gotten perfectly reasonable, politely worded requests for small favors from people who have cheered me on and supported my work. So in that case I’m happy to help.

    By the way, I do not keep track of who has bought or read my book. It’s not like there’s a list I consult. But I do know who out there in the Twitterverse, or via Facebook, have shown that they give a damn about my books. Good enough for me.

  13. says

    At a writers conference, I encountered a man who was just starting his 1st novel. When he learned that I had an almost completed novel (as in, fifth draft, just needed editing), he asked for advice. I told him what little I know: don’t be afraid to write the bad 1st draft, make a regular time to write, and get great feedback.

    It was all advice I’ve received through books, writing sites (like Writer Unboxed–you’ve heard of it, right?), agents’ blogs, and other published/unpublished authors…obviously, all people who were paying forward.

  14. thea says

    i try to do it even when i know, not only that it may never be acknowledged or appreciated, or returned or paid forward. somehow things always work out for a reason.

  15. says

    Re: sharing resources with other writers: I’ve never understood why people don’t do this, especially because so many of those resources are freely accessible online. It seems very selfish. I get it, writing’s a business with limited openings, and we all want to get ahead. But sharing resources isn’t going to prevent you from getting a “spot” just because this other person now knows your not-so-secret secret tools, and forming mutual bonds of respect will probably help you out in the long run. Like LJCohen said, some writers seem to have a “zero-sum game” mentality, and that’s just not how it is. And I think it’s being a decent human to provide answers you can to questions you are asked; hoarding is a self-centered practice.

  16. says

    What a thoughtful post!
    Have to say that “pay it forward” is such an energizing concept. With the writing community, there are so many occasions to “say it forward” or “write it forward”.
    Fortunately, there are many generous individuals who are doing this every day.
    I have experienced this generosity and realize the amazing impact of passing on a word or two. It is certainly a positive aspect of the sometimes overpowering wave of social media.
    Great blog entry!


  17. Nina Badzin says

    Love the post, Anne! I have felt so much encouragement (mostly through Twitter) from writers who are many, many, many steps ahead of me. Their generosity is what makes our industry feel like a community even when we’re alone with our computers. Even something simple like a follow-back on Twitter (as you mentioned in the post) feels great.

  18. says

    Anne, thank you for this post. Recently I followed Therese Walsh on Twitter. She had more than 2,000 followers, and I was certain she wouldn’t notice me. I was just starting out and had no expectations. Therese made my day when she followed me back and sent a personal, direct message to me. I was touched by her kindness and will always remember her generosity. Thank you to everyone here for making Writer Unboxed a special place. Thank you, Therese. -Mia

  19. says

    Great post, because the idea is about connecting for the purpose of helping.

    Another Pay-it-forward idea
    I try to visit great writing sites like WriterUnboxed, then read the comments of others and visit their blogs to make encouraging comments.

    You can do that for me too, if you like:
    100 Beginnings for Fiction Writers analysis of 100 novels and how we (as writers) learn from them.
    The Writer’s Invisible Mentor My writing project about writing and learning to write
    Saber Slice: More on Creativity and Writing

  20. says

    I owe a great deal to the kindness of other writers and readers, and I like myself all the better when I operate from a more generous place. Thank you for the inspiring post.