Author Catherine McKenzie returns to WU as our guest today, to discuss a topic near and dear to her: helping other authors. Catherine, who is one of the most generous authors we’ve known–working tirelessly to help promote other authors works via her Facebook group I bet we can make these books best sellers and in many other ways–has a new books out. Hidden was recently released in Canada and will be available in the U.S. next spring. Her other novels–Spin, Arranged and Forgotten–have been translated into French, German, Czech, Slovak and Polish are all international bestsellers. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, her answer is: robots.
What’s Hidden about?
When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered—his wife and someone else’s—and past secrets, desires and regrets are brought to light.
While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Not one but two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son and contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—her ex-boyfriend—Tim.
With Tish’s co-workers in the dark about her connection to Jeff outside the workplace, she volunteers to attend the funeral on the company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life. Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, our personal choices and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.
Why Authors Should Help Other Authors
Way back in 2009 when I got my first book deal, I didn’t know any published authors. I mean, no one. I had not yet joined the social media world (ah, those were the days) and, as a lawyer, it wasn’t something I came into contact with. So, when I had the opportunity to sit down with bestselling author, Louise Penny (How the Light Gets In, Beautiful Mystery), I jumped at the chance. Here, finally, was someone who could answer the thousands of questions I had but was too afraid to ask my editor for fear of sounding stupid/annoying/make her change her mind about publishing me.
Louise was great. She met with me for two hours and answered every question. I don’t remember everything I asked, but I do remember asking what the one thing was she wished she had known before she published her first book. Her answer? Patience. What she meant was that the first book—hopefully—is just the start of something. That publishers are trying to help you to build your brand so the second book will sell more than the first etc. So keep writing, be patient, work hard, hopefully success will come.
That advice has certainly panned out for Louise Penny. And while I’m not sure that it represents reality for a lot of authors—I know many who feel that unless their books are blockbusters they will be dropped by their publishers, or have been—it has certainly shaped my own approach to this crazy business. Do what you can when a book comes out, keep your head down, keep writing. Hopefully, they’ll keep publishing you.
My biggest take-away from the meeting? How great it was to have someone to talk to who had been there, done that. And it was this meeting, really, that led me down the path to discovering what I think one of the most important lessons in being a writer is: there is nothing to be gained from bashing other authors, and everything to be gained from supporting them.
If you’ve been published you know that the vortex of me-me-me-me that surrounds any release can be overwhelming. I’m not complaining, but man do I get sick of talking about myself when I have a book out (Oh yeah: Hidden just released in Canada! You can buy it here!). This was one of the reasons why I started my “I Bet We Can Make These Books Bestsellers” project several years ago (where I’d pick a book I loved that hadn’t gotten the attention I thought it deserved, and encouraged people to read it). In fact, I recently restarted the project, picking The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison in April, The Comfort of Lies by Randy Susan Myers in May, and When She Was Gone by Gwendolen Gross in June. I love all these books for different reasons, and you should read them if you haven’t. Really!
Anyway, I got a lot of press for the idea (not my intention), but I also learned just how important supporting other authors can be, not just for those authors, but also from the reader’s perspective. I cannot count the number of times readers have told me that one of the reasons they follow me, and, I suspect, at least try one of my books, is precisely because I am not talking about my books, but others. And I think that’s because readers are often looking to know more about the authors they like, and book recommendations is a window into that.
That being said, the main reason to support other authors is not self-promotion, but because it’s promoting the industry you’re a part of. While some authors might feel like they’re in competition with one another—if Customer A reads their book, they might not read my book—I haven’t found that to be the case. Think of it like an industry association, like the one formed by the milk producers (remember all those white milk moustaches?) a couple of years ago. That was about a group of competitors coming together to encourage use of the product category. And while the evidence—last time I checked—on whether this kind of category marketing works across all products is debatable, my own anecdotal experience makes me believe it does.
“McKenzie is fast proving herself a force to be reckoned with in women’s fiction.” —Publisher’s Weekly
For instance, I recently wrote two articles on summer reading recommendations (you can read them here and here). Those articles are some of the most “successful” (in terms of likes, shares etc.) of any I’ve published in years. Many, many people have commented on my Facebook page that they will try the books I recommended just because I recommended them. I trust you, they write, and then they purchase. While there is a certain level of flattery that comes with this, of course, my main point in relating the story is that authors can make a difference to other author’s lives, at least in terms of book sales. And the bigger the author, the bigger the impact they can have.
One more reason why I’m such a big proponent of authors helping authors has come out of my experience of befriending other authors online, and also from belonging to The Fiction Writers’ Co-Op, started by Cathy Marie Buchanan a couple of years ago. The original idea was simple: 50 authors would band together to announce one another’s releases on Facebook to help spread the word. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. But that group has come to mean so much more. Besides having read and discovered books I never would have, the group is a safe place for us to vent, share, commiserate, and celebrate all the ups and downs and ups of this crazy thing called being an author. Writing, as you know, is a solitary exercise, and it’s invaluable to have access to the wisdom and (virtual) shoulders of people who are going through the same thing.
A couple of months ago Brenda Clarke Gray wrote an article called “Readers don’t owe authors shit.” Her premise was that all she had to do was read a book, and that she was sick of being asked by authors to review books on Amazon, Goodreads etc. While I disagree with many of the points made in that article I will say this: Whether readers owe anything to authors is debatable. What’s not, in my opinion, is whether authors owe something to other authors. Because we’re all in this together folks, and our industry will survive and thrive if we work together, and might just disappear if we simply hold fast to ourselves, and just me-me-me-me ourselves into obscurity.
Do you do anything to support other authors? We’d love to hear about your effort in comments. (The more unboxed, the better!)