Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Author Mentoring: The Art of Paying It Forward

By: Kathleen Pickering


I spent most of this past week at The Myrtles, a haunted plantation in Louisiana, with my mentor, the award winning, New York Times Best Selling author, Heather Graham. Luckily for me, Heather is not only my mentor, but my dear friend. (I don’t even know if she knows she’s mentoring me!)


I accompanied Heather and her family “on location” to shoot the new book trailer for her upcoming “Krewe of Hunters” series with Mira Books. As my mentor, Heather showed me how to set up a script, find a location, hire a videographer and assemble a cast of actors (with costumes) and work within a budget to accomplish in one afternoon what promises to be an exciting and entertaining introduction to her next book series.


Heather Graham on location at The Myrtles, St. Francisville, LA


I enjoyed all of this instruction while having fun. I came away realizing that while mentoring doesn’t always lead to friendship, friendship surely leads to mentoring. Mentoring is an organic essence of a writing community. Joining Florida Romance Writers, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers and Thriller Writers has immersed me in conversations with other authors from which I have come away a better writer—just by sharing information. Many times, I’m lucky to make friends with some of my most favorite authors. In turn, when I meet new writers, I answer their questions, offer them help with works in progress, or point them in whatever direction I can to help further their career.

Mentoring is an author’s way to “pay it forward” or in other words, to do good for someone in advance of good happening for you. When we pay it forward, we take mega-leaps in our own careers, as well. Heather showed me how she uses her skills and years of experience to create media content. In turn, I followed the cast around the plantation, videoing behind the scenes. (With equipment I bought through more mentoring from Fred Rae, a member of Mystery Writers.) To thank Heather for the fun—and the lessons, I plan to create up to 20 (depending on the quality of my photography!) short “behind the scenes” videos for YouTube, Facebook and iTunes to help herald Heather’s upcoming series. (I’ll be sure to post them on my website, as well.)

Why? Because I am delighted to “pay it forward” for my friend---and not just because she's teaching me. It feels good inside to know I'm building my career on good intentions. Helping create an Internet buzz for Heather works in symbiosis with my learning how to create media. It's all good. After all, in the author’s world of mentoring, what are friends for?
So, let me ask you. How do you contribute as a mentor in your writing world?

11 comments:

  1. I suppose I help people because I feel that it is the right thing to do. I’ve never cared for the favor systems or its cousin the pay it forward system because they both imply that we are to do for others because someone has done something for us. I’ve forgotten where it is found, but there is a passage in the Bible that talks about how that when we invite people to supper we should invite those in need because they will not be able to return the favor, while other people will invite us to a meal in return. The point is that the things of greatest value are those things with do with no hope of reward.

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  2. Kathy, sounds like you had a great time with Heather. The South Florida chapter of MWA has a mentoring program in which I participate. I was paired up with a yet-to-be-published local author who writes in the thriller genre. In addition to offering encouragement and feedback, I review his query letters, manuscripts, and synopses. Although he has not acquired an agent yet, we both feel his writing is improving as are his future changes for publication.

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  3. Joe- YAY! Many established writers can look back on their beginnings and name a mentor who set them flying. Feels good, no?

    Timothy--I do believe we are both saying the same thing in different ways. Paying it forward is so great because you don't even know who the "ripples" will affect. The act is done out of generosity. . . and dare I say, love. And as I'm sure you know, love always come back to you, no matter what. No "favors" here--love is cool like that.

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  4. I was an interviewee/mentor for the senior project of one of my daughter's classmates. It was great to see a young person being so focused and committed to his writing goals.

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  5. Thanks, Piks! I think writers often like other writers because they speak the same language, they like other people to write great books because writers and readers, and, somehow, I think, we're all like a cheerful pack of puppies in a basket who just want to wag their tails and communicate. In a dozen groups, through (sadly) far more than a dozen years, I've discovered that 999 out of a 1000, writers are simply the nicest people, at any stage of the game. And such a fickle field! I agree, Timothy, that you can't do anything for a specific reason, pay it forward, etc, but you never know when the person you've mentored is going to be the next major motion picture or cable channel sensation. Can't hurt that you'll be friends!

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  6. Great post Piks! I was welcomed with open arms into the writing community, so I try to do the same. It's great fun to help others realize they don't have to reinvent the wheel, and I love being around such enthusiasm for story telling!

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  7. I have done mentoring in the programs sponsored by local chapters of MWA and FRW, also by judging contests with comments, critiquing fellow author's manuscripts, and answering business related questions. We all learn from each other and that's why networking with other writers is critically important to our careers. Kathy, it sounds like you had a blast.

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  8. I think I need a mentor. I often feel like that guy on the eighties TV show Greatest American Hero. You know, the one who got the super suit, but couldn't figure out the instruction manual since it was written in alienese. I keep launching into the air just fine, but can't steer and the landings are really uncomfortable and I've noticed I'm starting to flinch a lot whenever I see the ground or tall buildings.

    By the way, speaking of mentor's I read recently about another Tor, not the publishing company, the god. In a study I was doing of ancient European genealogies I read of a theory that the legend of Tor (aka Thor) the god of thunder and Arthur (of round table fame) may actually be based on an actual ancient Sumerian or Akkadian warrior king named Tor or Thor. Part of the conjecture is due to the fact that the Sumer/Akkad for king is 'Ar', hence 'Ar Tor'. Since he was obviously a male (king as opposed to queen) this would make him 'man Tor'. And since he was a leader of many, the position would've been Ar Tor Lu (King Tor of Men), or The Men's Tor...mentor.

    Therefore if possible I would like my mentor to be a 5000 year old Sumerian King named Arthur Lu...then again he was later considered God of Thunder, indicating he might have been a really mean person...or he farted a lot...in either case maybe not good to be his apprentice.

    Sigh...I need a mentor.

    the genealogy study was partly based on the book "After The Flood" by Bill Cooper, a ripping good read for a history geek

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  9. Thank you all my FRW/MWA author friends for commenting. THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!

    And, Basil---I love your self-description. Why don't you put on that suit and crash into a few conferences? It's time for you to find your new mentor. Won't find him/her by staying home! All the best!!

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  10. I'd love to go to conferences. They need to have more in Alaska...cuz I'm scared to fly over the ocean or the mountains. The suit may be bulletproof, but it's not waterproof or crashing into mountain proof.

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  11. Kathleen, I think mentoring is fabulous. In my writing group I try to provide support especially on the murky world of publishing - hopefully one day all our efforts will come to fruition and they will each land a terrific book deal!

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