Writers Helping Writers: Ya Gotta Have Friends

Last year saw story after story of authors (frantically trying to get readers) using sock puppet accounts to trash other authors with horrible reviews at Amazon and BN.com. We suppose desperate times call for desperate methods, and book sales are tough to come by these days.

So, yeah, you can destroy fellow authors. Or you can do the opposite.

The two of us penning this article (Randy Susan Meyers and M.J. Rose) happen to be releasing books (The Comfort of Lies and The Book of Lost Fragrances) on the same day (February 12) from the same publisher. But due to an unresolved negotiation between our publisher and Barnes & Noble, our books won't be on display in the largest book chain in the country.

What could two miserable authors do? How could we even begin to make up those sales? Just as important how could we make up the loss of visibility in as hundreds of stores as thousands of readers browsed on display tables and noticed . . . nothing of ours?

When authors run up against something as frightening as being caught in a battle of the titans, nothing--absolutely nothing--beats being in a solid group of writer-friends, especially when that group is The Fiction Writer's Coop, notable for it's diversity, something Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters noted when talking about the coop:

"One of the biggest pleasures for me is the Fiction Writers Coop's diversity--women and men (though mostly women) of different races, writing in different genres. You still don't see that in publishing much. We tend to promote in clumps as women writers, or black writers, or mystery writers, and it's refreshing to be a group of writers who respect one another even though our work is dissimilar. It's a great way to reach different crowds of readers."

The founder of The Fiction Writer's Coop is Cathy Marie Buchanan, author of the newly released, newly landed on the New York Times bestseller list, The Painted Girls, and The Day The Falls Stood Still. What made Cathy make the effort of put together this 50-member group?

"I initiated The Fiction Writers Co-op with the intent of forming a collective of writers who'd announce each other's new releases on Facebook and Twitter, but our group has morphed into so much more. We've run campaigns to increase our newsletters subscribers and to spread the word among book clubs. Our group provides a lovely forum where we cheer each other on and share our experiences about writing and the writing business. With the recent Simon and Schuster / Barnes and Noble stalled negotiations, which will impact two co-op authors, the group is committed to banding together to do what we can to help spread the word about finding their books online and in independent bookstores. In our beleaguered industry, the co-op is a bright light."

As publishing becomes more competitive and cut throat, Meg Waite Clayton, has led the Coop into a 20-Book Valentine's Day Giveaway, where readers have an opportunity to win a collection of books by all the listed authors--national and international bestselling authors, including Clayton's bestselling The Wednesday Sisters, and her summer release, The Wednesday Daughters. It's a combination not just of diverse authors, but also of diverse publishing houses.

When asked about this effort, Meg laughed and then said, "If I'd known so much promotion was involved in being a novelist, I might have stuck with keeping track of my time in six-minute increments at a law firm! The art of marketing does not fall in my comfort zone. But so many authors have supported me that I'm always looking for ways to pay back or pay forward their generosity. I didn't dream we'd get such an amazing response from readers!"

As opposed to the stories that usually make the news, this effort defines cooperation. But surely it must lead to competition along with the Kumbaya?

Allie Larkin, author of Stay and the soon-to-release Why Can't I Be You, said: "Combining forces helps us raise our visibility collectively. And maybe our winners will be introduced to a new genre or dive into titles they wouldn't have considered before. Working together benefits all of us, and possibly even the industry as a whole."

On Friday, February 1, within moments of the 20 Book Valentine Contest going live, Meyers and Rose contacted their publisher Atria, who tweeted out the effort. Pam Dorman Books soon followed, along with Harper Collins, and then every other publisher involved.

Juliette Fay, author of The Shortest Way Home and Deep Down True said: "We're all in this crazy business together, and our common goal is simply to get books into the hands of readers. This effort serves that purpose beautifully. My publisher, Penguin, was delighted with the effort, and was happy to help publicize it."

"My publisher, Soho Press, was tremendously excited and impressed, as was my agency, Curtis Brown (about the contest.) They recognize that in today's changing marketplace, it takes innovative thinking to break through the noise and get your book in front of an audience," added Lisa Brackmann, author of Rock Paper Tiger and the soon-releasing Hour of the Rat.

"Working with writers I admire is a privilege, as is the knowledge that I have the support and advice of seasoned writer-friends. Sharing our readers is like sharing inspiration; it makes us all richer in the end,"said Eva Stachniak, the author of The Winter Palace: a novel of Catherine The Great.

"I've never felt that a colleague's success means my failure," Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and the newly released The House of Velvet and Glass insisted. "A collaboration like this rewards our readers for loving books and exposes them to authors they may never have read before."

Vincent Lam, author of The Headmasters Wager and Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures thinks we shouldn't be afraid of promoting each other. "The real 21st century competition is books as a category vying with screen, print, and social media in a dynamic cultural landscape. The key challenge for authors and publishers is to vigorously inhabit a cultural space for books. The more room there is for books as a category, the better it is for all authors. It's crucial, and thankfully also a lot of fun, to find ways to help each other."

Catherine Mckenzie, author of Spin, Forgotten, and Arranged, pointed out that "In my experience, readers love hearing from authors about other authors and they like seeing us supporting one another, and my publishers love this."

For debut author Jessica Maria Tuccelli, author of Glow, "the synergy is electrifying. Since Meg Waite Clayton pushed the contest live on the web last week, we authors have been generating idea after idea for promotion and functioning as a team on the follow through. I'm new to social media... [this] has enabled me to learn from authors who have greater experience with marketing and promotion, as well as to develop a sense of camaraderie. The generosity and ingenuity of my peers are inspiring. "

What began as an experiment in shouting out each other's books into the vast blinding blizzard of social media, has become a virtual world of tight friendships and support--and proof that, among some authors, cooperation trumps competition.