The 2020 Supportive Creative Challenge

I have a challenge for you. Yes you. You artists, photographers, novelists, poets, playwrights, actors, sculptors, potters, creators of all stripes. I have a challenge for you.

When was the last time you gave another creator a shout out? Why? How many? On what platform? When was the last time you recommended a fellow local creator? A small-timer? An ‘I’m just starting out’ friend? An indie?

It’s late fall and everywhere professional organizations are releasing best-of lists and honouring folks with awards and accolades. Best photos, best art installations, best novels … are they really? Or are they just the best ones to be noticed? The best ones with lots of financial backing? The best of the ones with professional distribution and media attention?

I belong to a non-profit author’s collective. We’re supposed to support each other. We’re supposed to offer each other advice and assistance so new authors don’t get scammed, so we don’t publish with horrible blurbs or ugly covers, so we can split the costs and risks of promotional ventures. We’re supposed to shine a light on each other so more readers can find us. And too often I feel like I’m holding all the candles.

I’m burning out.

It’s my job to find events, pay the fees, find authors to split the costs, coordinate people coming and going from events, set up times, displays, and so on. It’s my job to post people’s readings and launches to the public page, to say “hey, there’s a new release here, check it out”, to add people’s covers and links to their albums so their books are visible. I share events. I invite people. I walk from table to table at conventions and invite new authors to join us.

I love my job. I signed up for this. I volunteer to do this. And everyone I work with is full of thanks and gratitude, and for the most part, they are polite, cooperative, and on the ball. (And since I know a few will pop over to read this, I honestly have ZERO complaints about the work I have done on the group’s behalf these last 5 years).

I’m not saying any of this to complain. I’m not. I do my job and I don’t expect others to do it for me. What I’m talking about here is the above and beyond. I’m talking about the Tweet that went across my feed today asking for #canlit recommendations, the one I retweeted with my own list of local 2019 releases attached. I’m talking about the threads in writing groups asking for favourite authors, new release recommendations, favourite book you read this month, etc., the ones I respond to ONLY with the names and titles of local indie authors, or indie authors I chat with online on a regular basis. I’m talking about having a reader in front of me at a convention and writing SOMEONE ELSE’S NAME on the back of my business card so they can check out an author who isn’t me. I’m talking about loading every new release by every author friend I have onto my grandmother’s tablet every other week because she’s a voracious reader and a random $2.99 ebook sale on someone’s dashboard might be the difference between them writing the next book or giving up.

So, when was the last time you did something like this? When someone asks you to recommend a photographer, do you pull out the big-business’s information or the up-and-comer? When someone asks you for reading recommendations do you repeat what Oprah said or do you suggest someone local, someone self-published? Do you buy your friend a mass-produced print from Target for their house warming or a print by a local photographer?

Maybe it’s just the way I grew up. We had paintings and prints and art in our house, the majority of it by local artists we found at flea markets and street festivals. The giant oil painting in the living room was done by my friend’s father. It’s brilliant. I don’t think he ever got a gallery showing. He deserved one. We bought locally authored books from small presses long before self-publishing started. We frequented small, locally-owned stores over chain stores long before #buylocal got a hashtag. We went to indie muscians’ CD release parties and stopped to talk to authors sitting at the book store with a table full of books to sign. I grew up valuing local, and indie, and handmade. I want to share that with others.

So, what’s the challenge?

I want you, Dear Creator, to boost other creators. I want you to spend 2020 lifting other people up. I want you to seek out “what should I read next” posts and list self-published authors as recommendations. I want you to tag your artist/photographer/crafter/maker friend in every post that might land them a client. I want you to review local short films and local music videos and locally authored books. I want you to visit local coffee shops and shop at local Mom and Pop shops.

Challenges are supposed to have a number, right? Something catchy? 20 in 2020?

I honestly don’t care about a number or a catchy title. I want you to put your favourite creators and artists and authors on blast. I want to start word of mouth wildfires. I want you to push yourself. Do 20 in the year. Do 20 every month. Do 20 every week. Do what your time and energy and budget will allow for. Help as many people as you are capable of.

We’re all awesome at sharing #shoplocal memes. Now lets support local in more active ways – share, recommend, review, buy when possible, show up when possible, and help shed some much deserved light on as many awesome creators as possible.

Who’s with me?

Too Good to be True

I encountered two inter-connected stories this past week or so that got me thinking.

First, a newer author was talking online about their attempts to garner reviews, blurbs, or any kind of attention from several well-known, high-selling authors in their genre. Each attempt was met with polite form letters from secretaries or assistants thanking them for their interest and stating the “professional” author simply had no time to take a personal interest in their writing.

It’s a bummer, I know. I’ve given away copies of a few of my books to different visiting celebs with no tangible results and no way of knowing if they ever read them.

The thing is, someone like Stephen King or JK Rowling or any other big-name author probably is too busy to answer every single piece of fan mail personally. They get letters by the boatload and they’re probably evenly split between fans telling them how wonderful they are and aspiring or newbie authors asking for advice, help, or a good word. They can’t do it for all of them so they have to make a policy of not doing it for any of them. Not to mention, things like endorsements of other authors’ books are probably restricted by their publisher in some way.

And yes, I literally mean TOO BUSY. I mean 6-8 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, in a chair, at a desk, putting words on paper or editing words already on paper, plus meetings with publishers and agents, plus meetings with the film people, plus scheduled public appearances, plus family time, plus eating, sleeping, showering, and travelling, plus personal destress time … and I’m probably missing a hundred little things. They’re people. They have lives. And they don’t owe complete strangers anything.

The second story is much closer to home. I was at Memory Keepers today with three other lovely ladies (one is the librarian in charge of the group, the other two are old enough to be my grandmothers and they are wonderful). We were discussing future meeting dates and how the Monday evening creative writing group was doing.

One of the older ladies, I’ll call her Marie (that is not her real name), was considering going to the evening writing group but wanted to know if a specific lady was a regular attendee. She was talking about a local author, whom I’ll call Karen (also not her real name). Marie does not particularly like Karen and doesn’t like doing writing-related events at the library if Karen will be there. Why is this connected to the first story? Because the librarian said, “No, Karen isn’t a part of that group. She’s too good for our little group. She’s a professional.

Looking back, she didn’t do the self-publishing workshop in our area a few years back either, and as far as I know, she only does workshops if she’s leading them or if an author she considers bigger than her is leading them.  To be fair, she’s a prolific writer, and she works from home as a full-time writer. She claims she makes a decent income from online sales.

What is the difference between “Karen” and JK Rowling? Probably about a million titles sold. And a few movie deals. And a general level of recognition. Yeah. I get that. I mean, what is the difference between Karen being too busy for local writers’ groups and workshops and JK Rowling being too busy to send a random writer a blurb for the back of their book?

I’m a professional writer and I’m busy. I write multiple hours a day on top of raising two kids, keeping a house, editing for myself, freelance editing, marketing, sales and shows, extended family obligations, my own personal needs like eating and sleeping, not letting my marriage fall apart, keeping two pets alive … but I find time to be a part of local writers’ groups (like Memory Keepers) and online writers’ groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t answer every question. I can’t mentor anyone. I can’t volunteer to beta read anymore. I barely have time for reviews! So I get it. I understand what it is to be busy. But I try to be a little active in the writing community. There are people newer than me, less experienced than me, and if I can steer them clear of some of the common mistakes, I will.

I get the feeling that Karen isn’t too busy. I’m sure Karen could find the time for a 2-hour meeting once a month. Everyone has different loads and different abilities but I do know Karen and I’m sure she could manage it. She doesn’t want to, and that makes her come across as better-than-thou, whether she means it that way or not. Whereas I’m sure many big-name authors miss the little interactions with the community, the critiques and the reviews and the give-and-take and the fan mail – the things they genuinely don’t have time for.

I wish we didn’t have to put our nose so hard to the grindstone to make this whole thing work. I wish big-name authors had more time for the little guy. I wish successful little-guys would stop emulating the big-name authors and stay in touch with their local and online communities. I wish the community was important. I wish we could all spare more time for each other. I wish I could mentor and volunteer more of my time but the tasks that make money are the ones that take priority right now.

The little guys, all we really have are each other. So most of all, I wish successful local (to wherever they live) indie authors wouldn’t get too big for their britches and stay in touch with the up and comers. We all started somewhere. Let’s not leave each other behind.