writers helping writers

My post this week will be devoted to writers helping writers, or in other terms … generosity of our knowledge, mentoring or paying it forward.

I was quite stunned this week when a Canadian writer I met briefly at a conference earlier this year responded (via her assistant) to a phone message and e-mail I had sent her by saying she would be pleased to offer me some guidance … at a fee of $100 per hour!

My e-mail and phone message to the writer had been brief, and simply stated that I felt this writer’s particular experience was inspiring and I would appreciate receiving her thoughts on my own situation. I considered it to be colleague to colleague, professional author to author. I am not a new writer/author looking for coaching from this individual. I am simply extending a hand to say, “I respect what you’ve accomplished and would love to hear your thoughts on the experience I have been having in marketing my book proposal.”

Granted, this individual doesn’t know me personally, but a quick click on my website would tell her (or her assistant!) that I am not a needy, wannabee who would misuse or abuse direct contact with her. (No disrespect to new writers or authors intended here. Everyone who knows me knows I have mentored and helped many writers at all stages of their professional development. And the blog that I manage on this site contains many posts intended to help and mentor people I have never even met or directly connected with.)

It’s all about paying it forward, helping one another and hoping we can help others achieve success through some small influence we may have on their careers.

Wayne Dyer's book, The power of Intention

Wayne Dyer’s book, The power of Intention

This post was inspired by the words of author, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, who says,

“Remember that your prosperity and success will benefit others, and that no one lacks abundance because you’ve opted for it. The supply is unlimited. The more you partake of the universal generosity, the more you’ll have to share with others. In writing this book, wonderful abundance has flowed into my life in many ways. But even more significantly, book editors and graphic designers, the truck drivers who deliver the book, the auto workers who build the trucks, the farmers who feed the auto workers, and bookstore clerks. all receive abundance because I’ve followed my bliss and have written this book.”

You can read the complete gallery of Dyer’s words of inspiration at: http://www.beliefnet.com/Wellness/Personal-Growth/How-to-Attract-Abundance.aspx. It is an excerpt from his book, “The Power of Intention” – which I have, and can highly recommend.

How do you feel about this? Are you big on “paying it forward?” Has your life/career been changed by mentoring — either as the mentor or mentee?

We’ve grown a remarkable community of sharing here on this blog. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

64 Responses

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  3. Joe Thompson says:

    I really like this idea when everyone has to share and help the ones who are in need.

  4. Susan says:

    @Doreen, You pointed me to this post through a related comment on my blog, so thanks for that! I do think there’s a place for personalized coaching, and I’ve even hired Linda Formichelli when I had a more complex (but definable) challenge I thought she could help me work through (she did have some great advice, and it was clear that she put in quite a bit of time before and after our session so I felt I got my money’s worth). Coaching makes a lot of sense for more detailed challenges or when you want to take your writing business to the next level. But when someone has a few simple questions, I do like to pay it forward as you say.
    Susan recently posted…May I Pick Your Brain? The Classic Freelance QuandaryMy Profile

    • WizardOfWords says:

      Thanks for joining us here on the blog, Susan, and for sharing your insights.

      Yes, there is a definitely a fine line between taking advantage of someone’s knowledge and generosity and just looking for some guidance. The key is to be able to tell the difference between the two!

  5. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your comment, Nellie. You have an awesome blog and I have added to the list of favs on this blog.

    Re my interaction with the writer in question, she did indeed know of my history and achievements in the industry, and the fact that I have been helping writers throughout my entire career via my volunteer roles with various writer's orgs and via the info on this blog.

    I had actually tried to "establish a bit of a relationship" with the writer, as I had tried e-mailing her following the conference I had attended where she spoke. And I had left a phone message. But got a response of any kind to neither. The wall is up. It was only when I sent a follow-up e-mail referring her to this very blog post that I rec'd the response from her "assistant" advising that I could make contact with the writer if I paid the $100/hour consulting fee. What an attitude!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and for the amazing generosity on your own fabulous blog.

  6. Nellie Jacobs says:

    I address this issue of support and collaborating, in any field, in my latest blog post: http://nelliejacobs.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/my-journey-to-self-publishing-marketing-12-cross-promotion.

    That said, Doreen, I understand the reluctance of the writer you approached. A very wise friend always tells me before I go out to speak to groups and organizations to consider, What's in it for them?"

    So, back to this writer who has little or no idea about what you are or your quality. If she sees you as just another person pumping her for information, what's the benefit to her if she's taking precious time away from creating/marketing/leisure?

    In my opinion, the best way to connect is to develop a bit of relationship with a person so they know you before asking them for the benefit of their expertise, knowledge, and experience. And offer something back in return.

    As an example, a new author recently invited me for lunch so she could "pick my brain". I was intrigued by our previous exchanges. Out of curiosity to understand her a bit more, I accepted her invitation. Food and conversation were great (and the food bill was really inexpensive). She was delightfully insightful, funny and witty. I gave her lots of ideas to think about. Next thing I knew, totally unexpectedly, she was promoting me and my work throughout her social media.

    We can learn from each other, but generosity must be offered both ways.

  7. wizardofwords says:

    Absolutely, Suzanne. And I think we've done that here, thru this lengthy discussion. Thanks for joining us.

  8. Suzanne says:

    As Doreen knows I do a lot of volunteer work and not to get work from it. This year I decided not to give away any more of my time/expertise than I've already been doing. Then I was asked to do another volunteer job, writing related. I agreed but I've reached my quota now.

    After being a self-employed freelance writer for 16 years I need to take charge of my time and balance work, life and giving it away for free.

    If you worked in someone's cubicle for someone else your first obligation is to your paycheque (your employer). You HAVE balance your time at work with family obligations and helping friends. Volunteering would fall somewhere at the bottom.

    As an entrepreneur we have to learn to juggle making a living with family obligations too. The expectations of others seems to be that we're not giving enough of our time away to help others. Is that really a judgement we should be making?

    If we work for someone else and have an "assistant" it's considered a good thing? I mean, we've climbed the corporate ladder, have a corner office, right? So if we have an "assistant" as an entrepreneur isn't that the same thing? It means we're busy and treating our business like a business.

    Perhaps in this situation it was a question of a five-minute chat, but if this person is busy and if they have five people wanting to ask questions (and five minutes inevitably turns into follow-up e-mails, etc.) then the time adds up. When it multiplies there is not enough time in the day to do the paying work.

    The fact is that sometimes we have to make a decision between giving away our expertise or paying the bills. And I don't think we can judge because someone makes a choice to not give it away for free.

    IMHO: If you look at this from all the different sides you can see that situation is more complex than first meets the eye.

  9. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Heidi. It's always great to hear your perspective. Hats off to you for your caring and sharing spirit. I know you spend a considerable amount of (unpaid) time volunteering on behalf of writers in Canada. If only there were more of you!

    And thanks to all for making this my most successful EVER blog post. I am greatly indebted to your generosity in sharing your time and thoughts on this blog.

  10. Heidi Turner says:

    It's an interesting conundrum. I agree with your previous comment that, rather than having a blanket policy, it would be good for her to take a moment to determine what people's needs are and then determining whether to charge a person. I have my freelance writing blog and I have a blog about writing jobs in Vancouver. I was recently approached by someone from Australia (living in Canada) who wasn't getting any responses to her job applications. She asked for some advice and I offered to go over her cover letter and resume to help her out. In fact, I've been asked advice a few times now about freelancing and I always give it. Why? Because offering professional advice to other writers helps foster their own professionalism and helps the industry as a whole. Also, for the most part, when I've asked more experienced writers for their advice, they've been glad to provide it, so the least I can do is help other writers with my thoughts. But, I guess not everyone views it that way. Maybe there's more to the story, but I'm not sure what that would be.

  11. wizardofwords says:

    Welcome, Dianne, and the previous commenter.

    Dianne: where is your B&B? I spent a week in Italy last fall and LOVED it! You can read those posts on my sister blog at http://diversionswithdoreen.wordpress.com/?s=italy. There are several posts on Italy. Please feel free to comment there as I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    Regarding bartering of services: yes, we writers will barter on occasion for an exchange of services. I did that recently with a start-up publication that needed/wanted my editing services in exchange for some promotion. It was a win-win.

  12. pastaforone says:

    I am totally for paying it forward. I was also thinking how great it would be to barter services as well, as I am sure a lot of us have talents and perhaps servies we could barter with eachother. (ie. I have a B&B in Italy for example)
    Anyways, I had a similar experience with a writer. Just a bit of advice. I was really disappointed by her answer ($$$) and it inhibited me from asking the help of others as it looks like everyone is going to want to get paid. So happy to have found you here!
    cheers! Dianne (aka. Cakes McCain)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Yes I believe in paying it forward because you will receive what you give out tenfold. Some people forget that helping others will in turn help them learn something new or get new ideas for their business. ~ā™„www.womenaregamechangers.com.

  14. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for joining the blog, Jana. Great to hear your perspective.

    Here's to sharing good vibes and helping one another. We CAN make this world a better place with that spirit. In the words of my favourite band, the Beatles, we'll get by with a little help from our friends.

  15. Jana says:

    Doreen, I wanted to let you know that I received both of your posts you attempted at adoctorandanurse.com. Thanks for the email telling me of the problem with comments plug-in. I think I need a new one!

    Hey, great post here. I am so into paying it forward, being part of a community, helping on another and mentoring each other. We are not competitors and we certainly could all be friends. I believe we can all be successful if we reach out and share what we know. Thank you so much for binging up this topic.

    Doreen, I appreciate you visiting my blog and leaving me a couple of comments. I look forward to seeing you around the net some more. Thanks, Jana http://www.adoctorandanurse.com

  16. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks, "Keeping Up." That was my take on it, too.

    I hope you'll join us here again soon. It's been great hearing from so many new voices! I'm glad this post struck a chord with so many of you.

  17. keepupweb says:

    Doreen, I'm a huge believer in karma and paying it forward. I would never dream of charging someone who contacted me for the first time. I find her actions completely off-putting. It's actually her loss not yours. She missed out on the opportunity to meet a peer who she could have potentially developed a mutually beneficial relationship with.

  18. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for joining us here, Barb.

    Yes, I think it's important to be clear with our request and with our intentions. I like to think that as a professional communicator, I'm pretty good at that. Thanks in part to Toastmasters! Recommend it to EVERYONE! Fun, and a great way to learn and improve your speaking, listening and leadership skills. You're never too old for Toastmasters!

    Checked out your retirement blog and left a comment for you there. Hope you'll drop by here again soon.

  19. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for joining us here, Kitty.

    Believe me, I have no problem with people charging for their expertise. I charge for my own time if I'm engaging in a long-term mentoring program with a writer, or if I'm giving a workshop or keynote presentation. I make a good part of my income from speaking engagements – teaching others about how to make a living as a freelance writer, tips about volunteerism and info about copyright, etc.

    But I always freely answer questions put to me if they can be dealt with by way of a quick and straightforward response.

    Hope to see you again here soon.

  20. b says:

    In a beautiful, perfect world there would be no need for income or selling or even wanting more than we have. In a private world I am sure this author is very generous. But when you talk on the business line, you are talking business.

    This is a warning to those of us that send a note of thank you to an author. I suppose we should add a bit about ourselves if we are speaking to a stranger. That way there will be no misunderstanding.

    But then that is just me. Oh, by the way I write a blog called Retire In Style Blog, do what I do because I love and expect nothing at all. I just wanted to say thank you bringing this out into the open.

    b

    http://www.retireinstyleblog.com

  21. Kitty Kilian says:

    Hi Doreen, I agree with you that it is really nice if all of us help one another out. On the other hand I can also understand people wanting to charge for their advice, especially if they are much sought after. Some people are just so awesome in helping others ahead that I think they fully deserve it.

  22. wizardofwords says:

    Just wanted to post an update on the writer in question. I did hear back from her and it was not positive. The assistant had not made an error in judgement. No one speaks to this writer without paying for her time. I guess we're all cut from a different cloth.

  23. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks so much, Donna. Great to have you here.

  24. Donna M. McDine says:

    Hi Doreen:

    I'm very big on paying it forward. Be kind to others and you will receive the same back. What you put out there is what you get in return.

    I'm in awe of your blog and I'm now a follower.

    All the best,
    Donna

  25. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your comment, Alexis. Yes, I think that sometimes egos do get in the way. Sometimes, people achieve some amount of success and then feel that a different set of standards apply to them.

    This has certainly been an enlightening discussion. It's been tremendous hearing from such a broad spectrum of voices.

  26. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Adeline. No, what I was asking the writer in my brief e-mail was in effect, whether she'd go the self-publishing route again, and whether, based on the facts of my own situation, she saw that as the preferred way to go with my project.

    I think you are correct, though, in assuming that the assistant may have given me a "canned" response. I have since followed up, and will see if I make headway this time. If not, no harm done. It has simply shown me (and others) that not all writers are willing to freely share their experiences with others. Their prerogative.

  27. Alexis says:

    I totally agree that people should pay it forward. I loved that excerpt from Wayne Dyer. You are right that she could have at least responded with a quick response. Many people even give free consultations to answer quick first questions like that. And like you said, you weren't seeking coaching. I think a lot of people get caught up in being important. Unfortunately that puts people off.

  28. Adeline says:

    I have to agree with Nathalie with what she said that we each have a choice on how we pay things forward. From what you explained, the impression I got was you were asking for assistance with regards to marketing strategies and how to improve it. I may be wrong, of course. But that might have been the same impression that the writer you're speaking about also received, which eventually led her to charging you the $100 per hour fee.

    Since you mentioned that it was the assistant, and not the writer, who advised you about the fee, it could also be that the assistant merely just gave you a standard response when it comes to inquiries. You can try to speak with the writer directly. Who knows? You may get a completely different answer.

  29. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks very much for joining the discussion, Jeannette. I completely agree with you, and that's precisely how I would have handled the situation had I been asked to share my thoughts on a topic for which I had extensive knowledge.

  30. Jeannette Paladino says:

    I believe in give first before you get. You did her a favor — maybe you should have mentioned it, not in anticipation of anything in return but as a way of beginning a relationship. The correct response on her part would have been to either call or write to to ask how she could help. If you only wanted a little of her time, colleague to colleague, that's acceptable. If she felt that what you wanted was more than just a friendly chat, then she could have suggested some sort of paying arrangement.

  31. wizardofwords says:

    Right on, Elle. "Paying it forward" just means putting back the good you have rec'd. A form of Karma, as Mike says in his comment.

    I really like this quote from the Dalai Lama that supports our discussion here: ""Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."

    That sentiment really sums it up for me. It's all about helping one another because we believe it is the right thing to do.

    And to clarify, I hadn't actually shaken hands and officially "met" the writer in question. She was a speaker at a very small conference I attended. I asked a question. She answered it and others from the audience. I'll report back to this community if I have anything further to say, but I do intend to send the link with our comments over to her today.

    Thanks to everyone for contributing to this discussion.

  32. Elle Andra-Warner says:

    Over the years I've found that the working writers are a wonderful sharing community, whether it be at conferences, forums, emails, personal writer chats, etc. We freely share information, tips, markets, leads, strategies, etc. At conferences and meetings, writers the peer-to-peer conversations are stimulating and energizing; we network and come away with new writer-peers in our professional network.

    It sounds as if the writer you met perhaps considers herself separate from a peer-to-peer relationship, and puts a $ value on sharing information. Or perhaps her assistance misinterpreted between a request for ''paying guidance'' with a followup peer-to-peer connection her writer-boss had made at a conference.

    "Pay it forward'' — this is the second time this week that I've heard that expression and I confess: I don't know what it means! I'm guessing it relates to doing something now for payback in the future? I'm not sure I agree with that concept — I'm more ''do something good now because doing something good is good to do". It simply feels good and right to do — like sharing with peers.

  33. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your comments, Jenn and Mike.

    Haven't seen the movie, Jenn. I'll try and check it out.

    And yes, Mike. I think Dyer is great, and I think that too often … people who have experienced some success forget from where they came and forget about the fact that helping people is just plain good for the soul.

  34. mike54martin says:

    Hi Doreen. I love Wayne Dwyer!! He offers a rich and deep spirituality that is yet simple and easy for me to access.
    I too, would be shocked to hear that another writer wanted to charge me $100 an hour to give some feedback. Some people forget too quickly where they have come from.
    I not only believe in paying it forward. I also believe in Karma!!

  35. MsJWoodard says:

    Doreen,

    Well I am a fan of paying it forward in all areas of life and to me personally it just feels good to help others if we can. There is also a movie called "Pay it forward," if you have not seen it, it is great but sad.

    Jenn

  36. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for the latest comments.

    I agree, Suzanne, in that this author may be getting numerous requests for info. But IMHO, rather than having a blunt blanket policy of not speaking to ANYONE without cheque in hand, it may be a good idea to have the courtesy to better determine the parameters of what the asker is indeed seeking, and whether the individual is worth getting to know as they have equally valuable info to offer in return. How can anyone expand their professional network by putting a pricetag on every interaction?

  37. Suzanne Lieurance says:

    Hi, Doreen,

    I agree that it's good to pay it forward. But maybe this particular author is asked for free advice all the time, so she just had to make it a policy to charge for it. You just never know.

  38. Not Just Dreamers Doers says:

    Wow, there were so many responses. I did not have time to read all of them. I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the post. "Paying it forward" is definitely one of my practices. And, it sounds like the lady was considering your request more of a consulting relationship than a mentor/mentoree relationship.

  39. wizardofwords says:

    Loved your "Ma and St. Rita" post, Marg. You have tremendous storytelling abilities. Thanks for dropping in and sharing with us.

    Would like to share an upcoming event with you that you may wish to include on your blog: Manitoba members of The Writers Union of Canada will be signing their books at McNally Robinson Booksellers (Winnipeg) at noon on Saturday, November 5th. Hope you'll come out and meet us, and maybe do some early Christmas shopping.

  40. Margaret Ullrich says:

    Excellent topic, Doreen. Paying it forward was taught to us at a very early age. Doreen, it isn't just writers who like to share. Radio also has many broadcasters eager to help others.

    I started my Winnipeg blog as a continuation of the community cupboard aspect of my old CKUW radio show. We had many young musicians, performers and writers as guests. We enjoyed giving exposure to budding talent and hope they go far.

    Last week, in my other blog, I posted about a very famous pay it forward http://imturning60help.blogspot.com/2011/10/ma-and-st-rita-by-margaret-ullrich.html

    As Sharon Aschaieksaid, it's the right thing to do in life in general.

  41. wizardofwords says:

    Yay, Sandra! Thanks for the positive feedback and for joining us here on the blog. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  42. Sandra McLeod Humphrey says:

    Totally! I believe we're all "connected" and the more we help each other, the more we all benefit. I believe we're all a "community" and we're here to bring out the best in each other whereby, in the end, we will all reap the dividends. Love your blog and I'll be back!

  43. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Teresa, and for joining the "tribe!" Great having you here.

    Checked out your blog and shared a comment. I do recall being there before. Nice to connect with another rural MB writer. Cheers, and stay warm!

  44. teresa says:

    Great post, Doreen. Yes, I definitely believe in paying it forward. As a young writer and communicator I often look to more experienced professionals for advice and guidance, and I'm very grateful when they help me out. Check out my blog at: http://ruralrouteramblings.wordpress.com/

  45. wizardofwords says:

    Hi Gail:
    Great to hear from you! Yes, I completely agree that there are times where our expertise in the form of teaching or mentoring on an ongoing basis should be compensated. But when we're just talking about an outreach of … "What do you think?" … I can't imagine charging for that. There's a huge difference between a one-off question, and the need or desire for ongoing mentoring.

  46. wizardofwords says:

    Hi Paulette. I didn't realize you were the 'Pawlina' that Marianna had introduced me to on Twitter! Thanks again for engaging in this discussion.

    I do indeed intend to send the link to this blog post and the resulting comments on to the writer in question. I am completely aware that the assistant may have acted out of turn. That's precisely why I made this post and waited for reaction. I am please that in just 3 hours, the post has warranted 6 positive responses and numerous RT's on Twitter, confirming that my reaction was not off base.

    As you say, life is a learning experience and we all choose what lessons to take from it. Thanks for your support.

  47. Gail Jansen says:

    Great post Doreen – I am often asked for advice on how to get started in the freelance business, and I happily share what I've learned.

    I used to be "afraid" that by offering said advice, I was actually creating competitors that would take jobs away from me, but ultimately felt that there was enough work to go around, and the more the merrier.

    There is a point, as Nathalie says, where time spent, might require reimbursement, but for what it seems you asked for, it doesn't seem like it should have been treated as a full on "coaching" request that would require payment.

    Good post – and now I know who to look to when I'm ready to take my next step into non-fiction books! (And I'm hoping you won't charge me, because I probably can't afford you!).

  48. Paulette (a.k.a. Pawlina) says:

    Sorry for the repeat in my last post. Altho I did mean it!)

    In answer to your question re broadcasters, I'm one myself … and as individuals we're really not a lot different from writers.

    Granted there aren't as many aspiring broadcasters as aspiring writers… yet. The internet is changing all that, however.

    I suspect that the person (and/or the assistant) you encountered has been studying internet marketing and is following a lot of the bad advice out there on "how to make money on the internet."

    Yes the internet is changing things but in reality it is just a tool to do the same things we've always done, just better and more efficiently than we did before we had it. It is not however changing people much less human nature, as your experience and reaction clearly illustrate!

    In your particular case, you did write that it was the assistant who replied. It's possible that the writer didn't even get your message (and may not be pleased with how it was handled). So it might be worth following up to clarify.

    I agree with Nathalie that everyone has the right to offer free advice and/or charge for it.

    However everyone also has the right to react in their own way as well, and write (or rant!) about it on their blog.

    After all, we do it in real life! It's how we learn and grow as human beings … provided of course we take it in stride and choose to learn from it. šŸ™‚

  49. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your comments, Nathalie.

    Actually, I have done something for this individual without being asked. She is unaware of my actions and that is fine. I wasn't looking for credit.

    I am truly grateful for the giving and sharing spirit we have established at PWAC (the Professional Writers Assn of Canada for anyone not familiar with the acronym.) I have built my career on that sharing spirit. Others may look at life differently and that is fine. But we can see by the number of comments here, that I am not alone in my thinking. Thanks for sharing your opinion with us.

  50. Nathalie K says:

    Hi Doreen,

    I'm not sure how your emaill exchange went however I'm a little surprised at your reaction.

    The choice to "pay forward" and how to do so belongs to each of us. I don't think we have the right to make assumptions about what other people should do or what is morally right for them.

    A hundred dollars is not a bad rate if you are looking for a sounding board or feedback. It's got nothing to do with being new or experienced. You asked her for her time and she put a value to it. Which sounds reasonable to me.

    I can understand her. I've felt bullied into offering free advice. It's not always been valued. I feel that my mentorship services are effective and by the number of requests I receive, it would seem that others do to. I might choose to support a young artist. If someone established asked for feedback, I would expect them to offer something in exchange…

    I most certainly wouldn't want someone else telling me how I should pay forward…

    You had the right to ask. She had the right to say no.

    Without being subjected to a rant because she didn't fall into your plans for her. šŸ˜‰

  51. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your very generous comments, Paulette, and for joining us here on the blog. I truly love this space and the sharing spirit we have created.

    Looking forward to hearing from you again, and thanks to your Twitter friend for connecting us!