13 April 2015

Helping Hands

Mentor - my google dictionary says :

  1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher
  2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter

As much as I'd like to say that first definition is me, I really fit the second definition better. At least once a month or so, when someone finds out that I'm a published author I hear these words.

  • "I've written a five hundred page memoir and now I need to know what to do."
  • "I'm working on a children's book. Everyone in my family think it's great. Do you think you could take a look at it and tell me what you think."
  • "I have a great idea for a thriller. If you write it we could split the money."
  • "I'm working on a mystery and would you like to look at it and let me know if it can be published.

I always try very hard to be nice to questioners… they are potential book buyers after all. So for the questioners asking about the memoir and children's books. I compliment them on their work so far.

I explain that I honestly know nothing about writing memoirs or children's books. I tell them about the Writers League of Texas, which is located in Austin. Tell them it's an International Organization and they have great information so just go to their website and see what you can find that will help you.

The person who wants you to write the book and split the money. Explain that you have a folder full of ideas and your writing schedule is currently full. Then laugh and say that writing the book is 99.5 percent of the work so that's likely what the split would be. Also tell them this is their story and they should be the one to write it. I again refer them to Writers League. Also tell them that there is an International Thrillers organization and think it would be worth it to check with that group.

To the mystery writer I try to encourage them to check into Mystery Writers of America. That they have wonderful information that can help all along the way. Again, I refer them to Writers League of Texas or Sisters-in-Crime.

If I can determine from their conversation they are serious, I might suggest they go to their library and look up books on writing a novel or writing children's or mystery/thrillers. That there is so much information available in books, e-books, or online. If they live anywhere a community college is located to check and see if there is a writing program offered.

Then there is the person you know and like and actually might want to help. This is the time when I want to "pay it forward." I had so much personal free help when I was starting out. I often felt guilty because I could never repay them.

One day I was having a conversation with my good friend, Jerimiah Healy (now deceased) and we were talking about all the help we had received along this journey to publication. And I made the statement that I could never repay these mentors.

Jerry told me about having this same conversation with none other than Mary Higgins Clark after his first book was published. Mary said you pay it forward. Jerry told me to do the same. I had already been doing that because I had learned many years ago when you find you're having some success in any field that you will be happier when you reach back and help someone climbing the ladder behind you. That was priceless advice and I've tried to keep it in mind.

I doubt that I am influential helper or mentor, but I am senior and I am a supporter of anyone who is writing, especially if they are writing mysteries.


  1. Great piece, Jan. I think we all get hit up for advice and help. And, like you, I always try to be nice. But there are a lot of people out there who have the greatest book since Gone Girl, let's say for a recent book. And they'll split the profits...if you do most of the work. I do like you do, and tell them I have plenty of ideas and they should write it themselves and give them advice. And I also feel grateful to people who've helped along the way and hope one day to either repay that kindness directly to them or, as you suggest, to pay it forward with someone else. Always a good way to go.

  2. Jan, I had a mentor, and indeed, I am 'paying it forward' in the same way he did. Each month, I lead a Writers Circle at the Burlington Library. I don't get paid, and I don't read my own stuff there - I simply help others, as this great man once helped me. He's dead now, but I think he would be pleased.

  3. Great piece. I've had quite a few people ask me to write it for them (sorry, I just don't have the time), read their work (sometimes I do), what do they do next (Writer's Digest, etc.), and tell me they'd love to write, but they don't know how to start (sit down and write a page a day or 20 minutes a day, whichever comes first). BTW, my favorite request so far is if I could give them Linda Landrigan's email address, so they could send her something personally. No, I can't.

  4. Good piece, Jan.

    No one ever asks me to mentor them, which may mean something I don't care to think about.

  5. Thanks all for the comments, sharing your stories. Of course, there are some hanger-ons who drive you crazy with their questions. May I suggest fictionally killing that person in your next story,


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