Ever since last week’s Democratic National Convention, I’ve had a piece of Michelle Obama’s speech stuck in my head.
And no. This post isn’t about politics.
Michelle said (I’m paraphrasing) that when we are given the privilege of walking through the door of opportunity, we are obligated not to slam it shut once we’re over the threshold, but to hold it open for those behind us. She was, of course, referring to her belief (and the belief of Barack Obama and many in the Democratic party) that when one uses the infrastructure that is in place in our country to attain success, we must then insure that others have the same opportunity.
And it got me thinking.
I promised myself two things when I sold the Prophecy of the Sisters Trilogy in 2007.
1) I would speak at school and libraries for free whenever possible to encourage young people to stay true to themselves and to reach for their dreams. And,
2) I would help other aspiring-to-publication writers whenever possible.
I like to think I’ve met these goals. And while it’s gotten harder to help all the people I would like to help (requests for blurbs, reading for friends, and other types of assistance have to be balanced against my need to market and promote my own work, not to mention the requirements of singe motherhood), I still try very hard to do whatever I can to help other writers. It can mean offering up swag for a giveaway on their blog, attending an event on my dime, reading and offering critique, giving a blurb, picking up the phone to give advice or feedback. My assistance isn’t dependent on friendship. It isn’t dependent on whether or not I think a book will be “big” enough to give me some promotional value. In fact, I’m probably more likely to help books that may be under-served or under-promoted, those hidden, under-the-radar gems that are like happening upon a wonderful, surprise discovery.
I like to think I’m paying it forward for the people who have reached out to me along the way, like Ellen Hopkins and Tamora Pearce, two writers who embody that generosity of spirit. Both reach out regularly to newcomers, demonstrating every day what it means to hold the door open behind them.
I’ve heard some writers express the belief that since they had to go through so much difficulty in their publication journey, it’s only fair that everyone else should trudge the same path. I guess I can understand that argument, even if I don’t agree with it. For me, it’s like saying if you’re great-grandfather had to trudge uphill to school with no shoes in the snow, you should have to do the same, because it’s not fair for you to benefit from thing he didn’t have.
But I like to think that holding the door open advances the publishing climate, even if just a little. I like to think that we can be allies instead of competitors, that we can grow through collective wisdom, that we can forgive mistakes made in an increasingly volatile, uncertain and very public industry.
I myself have made a few. I even asked a couple well-known writers to which I was NOT acquainted for a blurb before Prophecy of the Sisters came out. Yes, I realize now that it was a faux pas. But at the time, it made perfect sense to my marketing brain. In business (which is my background), it’s expected that you will network wherever possible, that you request help and introductions and offer to do so in return. It isn’t always necessary to be well acquainted with your ally in the business world. It took me awhile to realize how very different publishing is.
How very PERSONAL.
And I like that it is. I like that we get to know one another on tour and at events. That we can commiserate over drinks about circumstances that are truly unique to this industry. I like that there are places online where we can go to safely vent to one another.
But there is a fine line between personal and exclusionary, and those words by Michelle Obama resonated with me, a reminder to hold the door open. To smile as people step through and wish them safe and happy passage.