When I think of a ‘squad’ The Princess Bride’s ‘brute squad’ comes to mind. Many authors struggle because they try to make the journey as an author alone. But like Westley, the hero of The Princess Bride, you can’t succeed without help.
Friends among competitors
First we must acknowledge that while fellow authors may be competing for the same readers, they are not our enemy. Like Westley realizes as he tries to take down the team that has kidnapped the woman he loves, they have the same goal (to get her away from Prince Humperdink) but different motivations. As authors, we all want to write books and make money selling them, but we all do so for different reasons.
The key to building a success squad is to find people who share WHY you write. As a Christian author I write stories for women who want to see a walk with Christ lived out with all the messiness of our everyday lives. I built my team with people who share this passion or have a parallel passion for stories with depth, diversity, and protagonists who are gritty and real.
Finding the gold among the ore
Once you know who you’re looking for, it’s time to get out there and find the jewels. A good place to look is writing groups. These can be free online groups or in person groups. I stumbled upon my first writing group online. 10 Minute Novelists was just a group of 400 writers at that point crowdsourcing solutions to story problems and business development. Now we’re over 14000 writers strong and I can rely on them for everything from critique help on Buddy Tuesday to learning from experts through Sunday Chats.
Through them, I learned the value of joining a writer’s association aligned with my genre (Christian historical and contemporary romance). That’s how I found American Christian Fiction Writers which led me to a local chapter where I have developed lifelong friendships and partnerships I never dreamed of six years ago when I decided to make writing my profession.
Wisdom, Strength, and Skill
After finding my source groups, I started honing down who I could come alongside and who could come alongside me. When looking for who to get to know, ask who do you admire for their understanding of craft? Who produces consistent results? Who gets good books out regularly and posts consistently on social media? Who can do what you haven’t learned yet(craft, business, platform)? Some will be a few steps ahead and provide wisdom and experienced direction, others are a few steps behind but will be hardworking and walk the road together.
Through my local ACFW group, I found my first critique group. Critique partners or groups can give you honest feedback on your work. A good critique group will be made up of people with different strengths. Some will be good at the grammar and things like verb agreements, while others will see plot holes and character inconsistencies. Still others may just give good reader experience feedback, underlining great lines and giving emotional responses to those places where you surprise them or make them love to hate a character.
You might start with a critique group, but find a critique partner or two who really deepens your work and takes you to the next level. You want fresh eyes who can spot the missing pieces and form independent opinions about your work. Sometimes these people develop into writing partners. These are the people you can call or email or get together with to work through your manuscript and get regular feedback from.
Sometimes it is as easy as finding someone whose writing style you enjoy and who enjoys your style and asking if they want to partner with you. Make sure you have different strengths. For example, my writing partner is great at layering in emotions, whereas I’m great at creating consistency and believable plot and character development. She adds layers to my work, and I help her give structure to her stories.
Some of my favorite authors have shared they meet up once a year to plot and plan their next book(s). In those 2-5 days they hammer out the details, set goals, and build a lifelong friendship. Writing partner(s) will keep you moving when the road gets tough. When you get bogged down and you need encouragement, they’ll bolster you.
The Real Dread Pirate Roberts
In the movie, the protagonist Westley says that the real Dread Pirate Roberts would say, “Sleep well, Westley, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” As a writer, we need people who will encourage us to take care of ourselves, but also get the work done or there will be consequences.
Every writer needs an accountability partner. They can serve multiple functions. I have three, one for my writing, one for my social media platform, and one for the business side of writing and the groups I run. Wherever you find yourself slacking without the kick in the pants, is a good place to ask for someone to hold the sword to your throat. Have fun with this, by creating silly consequences like the person who doesn’t meet their word count has to buy coffee for the other or take a silly photo and put it on Instagram if you don’t get your social media posts up.
Grandpa and Grandson
In The Princess Bride, the grandfather is reading to his grandson and every once in a while they interrupt to make a point. Among our author friends you’ll find people passionate about your story and genre. Pick five or six who can give you real feedback on your completed manuscript before you send it to the expensive editor. These sneak peek fans will pick up on unresolved plots, give you feedback on characters, and hopefully help you see where you can develop the story more to give your readers the best product you can. Make sure at least one person is an expert in any area you added research (historical period, medicine, law, etc). Which brings me to my next team member…
The Village Expert
In Princess Bride, this was Miracle Max and his wife, Valerie. Never underestimate the value of a good research assistant. If you write historical and science/tech heavy stories, these are a must. But even if you write romance or women’s fic, sometimes your hero/heroine has a job or interest that you know zero about. Go out and find the experts. Call or email them and let them know you’re a writer looking for more information about X. If possible, find local sources where you can see details in real life. Often the police will let you sit in the back of their squad car or be handcuffed to get that feeling right. You can go to a stable and learn to saddle a horse properly. The more you understand the realities, the more vivid your details will be.
These librarians, historians, scientists, etc will help bring authenticity to your writing. To create a living, breathing story, the details have to be right. If you take the time to build these relationships, they can benefit you for years to come. Not to mention these people often become big fans of your work because they played a role in it.
Fezzik and Inigo
From enemy to best friends, Westley couldn’t have breached the castle without these two. And you can’t finish your book without a professional brute squad known as an editor and cover designer. These two people will polish up your work and make it attractive to your target market. These are two success squad members you need to treat and pay like the professionals they are.
Find books you love and ask who edited them and who did their covers. Shop around and approach them with an offer of partnership not just work. A good place to start if you’re at a total loss but still want a vetted source is Reedsy.com. Cover designers will have prior work portfolios, editors will usually do a few pages free to show you the level of feedback they’ll offer. Make sure both have prior work in your genre especially if you write historical or sci-fi. You have three seconds to capture your ideal reader’s attention and they know what covers for the genre they love look like. And once they read the first few pages to see if it’s something they want to buy, they’ll know if it is edited well.
Once you have a team, treat them well. Give as much as you receive. Be an encourager and cheerleader for their progress and book launches. Develop long-term relationships and they will see you through and help you make connections to other professionals like agents, publishers, marketing experts, even street team members.
What is one way you can network this week?
Jessica White writes stories that shape the soul. She has two historical novels out in her Seasons of Healing series. Her first contemporary romance will be published March 2020 with Mantle Rock. You can learn more about her and her books at her website. Sign up for her quarterly newsletter to receive a free 30 day devotional and come along with her as she journeys with God on her Facebook page.