Finding Your Mentor / Lynn H. Blackburn

One of my favorite movies is The Sound of Music. As a young girl, I loved the “sixteen-going-on-seventeen” Liesl and respected the fire in her spirit when she looked at Fraulein Maria and declared, “I don’t need a governess.”

She wasn’t a child anymore. She was on the edge of adulthood and experiencing all the highs and lows of that time of life. What did she need a governess for?

Of course it didn’t take long for her to realize that navigating life as a grown-up was more complicated than she’d ever dreamed . . . and maybe she needed a governess after all.

If you’re an author new to publication, maybe you can relate. This beautiful thing you’ve longed for and dreamed about, worked for and prepared for, is finally here. You’re a “grown-up” author now—and things are trickier than you were expecting.

You did everything the books and magazines say you should do. You joined a critique group. You went to conferences. You read all the blogs.

You’re ready.

So why are you staring at your computer at 2 a.m. with panic in your eyes and terror in your heart? Maybe you need the publication world’s equivalent of a governess.

In my own writing life, I’ve been blessed with writing mentors who’ve guided my journey from my first forays into critique groups to contest entries all the way to my first contract and beyond.

I can understand how some people might assume that once you have an agent and a contract, you don’t need guidance from a mentor anymore. But in many ways, I need help more than ever.

I’m no longer practicing elevator pitches and prepping one-sheets for conferences, but now I’m dealing with editors, marketers, publicists, and everything that comes with traditional publication.

My third published book, Beneath the Surface, is my first with a new publisher, the first time I’ve written books on proposal, and the first time I’ve written a series. Everything, from the revision procedure to the publishing timeline, is different from my previous experience. My long-time mentor has been invaluable as I’ve navigated these new ventures because let’s face it . . . no one wants to look foolish in front of their new publishing partners. It’s been a gift to be able to run newbie questions past her first.

So if you already have an established relationship with a published author, hang on to them and don’t be surprised when you find yourself still in need of advice from time to time.

But what if you’re a new author and don’t have a mentor in your genre?

Consider reaching out to authors within your own publishing house, authors in your genre regardless of where they’re published, and authors represented by your agent and/or literary agency. This isn’t going to be a formal mentoring relationship, but rather a professional friendship where you feel comfortable asking questions as they come up, whether it’s about scheduling book signings or what kind of promotional materials to request from the marketing team.

Social media is an ideal place to get to know authors who are a bit further down the road than you are. Commenting on their posts and sharing news of their new releases and events are a great way to help them recognize your name. While writing Beneath the Surface I’ve struck up an online friendship with an author who has a book coming out a few months after mine. She has more overall publishing experience and I’m a huge fan of her writing, but we’re both new to our publisher and it’s been great to compare notes.

As wonderful as online interactions are, there’s nothing that can compare to in-person contact and conferences are one of the best places for that. Even—especially—when dealing with authors you might not feel you’re in the same league with. I once attended a conference and found myself on the elevator with an author I admired. I was too intimidated to say anything and I never introduced myself. She got off the elevator with a brief nod and a smile. Fast forward a year later and I found myself recounting the story of our non-meeting when I reached out to ask for an endorsement for Beneath the Surface. She graciously gave the endorsement . . . and reminded me not to be afraid to speak up.

The publishing industry is a competitive one, but it’s been my experience that there are many mature authors in the genre who are willing—and even eager—to come alongside newer authors and help them succeed.

Writing is, by necessity, a solitary endeavor. But publication? That requires all the help you can get. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Lynn H. Blackburn is the author of Hidden Legacy (Love Inspired, June 2017) and Covert Justice, winner of the 2016 Selah Award for Mystery and Suspense and the 2016 Carol Award for Short Novel. Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. She lives in Simpsonville, South Carolina, with her true love, Brian, and their three children.

To learn more, visit her at lynnhblackburn.com.


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Thanks to Tom Wood, Joseph Borden, and publisher/editorial director Clay Stafford for their assistance in putting together this week’s editorial.

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