Mentors and You: Learn How BlogHer Writers '11 Can Give You an Advantage

BlogHer Original Post

BlogHer Writers '11BlogHer Writers ‘11 is offering attendees something special in those small group mentoring sessions: an advantage. When you’re trying to understand or start something new, the help of others who have “been there, done that” is such a benefit. It doesn’t matter what that new thing is, the help of a mentor can make all the difference. We’re hoping that the mentoring sessions at BlogHer Writers will allow for attendees to break through their own mental stumbling blocks and give them a clear idea of “what’s next” when it comes to publishing.

I thought, since it’s possible that some people have never had a mentoring experience, it would be helpful if we asked a few of our scheduled mentors their experiences with mentors as they made their way in and through their careers. Rita Arens (Sleep Is for the Weak) and Sarah Pinneo (Ski House Cookbook and, coming soon, Julia’s Child) helped me out with answers to a few questions you might have about our offered mentoring sessions.

Have you had any mentors who have shaped your career in publishing? What role have they played?

RA: Absolutely. Sleep Is for the Weak would not have come to fruition had I not had help with my book proposal (Liz Gumbinner) and with the agent/pitching experience (Risa Green). Lisa Stone was key in helping me find a sponsor for our book tour. I can’t name enough names of mentors who helped me with the hardest part: harnessing the constant rejection into action (Rachael Brownell, Risa Green, Alice Bradley and Rebecca Woolf pop immediately into my mind).

Currently I’m querying a YA novel, and I’ve had great advice and writerly encouragement from Jean Kwok, Risa Green, Lori Culwell, Karen Gerwin, Alice Bradley, Stacy Morrison, Kelli Oliver George, Stephanie O’Dea, Jon Elek, Joshilyn Jackson, Michael Pritchett, Danielle Svetcov, Arielle Eckstut, Peternelle van Arsdale -- the list goes on and on. I’m sure I’m forgetting people. They’ve given me advice about my novel’s structure, the genre, the process, keeping my head up -- I try to pay it forward as much as I can, because I am so thankful for people taking the time to talk to me about my writing. It’s a gift when a writer helps another writer out – any writer knows your friends and family may not understand how to help you. This is a tough business, and it’s really hard to stand out in the pile of manuscripts and the overflowing inboxes. I know in my own job I get pitched all day long and can’t take everything. But knowing how much you have to look at trends and where things fit on the shelf and what is already in the agent’s list and personal taste doesn’t always make you feel better when someone has to pass on your work.

As a mentor now, what do you hope people learn from you as you share your experience and advice?

RA: I feel sort of like a mentor imposter because I’m very ambitious and never feel like I’ve had enough success. I am very good at giving advice about dealing with rejection, even when I don’t follow it myself, because nothing about my writing career has fallen in my lap. I’m sure many emerging anthologists and authors can appreciate my stories, at least! It’s hard to find people who will talk publicly about their challenges, and I’m willing to do that, so I think that’s how I can help.

SP: I meet, on average, two aspiring authors a week. Many of them are struggling from a bad case of "am I nuts?" Am I nuts to think my book is any good? Is it nuts to spend all this time on my query? No matter what the genre: cookery, memoir, or fiction, every successful author succumbs to some strain of "am I nuts" at some point. And many of us relapse. It's a normal symptom of choosing to focus your energies on what is, by necessity, an often solitary process.

My job as a mentor is to prove to authors that an occasional sanity check is just part of the process. The same inner editor who is so instrumental in pointing which parts of your manuscript are clicking along is the same one who occasionally makes you feel crazy. The trick is to develop a few strategies for telling those moments apart. That hyper critical voice in your head? She'll be your friend again soon, just as soon as her bad mood subsides.Give her a yoga class, a latte with an extra shot, or a day off.

What unique advantages do you think the BlogHer Writers small group mentoring sessions give these up-and-coming writers?

SP: The value of a small-group mentoring session like the one at BlogHer Writers is to connect aspiring authors with those who have walked that trail before. Writing successful query letters and book proposals looks like the Everest to the uninitiated. By learning some simple structure and a few useful rhythms, participants will find that pitching a book becomes easier. BlogHer's small group sessions will allow me to tailor my examples to the specific interests of the group. Participants will get their questions answered, all the while sitting shoulder to shoulder with a tight knit group with similar interests and goals. What could be better?

These two ladies brought two different perspectives to what mentoring is about, how it can help, what they hope to do and why BlogHer Writers ‘11 is doing something awesome in these mentoring sessions. I know it has me excited (and, hey, Rita is excited too) -- though I still struggle with what exactly I want to focus on. I mean, have you seen the number of sessions we’re providing you with? Everything from learning about how to pitch book bloggers to cookbooks to proposals and everything in between.

If you haven’t checked out our agenda, you should do so now. Then you should register for BlogHer Writers ‘11. As I said last week, there’s still time -- and now is the time to write your book. Stop putting it off. We’re offering you some great resources this month in New York City. Take advantage of them with me.

See you there (in one group or another)!)

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a writer, editor and photographer.