Shortwave Magazine

NonFiction / Writing

How to Interact with Other Writers

a guide
by Nicole Dieker

June 2, 2023
1,241 Words
Genre(s):

This article is part of a series of writing guides. Read the first, "How I Write 1,000 Words an Hour", here. →

Whether you’re emailing, messaging, or saying hello in person.

I email other writers a lot—and, believe it or not, most of them write back. I could drop some of the names that are now saved in my contacts list, many of which you may have heard of, but that would be both inappropriate and indiscreet. Writers are people too, after all, and most of us are fairly private. We’re also particular about how we spend our time, especially if we want to write without distraction.

This means that we won’t answer every email that shows up in our inbox. It also means that we don’t often give more than a friendly-but-perfunctory response to people who approach us at book signing lines or writing conventions. The more people we let into our lives, the less time we may have for our writing. On the other hand, letting the right writers in—see what I did there?—can help us become even better at what we do.

That’s why I’m going to I’ll tell you how I do it.

How I interact with other writers, and how you can do the same.

I’ll also tell you how to ask a writer for help, how to invite a writer to contribute to a project, and how to interact with your favorite writers in a way that might help you make the delicate transition from fan to friend.

When you want to show your appreciation

One of the easiest ways to interact with a writer is by sending them a quick email to let them know how much you appreciate their work. When Alan Lastufka and Kristina Horner published the dark sci-fi, fantasy, and horror anthology OBSOLESCENCE, I spent a few days emailing each of the writers whose stories I admired and letting them know how much I enjoyed reading their contributions.

The emails were short—three sentences long, at most—and specific. It isn’t enough to tell someone you like their work, after all. You also need to tell them why you like it. Sometimes I quoted one of my favorite sentences; other times I referenced a well-crafted plot twist. I wanted to let them know what I loved best about their work, because that kind of information is extremely useful to a working writer.

These kinds of emails often make a person’s day—they certainly make mine, whenever I receive one—and may lead to a longer correspondence. Although the majority of the writers I emailed didn’t reply with much more than a quick thanks, one of them sent me a longer response letting me know how much he’d enjoyed my OBSOLESCENCE short story—and ended up blurbing one of my future projects.

When you want to ask for help

I get a lot of emails and messages from authors who want to know how to get published and freelancers who want to know how to build their careers—and, believe it or not, most of the time I write back.

The best way to get me to write back is to ask me a specific question. Here are some of the kinds of emails I love responding to:

  • “I’ve successfully completed three freelance assignments for a client, and I’d like to ask them if we can set up an ongoing monthly contract. How do I start that conversation?”
  • “I self-published my first novel, but now I want to reach out to indie publishers and small presses. How did you connect with Shortwave after self-publishing your first book?”
  • “I’m having trouble making my novel fit within a traditional three-act structure. I know that you’ve written about the pros and cons of three-act novels in the past. Do you think the three-act structure is still worth working towards?”

Here are some of the emails I delete without responding:

  • “How do I get started as a freelancer?”
  • “How do I write a mystery series?”
  • “Will you be my mentor?”

Asking someone you’ve never met to be your mentor does not work—mentorship, like friendship, is the kind of thing that only develops over repeated, positive interaction—and asking someone how to get started as a freelancer or a writer is nearly as futile. Do the work yourself, until you have enough experience to generate a specific, unique question about why the work isn’t working.

Then ask—and you may receive.

When you want to invite them to contribute to a project

Sometimes writers want to invite other writers to contribute to a project—an anthology, for example, or a critique group. If you’re reaching out to another writer to ask them to participate in something, be as clear as possible about what this participation entails. A 3,000-word short story due by October 1, for example. A monthly hour-long Zoom chat in which we discuss each other’s work.

You should also be as clear as possible about why you’re asking this particular writer. Customize each email—don’t copy-paste, and don’t send the request to a bunch of BCCs. Let the writer know why their contribution will add value, especially if you’re asking them to contribute for free.

If you’re making the ask in person—at a writing convention, for example—don’t put the writer in a situation where they feel like they have to respond right away. Tell them you’ll follow up with an email or text message that explains the terms in detail, and give them time to consider whether or not they want to contribute.

At the end of your written request, let the writer know how long they have to respond. Tell them that if you haven’t heard from them by a certain date, you’ll assume they’re not interested—and then send them exactly one follow-up email (no more, no less) before the date arrives.

The writers who want to work with you will let you know.

Do not bother the ones who don’t.

When you want to make friends

There’s one more reason to interact with a writer—and that’s when you hope to go from fan to friend. I’ve only done this a handful of times, but every time it’s happened, it’s happened after an extended series of positive, professional interactions.

This used to be the kind of thing that could happen on Twitter; today, it might be more likely to happen on Discord. You can also build this history in person, especially if you have the ability to attend writing conventions on a regular basis—but no matter where it takes place, the work has to be at the center of the conversation. The interim step between fan and friend is peer, after all—and before another writer can see you as a peer, you have to act like one.

Expect this process to take at least two years, and maybe as many as five—so if you’re hoping to befriend a writer in order to boost your career, try approaching it from the other direction. Build your career first, and make new friends along the way. Do the best work you can, and people will want to interact with you—which means you’ll be put in the difficult position of deciding who is worth your time, and the fortunate position of being able to interact with some of your favorite writers on both the professional and the personal level.

And always—always—send short, specific emails.

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About the Author

Nicole Dieker is a writer, teacher, and musician. She began her writing career as a full-time freelancer with a focus on personal finance and habit formation; she launched her fiction career with The Biographies of Ordinary People, a definitely-not-autobiographical novel that follows three sisters from 1989 to 2016.

Dieker writes the Larkin Day mystery series. She also maintains an active freelance career; her work has appeared in Vox, Morning Brew, Lifehacker, Bankrate, Haven Life, Popular Science, and more. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money.

Dieker lives in Quincy, Illinois with the great love of her life, his piano, and their garden.

nicoledieker.com

Copyright ©2023 by Nicole Dieker.

Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.

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