I’m heading home today from the annual gathering of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, where I spent the weekend immersed in the world of books and publishing.
At any conference like this, there’s a lot of shop talk, and this gathering in particular is known for being intimate, fostering collaboration and mutual support between the authors in attendance, mostly novelists.
The conversations I sat in on with authors this weekend were usually about one of two things: how to do the writing, or how to get it out into the world. The craft, or the business. How to do the work, or how to work with your publisher.
The recommendations for the craft were many and diverse: everyone has their favorite tip or trick, their unique plotting style, their individual writing process.
At dinner one evening, someone pitched a question to the 5 or 6 authors gathered at the table: “What’s the best thing you’ve done for your career?”
The conversation didn’t go the direction I expected. No one talked serious strategy or ninja marketing tricks. At this table of successful female novelists, the overwhelming answer was a variation on this: be kind.
One highly successful historical novelist said being nice is the smartest thing she’s done for her career: nobody likes to work with jerks.
Another writer said saying thank you made her stand out from the crowd. Not just the thank yous to the “important people” in their careers: their editors, their publicists, their agents—everyone remembers to do that.
She made it a point to thank everyone who helped her: the support staff, entry-level workers, and interns at her publishers’ office who make things happen every day for their authors. They get stuff done. But because they don’t have sexy job titles, their work often goes unrecognized by those same authors.
Saying a simple thank you to them made her stand out from the crowd.
Kim is based in Charlotte, and her publicist, a fellow Southerner, made an off-hand comment about how much she missed authentic North Carolina barbecue, because it was impossible to find in New York.
On a whim, Kim found a barbecue place that would ship out of state, and she sent genuine North Carolina barbecue to her publicist’s whole office.
She immediately became known as “the author who sent us the barbecue,” and from that point forward, everyone who ate lunch that day bent over backwards to make sure her stuff got done.
I’m sure there are many complicated and savvy things you can do to build your career, or just improve your life. But the most important thing is the simplest: be nice.
And sometimes, send barbecue.
P.S. If you have your own version of Kim Wright’s barbecue story, I’d love to hear it (and/or general thoughts about careers and kindness) in comments.
P.S. What makes a relationship work? (It sounds a lot like this.)