Paying It Forward

By 2012 debut author Lynne Kelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Kathi Appelt, Franny Billingsley, Kimberly Willis Holt, Jane Kurtz, Dian Curtis Regan

To you, these names should represent some of the brightest, most respected talents in youth literature.

To me, they—among others—signify those established authors who made an effort to reach out to me as a young, beginning writer. They offered encouragement or advice or comfort or friendship—or all of the above.

And yes, I’m still starstruck by them all.

I’ve never been an active member of another arts community, so I don’t know whether this is unusual or the status quo. But I do know it had a powerful impact on my art, career and life for the better.

I can never repay them for their gifts, but I do what I can to pay it forward.
And I hope I’d do that even if there were no pending debt. To those of you who, like me, have been traveling this path for a while, I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Here are 10 ways to nurture new voices:

1) Say hello and offer encouragement at your local SCBWI, RWA or other writer organization meetings.

2) Speak to and teach beginners about writing via private and/or public workshops and meetings.

3) Meet with newcomers, one-on-one, for a cup of iced tea and to answer their questions.

By 2012 debut author Gwenda Bond

4) Send an occasional encouraging card or email.

5) Celebrate when someone signs with an agent or lands his/her first contract. Send cards, flowers, share their announcement on facebook – whatever’s appropriate to the relationship.

6) Upon request, be willing to read in-production manuscripts and, if they’re a fit, offer blurbs.

7) Attend debut and new voice author launch parties and other promotional events.

8) Raise awareness of debut books via your blog, social networks, and perhaps even speaking engagements. (I often include cover art from various first-timers’ new releases in my event presentations.)

9) Purchase and distribute debut books to your own book-loving contacts with a personal notes of recommendation.

10) Offer a sympathetic ear if expectations are dashed or must simply be readjusted from time to time.

The debut authors of 2011 and 2012 are still, in many ways, finding their feet. They new voices of 2013 are perched on the horizon. Let’s think more about how we can show all of them some love.

What suggestions would you like to add?

13 thoughts on “Paying It Forward

  1. Great post, Cynthia! One of the very best things about this community is how much writers share what they know and offer encouragement to others on the path. Publishing can be a difficult and sometimes intimidating business, and having others to help out is such a great kindness.

    I am so grateful to those who helped me find my legs and to those who are still challenging me to grow and develop–we are always in a state of learning. In so many ways, being a writer is a group effort!

    Paying it forward is something I feel strongly about, and I know you do as well! Look at all the wonderful ways you do this through your blog alone!

    Hope you have a wonderful holiday, Cynthia! Thanks for the great post and reminder to reach out to others.

    Angela Ackerman

  2. Thank you for this post! As a literary contest winner as-yet still pre-published I have reached out multiple times to published writers but they have all politely declined as they are too busy. As someone who works full-time over and above the writing time (plus I still have two children in grade school) I can well understand how time is a precious commodity. I have offered to barter in exchange (I am also a juried textile artist) but still no takers. It would be helpful to know what those of us just starting out can offer to make this arrangement more attractive. The best resource I have been able to find have been bloggers (like Dee Romito,; plus who help get work out there via contests and other pre-published writers who are willing to take on extra reading. All in all the experience has prompted me to promise myself that one fine day when I am published I'll have a page on my website where new writers can enter a drawing for one manuscript read a month.

  3. I love this post Cynthia, and I live by it too. We must never forget the kindnesses shown to us when we're starting out, and if we can, return to favor by paying it forward – indeed! 🙂 e

  4. You taught me all about paying it forward and I am so grateful for your reaching on to me over a decade ago, mentoring me and offering me support and advice, and now friendship. 🙂 I am still star-struck by YOU. And ever grateful. xoxoxox

  5. I started making a mental list of all the amazing writers who have helped me over the years (including you, at the SCBWI-Wisconsin Novel Revision Retreat awhile back), but the list grew too long for a comment. I think I need a blog post. Thank you!

  6. This is a great post! I feel like I'm somewhere in the middle, having ghostwritten a number of MG and YA books, but none under my own name! I've just moved back to Austin. Do you have any suggestions for where and how best to get involved in the writing community here?

  7. Thank you so much for this post! I've been so fortunate as to have been encouraged by many wonderful authors along this writing journey. While I am still starting out, I long to be able to pay it forward and assist others too. Writing can be a lonely occupation and it's great to have a feeling of community online.

  8. As a new children's writer, I can't say enough thanks to those who have reached out and encouraged me over the past two years.

    I won a rhyming picture book critique this year from Lori Degman, and she has looked at four drafts so far, which was way beyond the initial commitment. That's paying it forawrd.

    Super post, Cyn!

  9. Yes. The seamless continuum of encouragement, support, and advice in the kidlit world never fails to amaze me. I'm still on the new end of things, but when I've gone further along the road I hope I can rise to the same standard of generosity that others have risen to when helping me get my start.

  10. Such a wonderful post, Cynthia. And YOU provided me with a starstruck moment when you included me and my debut book in one of your Cynsational News posts!!!

  11. Thank you, Cyn, for this all-important post on the three-word mantra that defines our Children's Book World – and – for modeling its action every single day!
    Cynsations, too, is pure Show, Don't Tell in showcasing the generosity of our community.

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