[SWP: Behind the Book] Tapping Your Community
Written by
Eileen Flanagan
February 2015
Written by
Eileen Flanagan
February 2015

When my last book was published in 2009, I wrote a post that got more traffic than any I had written in years of blogging. Called “If You Love a Writer,” it was advice for friends and family who want to support those of us book authors fighting the publicity odds. Many fellow writers wrote asking me for permission to repost it, which was gratifying, but also showed me something important: many writers need help asking for help.

With a new book coming out from She Writes Press on March 3, I’m more aware than ever of how much I need other people, which is fitting since Renewable: One Woman’s Search for Simplicity, Faithfulness, and Hope is partly about the power of community. The book includes lessons I learned in the Peace Corps living in an African village, where it was common to ask a neighbor for an onion or an egg so you didn’t need to walk a mile in the hot sun to the store. Back home in the US, I discovered, many people were reluctant to ask for help, afraid of being a bother or of being obligated to others. Part of the story of the memoir is my discovery that to live up to my potential and do the work I feel I’m meant to do in the world—fighting climate change with both my writing and my activism—I need a strong community that will help me to be bold. 

A few weeks from pub day, I’m so grateful for that community! My Quaker congregation in Philadelphia is hosting my book launch, providing a beautiful space, greeters for the door, and green cake, since it will be St. Patrick’s Day. (We’re billing it as “a different kind of green party,” with a portion of my book proceeds that night going toward solar panels for the meetinghouse roof.) Quakers in other cities are helping me set up talks from the suburbs of Boston to Sarasota, Florida. Some friends are ordering copies as gifts for their friends. But here is the thing—most of this wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t asked for support. No one in my congregation would have thought of hosting the book party if I hadn’t brought it up, though as soon as I did, they were immediately supportive. Of course it helped that I included the idea of using my launch to promote the fund for solar panels. It helps that I offer to promote any event (and therefore the hosting organization) when I’m speaking somewhere, but that’s part of what I learned in Africa, too. Community is mutual. If you do it right, everybody wins.

That’s been one of the great things about being part of She Writes Press. When my first two books were published by traditional publishers, I never had contact with any other writers from that press, let alone mutual support from them. I hardly had contact with my editors. In contrast, SWP authors are in contact through Facebook, e-mail, and a monthly conference call with publisher Brooke Warner, and are constantly looking for ways to help each other. Last week, I did my first interview with NPR’s Author’s Corner alongside SWP author Betsy Teutch, whose book 100 under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women comes out a few days after mine. Anjali Mitter Duva and I have been trading ideas about where to speak in our respective cities

We won’t always get the support we ask for. Not everyone will have the time or inclination to help us, and it’s important not to take it personally when they don’t. But if we refrain from asking, we’ll never know. So to model what I’m talking about, I want to ask my She Writes community for your help, too. Please consider pre-ordering my book or posting this link on Facebook, if it sounds like the kind of thing you might support. If not, no worries. But do support some other woman writer—because what we can do together is so much greater than what we can accomplish alone. 

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  • J. Dylan Yates

    The power of women in community is particularly magnificent!  Great post!

  • Sally Ketham

    Great post and reminder to ask! I'm so interested in life in Africa for some reason. I've always felt that I belonged there for some reason and so it didn't surprise me that I ended up co-authoring a book w/ a girl from a remote tribe in Africa. She's the U.S. and loves it here, but the one thing she misses is the lack of community she felt back home. She said back home if you needed to go shopping, you would just holler to your neighbor and they would keep a listen for your kids (granted they didn't have windows/doors and their houses nearly sat on each other) but it sounds like such a trusting, helpful environment. It's awesome to bring that value here, Americans could benefit from more experiences like that!

  • Shary

    Your message is lovely and perfect, Eileen, and one that we all need to hear. I, especially, need to hear!! :-)

    Please send me your Sarasota dates, plans. I'm just up the road in Clearwater Beach and I'd be so happy

    to get the word out about your event.

    BTW-- just tried to order your book via Amazon, kindle order comes up fine, but I want paperback and it's not clicking through. May be just a glitch at my end, but wanted you to know.

  • Eileen Flanagan

    Thanks, all! Kelley, I published my first book with a toddler and a baby on the way. You must do what you can and let go of the rest. Hollye, you reminded me I have some books to order. Betsy, looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks.

  • Celine Keating

    Terrific post, Eileen. I love the idea of the green party and the creativity of linking your launch to a cause you support. 

  • Kelley Clink

    "Community is mutual. If you do it right, everybody wins." Love it! I like Hollye's #FriendsFriday routine, too. I'm going to try and do that, too, if I can remember! A book and a baby at the same time...what was I thinking??

  • Betsy Teutsch

    Eileen, you are so fortunate (and wise) to be part of a vibrant spiritual community. I am, as well, and I never marvel at how nice it is to celebrate each other, as well as help carry one another's burdens. In my experience of community organizing (within my community, not an Obama type community organizer) I have found people want to be helpful, but they may not know how to be helpful, or they simply might not be all that creative at coming up with creative, helpful ideas. Don't be thinking they can read your minds. Like Eileen relates, if they don't offer, ASK. At the moment I am crafting an email to send out to people -- some of whom I haven't had any contact with in years -- and not only announce the book but suggest a half dozen ways they could be helpful that don't involve spending money. Things as simple as forwarding the email to someone else whom they think would be interested. Do the thinking for them!  PS can't wait for your party!  Who doesn't love a book party?!

  • Hollye Dexter

    Bravo Eileen! Will post your author link this Friday on my author page. I do #FriendsFriday every week to cross promote my friends' books. Will also tweet and have ordered your book!