Using Your Leverage

As the year comes to an end, I’ve been thinking about leverage, which I talk about in Booklife. But in Booklife, while I have a separate section on paying it forward and contributing to community, I’m not sure I fully tie the idea of leverage to the idea of paying it forward.

Your writerly “leverage,” as I define it, is a kind of political capital. You can amass it based on your visibility through your online presence and your books, published short stories, etc. It consists of intangibles beyond audience, too. The respect and affection others have for you affects your leverage–how people perceive you as both writer and human being.

You use leverage to make your projects, your books, successful–leverage breeds leverage–but it serves, or should serve, another purpose. You should use your leverage (or position or privilege) to be of use to other people in the writing community (or even outside of it). No matter what level you’re at, there’s something you can do to help someone else.

I’ve met writers who hoard leverage or privilege, who feel that concealing their contacts, masking their methodology, building closed cliques, ignoring talented people who ask for help, is the best way of helping their careers.

Maybe this is true in the short term, but the fact is the best way to build leverage long-term is to be open and useful to others–as much as you can be without disrupting your own time for writing and other creative endeavor.

Paying it forward, contributing to community, can at times be controversial or uncomfortable or actually cause you to lose prestige or respect temporarily. The whole point, at times, of using your position is to expend it like rocket fuel–in a short burst that is of immeasurable value to someone else.

I think about this, too, because sometimes people get into positions of power by being miserly with their leverage…and never realize that they’ve reached a position where they can afford to take a stand, be publicly controversial for the greater good. And so they don’t.

Whatever level you’re at now, don’t be that person. If you die without calling in all your markers, for others, for yourself…you lose.

What I’m saying is this: whether you’re a writer with one published story or a writer with twenty novels out, you have some leverage. What you can do might be tiny in scope, but might mean a lot to someone.

As we enter 2010, in a perilous publishing atmosphere, with a lot of uncertainty ahead, we should all be thinking of about not just ourselves but others. Trust me when I say the more connectivity you build, the more good works you foster, on whatever level, the more you, too, will benefit in the long run.

This is a rare cross-post to Ecstatic Days.

2 thoughts on “Using Your Leverage

  1. Literary karma. I like it. And frankly, nothing feels better than to know you've helped inspire, encourage, or just validate someone's writing. Thanks for this post, it's a good reminder of our responsibility to others.

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