On Mentoring

Jennifer Brozek is an award winning editor, game designer, and author. She has been writing role-playing games and professionally publishing fiction since 2004. With the number of edited anthologies, fiction sales, RPG books and non-fiction books under her belt, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but she prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist.

Read more about her at her blog: http://www.jenniferbrozek.com/blog/

To Mentor or Not to Mentor—Is that the Question?


I have to admit, when I started mentoring—taking on editorial interns—it was not for any altruistic reason. The simple fact was that I needed help. I had overbooked myself on anthologies to edit and I needed several sets of eyes to make certain nothing slipped through the cracks.

Of course, that meant I had to teach my interns what those cracks were. In doing so, we both came up with ways to ensure a measure of quality for every anthology we put out. Until I had to teach what I did to someone else, it never occurred to me that I could make it easier on myself by improving and documenting my process. That was the first lesson I learned as a mentor.

I lie. My first lesson I learned as a mentor in the publishing industry is that there are a lot of people who want to learn what I do. They are all willing to do the labor for free because they are gaining real world experience in a profession that interests them. Also, thank goodness for having a standard set of questions for the editorial intern applicants to answer. I was able to compare and contrast the 25+ applicants.

In the end, I chose three interns to work with. Those three interns taught me more about what I do than I ever thought possible. That is why I keep mentoring today.


Mentoring is a Partnership


There are many things a mentor does but it mostly boils down to answering these three questions:

  • What do I do?
  • How do I do it?
  • Why do I do it that way?


These three questions demand clear and concise answers. This is not a parent-child relationship. You cannot say “Because I said so” or “Because that’s the way it’s always been done”. There must be a reason for what is done, how, and why.

Invariably, the next question that enters the picture is: How can we make this better?

It is easy to do things the same way when it is just you. You are in your own head. Humans are creatures of habit. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Of course, until you have another mind involved, you may not realize your process was broken. Or, you may have realized it was less efficient but, meh, you’re the only one you inconvenience.

Once you get a mentee, the desire to do everything the “right” way rears its far-too-perfect head and that’s when things are either proven sufficient or proven broken.


Mentoring is Like Parenthood


Nothing makes me prouder than to see one of my former interns succeed. It makes me feel like I did something right. I gave my interns the right kind of information, the right direction to go, and the right drive to succeed. It is even cooler when they go on to do something spectacular.

For example, Erika Holt had no professional editing experience when I brought her on as my intern. However, she took on the critically acclaimed zombie erotica anthology, “Rigor Amortis,” (co-edited with Jaym Gates) while she was interning with me. I was happy to lend an ear and my two cents when she needed. Now, Erika has gone on to a position I wish I could have. She is an assistant editor for Nightmare, the new pro horror magazine by John Joseph Adams. In this case, the student has surpassed the teacher. I am so pleased—and a little envious.


Mentoring Benefits Everyone Involved


I can’t recommend becoming a mentor enough. The process of mentoring allowed the mentor to pass on experience and knowledge while getting to look at what they do through fresh eyes. The mentor learns as much as the mentee about communication and clarity. The mentee gets to go out into the cruel world a little bit more fair warned and fair armed. Finally, the mentor gets to watch the mentee’s progress as they take what they have learned and grow their career.

Everyone has something they can teach another. The question is not whether or not to mentor, it is what to mentor and to whom.