women give back

​​​Writer's Resource: Book proposals, Ghostwriter

interview with laine cunningham on paying it forward


Tell me about yourself.
I am a publishing industry consultant and novelist who has been quoted on CNN, MSNBC, USA Today, and international media. All my books weave the traditions of different cultures into a modern plot. The novels help people reach across boundaries of nationality, race and religion…something that is more important today than ever before.

Tell us about your company and the clients it serves.
Writer’s Resource works with authors and small presses to create and improve fiction and nonfiction manuscripts then take them to market. The book proposals generated in-house have allowed clients to sign with top agents within 24 hours of submission. The high quality standards have resulted in attention from the nation’s top publishers, multi-book contracts, and even film options for a handful of select projects.

At what point did you realize a need to give back within your business?
Long ago, actually right as I opened up shop. So many fellow writers had helped me out already with my own work; they continued to help by making referrals and allowing me to grow. I have always wanted to do something to give back but simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle large-scale efforts. I do have plans for big projects that will be implemented once I can finance them myself. For now, I do whatever I can wherever I can!

Exactly how are you giving back and to what cause or group of people?
I’m sponsoring a novel contest through The Blotter Literary Magazine (www.blotterrag.com). I’m funding the cash prizes, I will serve as the final judge, and am helping the magazine publicize the event by sending out press releases at my own cost.

I also help out with my two local writer’s groups. I edit and critique manuscripts; I’ve also revised members’ book proposals and query letters. One of those writers ended up signing with an agent 48 hours after I handed her the revised proposal.

Finally, I work with a small group of authors who each are marketing books in very different areas. We get together monthly to discuss our efforts and share information on what works and what doesn’t. Really, this is mutually beneficial…they help me as much as I help them!

Why did you select this way to do so?
The contest: I specified that I would only sponsor a novel/novella contest. There are hundreds of contests out there for short stories, essays, poetry, etc. But few for novels. It takes a lot of effort and experience to run a novel contest.

Plus, I write novels myself. I know how hard that long year or two of writing can be before you see the finished product. Every little bit helps. The contest provides cash (always important!) and the validation of having been vetted by an unattached third party.

Writer’s groups: Because I love to help my friends, and they have become my friends over the years!

Marketing group: Because these individuals are dedicated. Perseverance is critical in publishing. Anything I can do to help them, I’ll do.

What do you have to say to those who believe it is impossible to do well by doing good?
Wrong, wrong, wrong! That’s a selfish, fearful response. They think that giving things away leaves nothing for yourself. Actually, everything you give away returns to you a hundredfold.

I know that the good Red Road in Native American belief is paved with kind acts. In my community, the wealthiest person is the one who can afford to give away the most. I have finally achieved that level. It is my duty and my joy to potlatch.

Given the current economy, do you find yourself again waging the battle between work that matters vs. work that pays the bills? Or has giving back acted as a buffer for your business in times such as this?
I don’t have to fight this battle anymore. Giving has been my direct path to success. My business is doing so well that I actually can’t take on every potential new client who calls. Knowing this, I select out those individuals for whom I know I can do only the best quality of work.

Of course, that also means I’m able to select only those projects that will bring me joy. And since that joy is so dependent on the individual with whom I’m working, I’m now involved in several new projects where the former client and I have teamed up. So we’re giving together!

The bottom line is important. In your opinion, what is the best way for businesses to balance this with giving-focused strategies?
Carefully calculate all the resources you’ll need for a given project. The contest, for example, isn’t just about my ponying up the cash for the prize. I’ve also performed free consultations with the senior editor about how to properly run a contest; what expenses he might encounter and how to avoid them; how best to utilize the contest to enhance exposure for the magazine (a very worthy cause, by the way); the time I’ll dedicate to reading the short list of entries; the selection process; etc. etc. etc.

So it’s time, effort and money. Right now I can manage this without detracting from my clients or my own novels. Later I can look at those big projects I want to do!

Plus, the goodwill that I, my novels and my company will gain from this endeavor can’t be overlooked. Really, the investment is worth far more than any advertisement I might pay for. I’m providing an opportunity for other authors to succeed, to be recognized in their field. Since I know firsthand from my first novel having received two national awards, I know what an important boost that can be!

Did your employees buy-in to the idea of giving back or were there struggles? If so, how were they overcome?
N/A; all my associates operate their own companies.

What impact do you want your company to have?
Mostly to provide validation, respect and honor to the individuals who place in the contest. The cash is great but will be gone quickly, I’m sure. Knowing that their work was good enough to rise to the top is invaluable.

What is the most rewarding experience you can recall as a result of running your company this way?
A client of mine and I are now developing audio CDs to help people remake themselves during tough times and to face their fears. We’re going to share our very different yet very astonishing stories about triumphing over tragedy and danger and arriving where we are today. This is a heartfelt project that I’m doing with someone I adore and respect. There is no greater reward than that.

Final words of wisdom...
Giving back impacts your bottom line. No question. You get free “advertising” when people sing your praises to others.

Since as much as 80% of clients who will close contracts will come through referrals, you cannot ignore the benefits of giving back. Corporate goodwill should be a regular, budgeted part of every company that plans to succeed. Besides, it’s just good karma!