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deskFour to six times a year someone I know approaches me and says something like this: “Hey, I was talking to So-and-So about some things I’ve written. I would like to publish them, and he/she said you would be an excellent resource for ideas about that.”

Every time it happens, I am both flummoxed and flattered. Wow. Someone in my circle believes that I actually have what it takes to guide such a lovely ambition? Please don’t mistake that question as sarcasm. As someone with a healthy reverence for reading and writing, I’m humbled by the responsibility.

What if I fail someone who has important things to say? What if I harm someone who is more vulnerable about his/her work than I am about mine? What is it about me that draws emerging writers or makes their friends trust me as a reliable point of reference?

I suspect most people who talk to me about writing only care that I’m a writer per se, and therefore, a member of the same tribe. They don’t want me to solve their publishing problem. They’re just hoping I might lead them to the next practical step toward their goals—which can vary from one person to the next.

tell-me-what-is-it-that-you-plan-to-doIt’s true that I’ve worked around the publishing and book printing/manufacturing industry. I’ve also been a librarian. Yes, I’ve learned a little about how various types of books get created, manufactured, published, marketed, bought and consumed. I read as widely and as long as a slow reader can, including works about writing and writers.

But none of this makes me an expert resource on getting a book published, and I know that, which is why I usually reply with a disclaimer of some sort. “You’re aware that I’ve never published a book, right?” I’ll say. The truth never seems to faze anyone.

But then there is this: I know next to nothing about most topics I’m paid to write about—health conditions and treatments, how to deal with dollar spot (it’s a fungus) on a golf course, how to maximize the yield of a legal cannabis crop, and so on. Does my ignorance stop me from sharing information? Of course not. I research and interview until I know enough to write. That’s what all journalists do.

It happened again today. Someone I respect asked for my opinion and help. I handled it the way I always do: I diminish expectations and agree to help. Later I wondered, “Have I’ve been missing a chance to encourage other writers for the silliest of reasons: because I don’t consider myself an expert?”

Didn’t I just say that’s the beauty of being a writer? You don’t have to be an authority to share practical inside knowledge, insights, opinions and passions. My passions are reading, writing and publishing, and I’ve worked around some aspect of all three enough that I probably DO know a little more than I’m willing to credit myself.

If the same question came to you randomly four to six times a year, wouldn’t you wonder why people think you’re the right person to answer it? No matter how little I know, I go down rabbit holes to link people with information they need to get their projects off the ground.

It only seems logical to share that information here, in hopes of helping a wider audience. Today begins a new series of occasional posts with my fellow writers in mind. I’ll use these posts to share all kinds of tips—not just mine—for people who want to be published. If you’re interested in writing, I hope you’ll tune in!

If there’s something you would like to hear about, leave a comment! I’ll see if I can make it a post. Meanwhile, here’s a book all writers should be reading, Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.