6 Steps to Join (or Start) a Cartel

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Now that you understand the power of Cartel-based thinking, how do you join a Cartel? If you need a Cartel to succeed, how do you create one in the first place?

The Bloomsbury Group

An illustration of the Bloomsbury Group, the Cartel informally led by Virginia Woolf.

It’s all about connection

The short answer is learn to connect.

When I first started sharing my writing, I knew that I needed to connect with other writers if I wanted to be successful. So I did everything I could to build relationships. I emailed other writers, had phone conversations with my readers, and spent hundreds of dollars going to conferences to meet like minded people.

Most of these techniques I stumbled on by accident, but the overarching thing was the desire to connect: to know and be known (and by the way, you should always start with the former before moving to the latter). If you make connection the foundation of your Cartel building, you will be just fine.

Beyond that, if you learned the six laws of Story Cartel, you already know how to connect with influencers. These laws provide a framework for creating a Cartel.

Here are six things you can do to create your Cartel.

1. Make good art.

It all starts here.

If you aren’t making art already, there’s no point in beginning this process. Influential people respond to good work. If you don’t have a portfolio of good art, then you need to go make something.

It doesn’t have to be much. Ten blog posts, a few short stories or essays, a chapbook of poetry, a demo tape with three songs: that’s all you need to begin to build your Cartel. By the time Hemingway got involved with the Lost Generation in Paris, he had only written a few short stories. It doesn’t take much to get involved with a Cartel, but it does take something.

Note too that you don’t have to always create this art yourself. You could edit an anthology of short stories or essays, you could produce an album, you could design the cover of a book of poetry.

Cartels need editors and producers as well as creators. If you have skills in these areas, donate them to someone else’s art.

However, making great art is just the beginning. You can make the best art in the world, but if you don’t follow through on the rest of the steps to create a Cartel, your art will stay in the dark.

2. Share it.

“Stories are meant to be shared.”

This should be your mantra.

When you meet an influential blogger, send them one of your short stories. After you interview a fellow author, give them a digital copy of your novel as a thank you. If you notice a dedicated commenter on your blog, offer them a free copy of your ebook.

Don’t have any expectations that they will read or share the book. You’re job is just to share your story with no strings attached. Let go of any expectations you have. The universe has been generous to you to inspire your art. In return, be generous with others.

3. Read your peers.

You know how seriously you take your writing. Your stories are your babies. They are part of you. How do you think it would feel if someone asked a favor from you and hadn’t read your work?

A Cartel, by its very nature, is a group that supports the work of its members. To prove you belong in a Cartel, you need to prove you can support the work of your peers. This begins with reading their work.

I know reading is time consuming. I know you’re so busy writing that you barely have time to read. I understand how hard this is. But if you want to succeed, this is one of the pre-requisites.

Do you think Steven King and Michael Cunningham and Anne Lamott aren’t great readers? They probably have read or skimmed every major book in their genre for the last ten years. The amount they read likely exceeds the amount they write one hundred to one.

The best bloggers I know read a dozen blog posts for every post they write. One of my blogging mentors reads (and comments) on about one hundred blogs a day.

Writers are readers, and if you want to be taken seriously by a Cartel of writers, you need to be reading.

4. Collaborate

My mentor, Seth Barnes says, “Before you can achieve your own dream, you probably need to serve someone else’s dream.”

Before you can be entrusted with a lot, you need to prove your capable of handling a little.

Cartels are based on the idea of collaboration, and if you want people to collaborate with you, you need to be willing to collaborate with others. I am always more interested in helping someone else build their dream than I am interested in asking them to help with mine because I’ve found that if I’ve served them, I often don’t even need to ask. They’ll offer in return.

Here are a few shapes collaborating can take:

  • Tweet or share their blog posts on Facebook
  • Review their book on your blog
  • Interview them on your blog
  • Guest post for their blog
  • Co-write an eBook, short story, or even novel together
  • Create a group blog (like thewritepractice.com or writerunboxed.com)

Writers will especially appreciate this when they’re launching new books or products. For example, when I saw that Seth Godin was launching his new book, The Icarus Project, I asked him if I could interview him about it and he agreed.

There are times when authors have their heads in the sand doing their work, but when they launch a new book, they pop their heads up and look around to see who is paying attention. If you’re one of those people, you can create a relationship with them that can last for a long time.

5. Ask for Collaborators

Here’s something surprising that I’ve learned: When you ask people to take action, you figure out who your true fans are.

You might blog for months without hearing from anyone, and then, when you ask people to help you launch your book, you meet people who have been reading all along.

Make a habit of asking people to take action. In every post on The Write Practice, we ask people to practice for fifteen minutes and share it with me. At first, no one would respond, but slowly, we grew to be one of the most engaged writing communities on the Internet because everyday I demanded it.

On Story Cartel, we don’t just give our books away for free. We ask people to review them. In other words, we ask people to engage and then take action. And the process is incredible rewarding for both author and reader. One Story Cartel author said, “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.” The depth of connection she had with the people reading her book was unlike anything she’d ever experienced with her writing.

Here are a few things I’ve asked people to do for me in the past:

  • When I was getting ready to launch my eBook Let’s Write a Short Story!, I asked well known authors in my niche to write a blurb for my book.
  • When I was putting together my first eBook 14 Prompts, I asked regular readers to tell me their favorite posts from The Write Practice to include in the book.
  • Before I published “Hands,” I asked about ten writing friends for feedback on the story, which greatly improved its quality.
  • Every time I publish a new book or short story, I try to build a launch team of between 200 to 400 people, giving them a free copy of the book in exchange for their review on Amazon and their social media share. We built Story Cartel to make this process as easy as possible.

*You always want to be careful about who you ask. If you don’t have a relationship with them, asking them to collaborate with you might backfire.

6. Use tools.

As we’ve said, tools won’t guarantee your success but it’s hard to succeed without them. Here are four tools you can use to help create your Cartel:

Blogs. For writers, blogs are like a resume. They can give a stranger a snapshot of your writing in just a few minutes. They’re also a great way to maintain a relationship with people.

Twitter. Twitter is a cocktail party. Have fun. Be funny. And share links to your best writing.

Facebook. Share links to your blog posts and let your friends know what you’re up to. When I first started my blog, Facebook sent me over 30 percent of my traffic.

The Phone & Skype. It may seem outdated, but the telephone is still the second best way to build relationships. Try setting up conversations with other writers or even your best readers to hear what they love about your stories—a great way to go deeper.

Conferences & Retreats. These are the best way to connect with the most amount of people in a short amount of time. They’re a great way to meet potential collaborators, and they put you in a slightly uncomfortable situation where you need to meet new people. I met some of my best writing friends first at a conference.

Email. This is a good place to start, but your goal should always to try and get someone on the phone as soon as possible. As powerful as email is, it doesn’t replicate interaction over the phone or face-to-face.

Where are you at in this process? Are you still sharing your first stories? Have you moved on to connecting with other storytellers? Are you collaborating with others? Let us know in the comments section.

Ready to start building your Cartel? Then, move on to the next exercise.

  • KathyPooler

    I am three years into the process of blogging and establishing myself on social media. I share posts from other writers frequently as well as my own. I also: featuring guest posts on my blog and do guest posts for other blogs; do book reviews and post them on Amazon ,etc, facebook and twitter: follow other blogs and comment on them. This year I started a feature on my blog called “Memoir Moment” where I share my stories once a month. I’m working on re-purposing blog posts into an eBook on “Writing Tips From My Memoir Writer’s Journey” I attend national and regional writer’s conferences and participate in writing contests. And I still feel like I am scratching the surface!

  • Melissa

    I gotta to say, getting out of my shell was somewhat of a nerve racking experience. But I’ve been able to connect with new people in ways I hadn’t expected, and in a way, I feel a bit more comfortable reaching out. I started a blog where I share my writing and it feels good to be ‘out there’. I’ve already received positive feedback and the journey so far has been great!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Good for you, Melissa!

  • Sarah Freeman

    I’ve joined a local writer’s group, and able to receive peer reviews, read their works and support their blogs. It’s refreshing to connect with others who are experiencing similar issues as me, and willing to support your work. Inspired by this course, I am working on connecting more via social networking and direct contact via emails.

  • Audrey Chin

    Just emailed an author for an interview. And, going to a book launch to ask another one.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Awesome Audrey. Good luck!

  • Julia Ray

    I have been writing a blog since last Fall and it is beginning to take off. I have met several other authors who comment and in return I comment and read their work. I have yet to make it to a conference but really hope to in the future.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      That’s awesome, Julia. What’s the URL to your blog?

  • http://www.facebook.com/devinberglund Devin Berglund

    I spoke with an author just yesterday over the phone! It went sooo well!!! :) I will type it up and share it soon! :)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting


  • Jay Warner

    I have been in the marinating stages of both sharing and connecting for many years. I have finally started a website/blog which I hope to have up and running today as soon as I upload some of my writing. Thank you for being the burr under my saddle.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      If I’m under your saddle, does that mean you’re sitting on me?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002927764006 Erika Simone

    I’m still struggling with asking for help from other writers. Perhaps I should read more so I don’t feel that I’m asking for something in exchange for nothing?

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      I wouldn’t think of it like that. Instead, it’s just making a new friend. And friends help each other.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002927764006 Erika Simone

        Thanks. :)

  • http://messageinamasonjar.com/ Darcy Wiley

    Most of my public writing has been in blog form thus far (I needed a place of accountability to accomplish some shorter pieces, baby steps) just to get writing again and I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with other writers/bloggers in the process. I’ve featured several authors’ new book releases on my blog in conjunction with them giving away one of their books as part of the post. I’ve also done some guest posting for other bloggers. I share a bit on Twitter and FB, but I think I could take some time and do more of that. I’ve LOVED making connections at the writing and blogging conferences I’ve attended. The interactions and friendships are life-giving in and of themselves, but like you’ve mentioned, as a bonus they also end up benefiting the endeavors/career as well. :)

  • Myrna Guymer

    I belong to three writers’ groups where we read and critique each others work. In all of these, there are a few with whom I connect regularly outside the group. Over the years of journalistic writing and interviews, I have gained other connections, but that was before the internet. However, since all the hype about blogs, Twitter, etc, and now Story Cartel, and my constant desire to write better and publish more, I am seeing a broader connection – a cartel? – (I’ll be darned!) and feel somewhat afraid. If I dwell on the time required to commit to everything suggested, I feel like I might get choked in a web. Another concern is about what to share in these connections. I am working on a large piece – a memoir – and I don’t know If I want to share parts of it in a blog, or any other huge connection. I do share it within the three groups because I want their suggestions. How do others feel about this?

  • http://thethoughtfulbuttonhook.wordpress.com/ Kate Hewson

    So right now I am frantically writing, trying to produce some ‘art’ to do all this with…

  • disqus_uw8kXCNacZ

    Wow, so much to do. Time to start making lists. Seriously.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      True. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once. This is a method, a paradigm, not a bunch of things you need to check off.

  • Sunny Henderson

    Goodness. Lots of stuff here, but such a great post.

    Right now I’m working on connecting with others and building those valuable relationships. Even without what I would consider “established” relationships, I’ve managed to collaborate some, but I want MORE!

  • http://ya-asylum.com/ Kim

    There is a lot of great information here. I couldn’t help but think about Neil Gaiman’s speech about “Make Good Art”. I have the graphic design book that was created off of the speech near my bed whenever I need a pick-me-up at the end of the day.

    Right now, like Sunny, I’m at the connecting with others part of the stage. I’d like to build a group of writers I could bounce ideas off of and use as critique partners for MSs. I feel like I’m doing a good job of that right now. It’s important to take the time to get to know the other writers and their work though and not rush into a CP relationship.

    At the same time I think I’m a little in the Collaboration stage as well. I write book reviews, tweet and share links to other writers/bloggers posts (and in turn they do it for me) and I help the established writer I work for market her book series. I feel like I’m in a good place right now.

  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    ” to prove your capable” – you’re

    Excellent post, Joe. I’m so excited about building my website and announcing that I’m starting a writers group this Saturday that I don’t know what to say. I hope these endeavors not only help me meet interesting and emerging writers, but I hope they become resources to other writers, especially the friends I’ve found here and on the write practice.