I spent four days embedded with a group of authors -- in every stage from wet-behind-the-ears, brand-spanking-new to seasoned New York Timesers and a chunk of cops, ex-secret service agents, firemen, epidemiologists, and first responders. The authors were there with eager expressions and notebooks poised, one hand on a pen, the other on the camera, while the experts talked about what they do--which, in most cases, went far beyond just leading and more along the lines of kicking down doors and leading the chase for big baddies from serial killers to weaponized salmonella.
It. Was. Awesome.
During this shuffle, the authors were often shoved right into the real life day jobs of these community leaders--we're shooting! We're pulling bodies out of the (swimming pool) water! We're cutting you out using the jaws of life! But later that night, the tables turned. The cops showed up at our hotel in their civilian clothes, several with notebooks and pens poised, some with their WiPs whipped out and then the questions started coming: "How do I know when my book is done?" "Why do people hate adverbs?" "Wait. I'm supposed to condense this whole novel into a synopsis?" Suddenly, the authors were the first responders, taking charge and leading discussions about everything from proper formatting to first-versus-third person narratives.
The wealth of knowledge on both sides was incredible, and the lead-follow was an easy back and forth of no one espousing genius from a pedestal but a relaxed "this is what I know, this is what I do." It was amazing to see the toughest of the tough ask mundane questions about our daily lives ("why yes, there is a very delicate balance between deadlines, candy corn, and diabetic comas"), only to be reversed by the seasoned, 19-book New York Times best seller wanting to know if there really are a plethora of donuts and really bad coffee at the station (depends on the station).
When it comes to writing, there is often this need to lead OR follow and there is generally a large demarcation: you follow until by some magic--selling 3 or 5 or 10 books, hitting a list, getting a huge advance--you're "allowed" to become a leader. Forget about it. Lead when you know, follow when you don't. Trust me; it won't take long before you're poised to take charge in the publishing industry or catch a perp hiding behind a closet door.