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How to Learn From a Mentor

More experienced authors offer valuable insight for those just starting to self-publish.

Mentors have a huge impact on our lives. Listen to interviews with great innovators or leaders and many will talk favourably about a teacher who helped them get started. Sometimes, the message came in a form of a reality check, which caused them to work harder, but more often as nurturing wisdom. Regardless of the nature of their experience, each one has carried their teachers’ words with them for the rest of their lives — and their learning didn’t stop at the school gate. Many talk of benefiting from family or workplace role models. Post-education mentors. The point is, those who have good mentors often experience significant advantages in life.

Imagine, for example, you grew up in a family of bestselling authors, publishing executives and marketers. Would you be more likely to write and publish a successful book? Absolutely. Never mind their social connections, you’d benefit by being present at their conversations. You could absorb their mindset, hear their advice and ask technical questions. Not everyone has such privileges. Fortunately, physical proximity to great mentors no longer determines success. Why? The internet has given everyone near-equal access. Using a phone, you can reach the world’s greatest minds via books, blogs, newsletters, courses, podcast interviews and social media.

Innovations closed the gap, but not completely. Sometimes it’s impossible to search for the knowledge you want to learn because those qualified to give relevant advice don’t publish public content. Hence, having personal bonds with mentors is still necessary. Thankfully, you needn’t be disheartened if you haven’t grown up in the orbit of world-class mentors. Indeed, if you’re strategic, it’s possible for anyone to identify and work with great mentors, and be a rewarding student along the way. Today’s blog post will show you how to find and learn from great mentors in a way that creates an optimal experience for everyone involved.

Identify Goals and Mentors

When focusing on mentors, it pays to work out what you want and how you plan to achieve it. Forethought and specificity are key. For example, say you want to become a “successful” author. What does that mean? Few people who set out to write a book actually publish. So, in many ways, any published author is successful. Is your goal simply to publish, or do you want a median income, or even a USA Today bestselling title? Authors who publish one book act and speak differently to those who publish 30 and sell 500,000 copies. Identify how the industry works, the relevant lingo, and what you want before you look for a mentor and this will give you clarity.

You also need to zero in on the right type of mentor. After all, not every USA Today bestselling author can give actionable advice. Barak Obama became one, but you’d probably struggle to mimic his tactics, unless you’re also a US President. An indie author like Mark Dawson or Pamela Kelley, who’ve constructed digital marketing pushes, are better equipped to give you actionable tips. Finding the right mentor is crucial. Once you’ve done that, however, learning from them is easy. Most proactive achievers are transparent and share a lot of advice online. All you need to do is get on their radar by using online or in-person networking tactics.

Align Your Ducks

Once you’ve identified your goals and potential mentors, get to work. That means doing everything you can before requesting their help. Consume their advice online and research any extra references they make that you don’t immediately understand. They key is to make as much progress as possible on your own. That way, you will use as little of a potential mentor’s time as possible and waste none of it asking for advice you could find elsewhere using independent research. Remember, before seeking active help, a good mentee:

  1. Consumes everything their mentor shares publicly
  2. Reads around the subject to fill in blanks they don’t understand
  3. Puts into practice everything they learn until they hit a roadblock

Say you want to hit the top of the Audible bestseller list with a psychological thriller. There’s little point asking a potential mentor for pointers until you’ve already written your book, got it professionally edited, commissioned a cover with a strong market fit, researched audiobook-specific marketing tactics, and drafted an initial launch plan. Turning up to a mentor fully prepared with your game pieces ready, a solid grasp of the rules and strategic questions is a sure-fire way to get information that will offer maximum insight and impact.

Show Your Research

Successful people encounter a lot of dreamers who want to do what they do. As enthusiasts, they love to talk about their specialist subject and are happy to teach. Disappointingly, though, the conversation often offers disproportional rewards. Bad mentees who want to drain them of information typically offer little stimulation in return. While they display enthusiasm, it quickly becomes clear that they don’t back up their words with actions. Good mentees, meanwhile, while rarer, demonstrate knowledge of the mentor’s work and ask relevant questions that go beyond the surface. They can keep a mentor engaged because they’ve done their research.

Want your mentee to talk to you like a peer rather than a fan? The fastest way is to act like a peer and not like a coasting college student who turns up unprepared. Learn their subject matter and ask deep, stimulating questions. This will benefit you twofold:

  1. It’ll show them you’re serious and fully understand what they do.
  2. It’ll enable them to skip surface-level questions and enjoy a deeper conversation.

Doing this, you’ll gain more valuable insights. Rather than getting vague advice like “write every day,” you’ll get more technical answers like: “A/B test Meta ads in advance and have one ready to deploy on slow sales days during an ad-stacking discount promo to achieve a sales bell curve. That’ll help you stick in the Amazon charts.” The more you already appear to know, the better the information they’ll give you.

Be Appreciative

The fastest way to lose a mentor is to act as if you’re doing themthe favour. In case you don’t know, a positive mentor-mentee relationship goes as follows: the mentor brings knowledge, the mentee brings enthusiasm. Say you’ve expressed an interest in learning how to exercise like a bodybuilder and, as a result, your mentor has written an exercise plan and volunteered to drive you to the gym to reduce friction. What’s the worst way you can react? Sigh and drag your feet. If they need to coax you to learn the skill you said you wanted, they’re providing knowledge and enthusiasm, which is draining and means you’re not upholding your half of the deal.

Likewise, being antagonistic makes you difficult to mentor. Say, for example, you approach a digital marker and think they’ll swoop in with a few tips and give you a 200% ROI overnight, but then you discover that their process requires a lot of work to perfect. The following comments won’t help:

“This strategy is too complicated.”

“A/B testing buttons won’t make a difference.”

“It shouldn’t cost this much to break even.”

Sure, if you realise early on that you aren’t prepared to do the work then let them know and cut everyone’s losses. However, if you’re going to persist, don’t frustrate your mentor with disparaging comments. Instead, be an enthusiastic student, ask questions and trust their process. Show your appreciation.

Develop a Bias for Action

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who talk about ideas and those who put them into action. If you want to impress a mentor and keep getting advice then you need to become the latter. This is because most people who become valuable mentors themselves typically got there not by talking but by gaining real-world experience. These individuals don’t complain about obstacles; they create an actionable plan and stress-test their ideas with real work to iron out any kinks. If they feel resistance, they figure out how to remove friction and get the work done anyway. They aren’t interested in talking endlessly about a goal they’ll never achieve.

Why is this relevant? Simply, it’s because action-oriented people struggle to empathise with dreamers. If they give advice, they assume you’ll put it into action. If they return days or weeks later and you’re still talking about the same problem you’ve done nothing to overcome, they’ll get frustrated. What’s worse is when a person makes no progress but keeps asking the same questions. Hence, if you want to keep a mentor and see progress, develop a bias for action. Don’t drop the ball whenever your mentor isn’t watching. Do the work and return with updates or new questions. That way, they’ll see the progress and know they invested their time well.

After following the tips in today’s article, you should be able to identify good mentors and develop positive relationships with them to help you achieve your goals. More than that, though, you’ll also become the type of person that today’s mentors want to teach and that tomorrow’s newbies want to know. You’ll replicate some variation of your mentors’ successes but also put yourself in good stead to join their ranks. Work well with mentors today and you’ll eventually find yourself in a position to pay forward their generosity when you too become a mentor.

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.