Here’s the thing. As authors, especially as independent authors, we end up relying on a lot of other people to help us bring our ideas into reality.  Don’t get me wrong, we shoulder an incredible portion of the workload all on our own. We are the people who are ultimately responsible for getting everything done. But we don’t work in a vacuum. We get help – possibly more than we actively realize – and without it we probably wouldn’t make it.

So it’s important for us to give something back to those people who assist us along the way. Some people we hire for professional work – they give us their time and expertise, and we give them money in return. But other people give us little pieces of things we need without expecting any type of compensation. Those are the people who can be so easily overlooked. And they are the ones who shouldn’t be.

All of this occurred to me earlier this week when my very best friend asked me to fill out a survey to help her with a business venture. Since she is my very best friend, and the type of person who would do absolutely anything I ever asked, I filled out the survey immediately without a second thought. Because that’s what we do for each other – we encourage each other. We find ways to participate in each others’ success. We check up on each other. We act as sounding boards and personal venting recipients, and anything else that it’s possible for us to be over long distances and with busy schedules.

But as I filled out her survey it occurred to me that my current book project was built on a set of assumptions about my target audience that might not be entirely accurate, and that a simple survey like the one I was currently taking would be a wonderful way to gauge whether those assumptions were, in fact, correct.

And so I went over to, (an awesome tool, by the way), created a free account, and put together a quick and simple survey to test my most basic of presumptions about my audience.  And then I went onto facebook and asked my friends and family to take 5 minutes to fill it out.

At first, nothing happened. Which is to say, I got 4 or 5 responses from my 4 or 5 closest friends and most facebook addicted family members. But I already knew what they thought about my topic. I wanted to know what other, average, anonymous people thought.

That’s when it occurred to me that what I was asking people to do was to help me. I was expecting them take the time and effort to give me information about themselves, even though I was asking in the most impersonal, generalized way. I wasn’t demonstrating that their individual input was valuable. I wasn’t giving them anything back. So why was I expecting them to care?

That got me thinking about what we can give to the people who help us along the way. Money isn’t always a reasonable option. Favors in return aren’t necessarily viable either. But the one thing that we can always give, the one thing that is always appreciated, is gratitude. So I changed my approach. I sent messages to people individually or in small groups (circles of friends who knew each other, for instance) explaining what I needed and why their help would be so appreciated. I told them that it was anonymous, and that if they weren’t interested that was fine (since I wouldn’t know anyway). And then I said thank you, in advance, for their help.

Within an hour I went from 4 responses to over 20, and ever since then the numbers have been steadily rising. The responses I’m getting have been incredibly enlightening, affirming some of my preconceptions and changing others. They’ve already helped to focus my thoughts and better construct my arguments. I know that they’re going to help me produce a much more relevant and compelling book.

The moral of the story is a simple one: don’t take people for granted. Your connections to them may be tenuous at best. Their contributions to your life and work may be minuscule. But if someone has taken even a moment to help you along your journey to success, they deserve your gratitude. It doesn’t cost you anything to say thank you. But the rewards of doing so can be immeasurable.

PS: If you want to take the survey, I’d love to get your feedback. It’s 9 simple questions about your dreams and aspirations, and what you’re doing to see them happen. It’ll take you less than 2 minutes, and who knows? You might even enjoy it 🙂