Every Writer Needs a Cartel

ernest hemingway had a cartel

Ernest Hemingway had a Cartel.
Do you?

When you think of the stereotypical writer, you might picture a silent, brooding genius who keeps to himself. A recluse who rarely ventures into the outside world except to “research” the lives of the subjects of his stories. You might imagine an entire profession of Emily Dickinsons, pale and contemplative.

However, for nearly every famous writer—from Ernest Hemingway to Virginia Woolf, J.R.R. Tolkien to Mary Shelley—this stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is that nearly every great writer had a Cartel.

What Is a Cartel?

A Cartel is an agreement amongst competitors.

The idea is that you and I are competing for the same, limited attention spans. We are both trying to get readers interested in our writing, trying to build a platform, and trying to sell our books.

However, instead of acting like competitors, we could choose to act like allies. By helping each other, you and I can multiply our efforts.

Hemingway’s Cartel

Ernest Hemingway was far from a self-made man.

Early in his career as a reporter, Hemingway made friends with a novelist named Sherwood Anderson. Anderson took an interest in Hemingway, eventually helping him get his first novel published. It was Anderson who convinced Hemingway to visit Paris and participate in the artist’s enclave popularized by the film Midnight in Paris.

In Paris, Hemingway met F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had just published The Great Gatsby. Hemingway had been writing short stories, but after reading The Great Gatsby, he realized that his next work had to be a novel.

Hemingway was also befriended by well known writers in Paris, including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, writers who, as he said, “could help a young writer up the rungs of a career.” It was Gertrude Stein who first named their Cartel of expatriate artists, “The Lost Generation,” a term Hemingway made popular in The Sun Also Rises, his first novel and the work that would make him internationally famous.

Great Artists Have Cartels

We think of great writers as silent, brooding geniuses, but the truth is they all had relationships like Hemingway had with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sherwood Anderson. These relationships inspired them and helped them get their first works published. Far from the exception, Hemingway’s story is the rule. Great artists are made by Cartels.

The good news is that today, building a Cartel is easier than it ever has been.

You just need to know how.

Get Over Yourself

As I’ve studied the lives of great writers, I’ve noticed a surprising pattern. They don’t act like great writers.

  • Great writers don’t act superior.
  • Great writers may be shy, but they aren’t aloof.
  • Great writers help other writers.
  • Great writers ask for help when they need it.

However, I see so many new writers doing all of these. They criticize other writers. They don’t read books by their peers. They may not ask for help, but they certainly don’t offer it either. In other words, they act like narcissistic brats, and it’s ruining their writing careers.

Hemingway did the opposite. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, about living as a young writer in Paris, he talks about how he actively sought out the advice of other writers he knew. He read all their books. He offered to edit and compile Gertrude Stein’s novel and basically single-handedly got it published (it would become The Making of Americans). He was generous, not selfish. He was vulnerable, not stuck up.

Isn’t it time you started helping your fellow writers? Isn’t it time you asked for their help in return? That’s what it takes to start a Cartel.

It’s Your Choice

Seeking out your Cartel isn’t safe.

It’s much safer to write on your little blog which no one reads. It’s much easier to send your writing out to literary agents and publishers, and then criticize them when they reject you.

It’s less scary to write in isolation, because what if they read your work and realize you’re not a great writer after all (share that on Twitter?)

Creating a Cartel is dangerous, vulnerable work. It’s also the fastest way to succeed as a writer. If you want to accomplish your writing dreams, maybe it’s time to stop playing it safe.

Get a Free Lesson

When I started The Write Practice nearly three years ago, I wanted to create a community of people who would help each other become better writers. As an extension of this community, we built Story Cartel, a place for writers to share their books and build their audience. Next week, I’m re-launching the Story Cartel Course, which takes the best from Story Cartel and The Write Practice and combines them into a powerful resource for writers.

At Story Cartel, we have worked with New York Times Bestselling authors, traditional publishers, and successful independent authors. Now, we’re bringing the secrets of the publishing world to you in a fun, highly educational course.

As a way to thank you for being part of this community, I’m offering a free lesson from the Story Cartel Course here. This lesson will help you deepen your understanding of writing and publishing, it will also give you a free sneak peak on the course.

I don’t want you to miss out on this, so sign up now.

Sign up to receive a free lesson from the Story Cartel Course about writing and publishing by clicking here.

How about you? Have you found your Cartel?


Finding your Cartel starts through sharing your writing and giving feedback to other writers. Do you have a blog post, short story, or article you’d like to get feedback on? Share the link to your post or a (short!) section of your short story or novel in the comments section (750 words or less, please).

Then, read the work of the other writers who shared and give your feedback. Try to mention two things you liked and one thing you didn’t like about their piece.

Afterward, smile. You’re one step closer to finding your Cartel.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • I can’t wait. Going to sign up now.

  • Very nice. I’ve signed.

  • I’ve resisted joining this long enough. I’m all in Joe!

  • Madison

    I’ve signed up. I genuinely needed this. I haven’t written in at least a month. 🙁

    • Sad day, Madison. Glad you’re in, though. 🙂

  • Are all story cartel books PDFs? I remember the first (and last) one I downloaded was. This is a major problem I have with it.

    • Nope. In fact, we have Kindle versions on all of our books but one this time around, and that one is coming soon.

      • Are these kindle versions protected under DRM? I don’t own anything that supports .MOBI files, but they can be converted fairly easily unless they’re DRMed.

  • I went researching. Before I sign up, I was wondering what is the cost. I don’t want to commit and then have to withdraw because I can’t afford it.

    • The cost for signing up for the free part is free. 🙂

  • They sure do.

  • This. Is. Awesome.

  • BK Alley

    They say free a lot, but it’s not free. (Notice he’s careful to say “the cost to SIGN UP is free”). Their site is deliberately misleading, which gave me a bad feeling, so I contacted them. The problem is, my exchanges with them just made me even more uneasy about who they are. Skin crawling uneasy, in fact. I don’t mind paying for services, but they need to be open and honest about the costs up front, not lure you in with “free” and then say “Oh, by the way, you have to pay.”
    That aside, paying for good reviews isn’t particularly ethical. A writer needs to get good reviews by writing well.

    • Hi BK. I’m so sorry for the delay. I just saw this now. I’m sorry you got an uneasy feeling from Story Cartel, but I think there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding. In the post above, I’m talking about a free lesson from the Story Cartel Course, an online course about how to write and get published, not StoryCartel.com, the service which helps authors get reviews on their books. I can definitely see how that could be confusing though.

      As for Story Cartel, we’d be happy to answer any questions through our contact form here: http://storycartel.com/contact/create, but as for your concerns, we don’t claim that it’s free (although, in the first year of our service, we didn’t charge a fee but asked authors to provide their own rewards, which may be what you were thinking about). At this time, it costs authors $30 to launch their book on Story Cartel. We take 1/3 of that as a way to cover our costs, and the rest goes back to the community.

      One thing I want to make very clear, we don’t promise good reviews, or any reviews at all, for that matter. The site slogan is “free books for your honest review.” Readers choose the books they want to read, and then share their honest feedback, whether positive or not. We don’t believe in paying for reviews, and we certainly don’t believe in paying for positive reviews. I’ve personally gotten 2 and 3 star reviews on my books through Story Cartel, so I can attest to that.

      Hope that helps, BK. Is there anything else I can help with?

  • Interesting, because I was going to post my experience about this by the end of the week. Very timely. I’ve been trying to start or join a cartel but can’t find the right group. Not many fantasy writers around here. Thank goodness for the internet.

    But not all writers are in competition thanks to genres.

    • Jennifer McGinnis

      Really? You have a hard time finding fantasy writers? I’m writing fantasy and that’s almost all I run into. Check out scribophile.com (can I put this link or site name on here)? I’ve developed a “Cartel” through many avenues, and that is one of the best. And a LOT of fantasy writers. Drop me a scratch pad note if you join. There’s a limited amount you can do free, and it’s very cheap to join as pro. But sign up free and take a look around. (I am in no way affiliated with them except as a satisfied user)

      • Of course. Thanks for sharing this, Jennifer. 🙂

        • Jennifer McGinnis

          Thanks didn’t want to step on your marketing toes or something. 🙂

      • Thanks Jennifer. I’ll definitely check it out.

    • I’ve gathered a number of fantasy writers into Sky Writers, a group I started that meets together on Skype every other weekend. I’m always on the lookout for dedicated writers. Always love to have another fantasy writer join. We’ve got about 20 members. No pressure at all though, join any time, leave any time.

      • This is great, James. I’m going to join the group now.

  • Mara

    If the worst feeling in the world is the one where you are going to be sick, the second worst feeling is waving back at someone who is not waving at you. The snooty girl from my French class had the biggest smile on her face – she was so happy to see me, I thought – that I was sure I had totally misjudged her. I was ready to forgive all her airs and attitudes. I smiled warmly back, took off my winter gloves, and prepared to give her a huge handshake, when she shook her head at me and gestured over my shoulder at Reynard, who stood behind me with his face wreathed in smiles. I’ve never liked Reynard. Should I pretend to be looking over her shoulder at someone else, or step on Reynard’s foot? The choices presented themselves the only possible solutions: if not (a) then (b).

    Of course, those weren’t the only choices, and I think somewhere I knew that I could just admit to making a little mistake. But to a teenager, a tiny mistake like that seems the most mortifying faux pas possible. I felt the need to choose, and choose quickly. And I’m not going to hide it: I was dreadfully close to making a terrible one. In fact, I think I might’ve begun to bring my heel off the ground. But as you’ve likely guessed by now, something prevented me from picking up my foot and thrusting it onto Reynard’s. Sure, he’d been irksome to me since the fifth grade, and sure, some of his actions in the past had bordered on bullying, but it wasn’t his fault that the stuck-up girl (whose name, it occurs to me, I didn’t even know) was fond of him.

    Still, you might be asking, what stopped me from going through with it? Well, I’ll give you one clue. Just one, so that in the moment it takes before you see the answer, you can take a good guess. It was the thirteenth of November. That’s all I’m giving you to work from— do you think you know? Whether or not you’re right, you’ll find out in soon enough.

    As the girl approached Reynard, my foot – which was by this point on its ball in an almost feline manner – faltered. Something had caught my eye: a poster for World Kindness Day, situated directly underneath a wreath adorned with delicate, velvet poppies. Above both items, a blue banner solemnly displayed the words, “Lest we Forget”. Remembrance Day had been two days ago, and I felt a sharp paroxysm of compunction at having forgotten all the event stood for: how terrible war (or any violence, really) is, and how lucky we are to have peace. As if that wasn’t enough reason to reprimand myself, it was World Kindness Day: an occasion to, as the name suggests, recognize the value of compassion and try to become kinder to others. I had been on the committees for the school activities associated with both days, and still I had almost been ready to give up on all the assets I had been extolling and encouraging for weeks in a single moment. No, I couldn’t choose that course of action.

    But my mind screamed at me to choose, and choose I did. I scanned the crowd of other early arrivals to school and, as luck would have it, noticed one of my friends waving back at me. I shook my head at the haughty girl from French class and pointed at my friend, in much the same manner as she had pointed to Reynard seconds before. She seemed surprised, maybe embarrassed, but it didn’t matter to me either way. I turned my foot’s slant into a spring with which I ran to my friend, and knew I made the right choice.

    • Very fun story, Mara. I like that you talk about something all of us have experienced (I had this happen to me today, actually!). It helps us identify with the character.

      The solution to her problem felt a little deus ex machina to me (http://thewritepractice.com/deus-ex-machina/). You say she chose, but in reality a lucky circumstance rescued her. What would it look like if (a) and (b) really were her only options? Which would she choose if she had no other choices.

      One last thing, the World Kindness Day thing was very funny. I liked that. What if she stepped on his foot just to spite the whole thing?

    • Joy

      Great story! Thanks for sharing. I think you portrayed the scene well. I could see it in my head. 🙂 And you definitely had me guessing with the thirteenth of November clue.

    • The story is amusing and a situation many of us experience over and over again, making a faux pas. For me, I think speaking directly to the reader is a distraction.
      Also, I had no idea what Nov. 13 meant. I don’t think it would spoil the fun if you explained the significance instead of asking the reader to guess.
      What would have happened if a real friend hadn’t appeared? I think a stronger ending would be if you braved the embarrassment with a shoulder shrug and some funny quip like, “Of course, it’s Reynard and you know the story about Reynard, the Fox, don’t you.?”

  • Joy

    Life is an ocean. Vast. Deep. And powerful.

    You float along this ocean, sunning yourself on the deck of your little boat on blissful days, and hiding for cover when storms rage.

    Slowly the strip of land that marked the beginning of your passage slips from view. You become better acquainted with your vessel, learning how to ride the waves of life and survive the storms.

    You sail further and further into the heart of this vast ocean of life. And then one day a startling question whispers to you as you sit alone on the deck of your boat. “Where am I headed?”

    You hadn’t considered that when you set sail. You had only dreamed of adventure. You had only wanted to sail. To be free. To live.

    You tell the question to leave you alone. But it haunts you, flitting through your mind at the oddest of times. And you still can’t answer it. You don’t know what lies beyond. You don’t even know where you are. You can’t go back to the shore you launched from. You’re on your own. You’re scared.

    The sky begins to darken and a low rumble pierces the salty air. As the fiercest storm you’ve ever fought rages against you, the answer to the question strikes your heart like the bolts of lighting in the sky. “Where am I headed?”

    Fear grips you as you realize that you are headed down. The waves are forcing your vessel lower and lower into the encompassing ocean. Yet you fight. Fight for the sake of life. Fight until your strength is all but gone, your boat all but sunk. Then you call for help.

    The storm still rages, but an unexplained peace wraps around your heart as you feel strength returning to your limp body. You continue to fight. Fight for the sake of life. And slowly the waves begin to calm. The lightening stops, and you discover that the morning has come. It dawns in brilliant hues against the clear sky above.

    The storm of the night before seems like a nightmare from your sleep. You almost excuse it as such. Yet you know it was real. You shudder at the thought of it. You remember your call for help and realize that something beyond yourself helped you survive the storm.

    Your eyes spot something on the horizon. Your heart skips a beat as you realize what it is. It’s a shore. A vast shore glistening in the sunlight. You wouldn’t have discovered it if you hadn’t survived the storm. The miracle of it all overwhelms you. You are headed somewhere. Somewhere beautiful. All you must do now is continue to sail toward that distant shore–your destination.

  • Since Story Cartel remains open to you after your first time, you can expect to see me there again, reading stories and sharing them.

    A short story I wrote at Story Cartel last time: Bystander Effect

    Because of Story Cartel, I started my own Cartel, Sky Writers. We are an international group of writers that meet biweekly to offer feedback, friendship, and advice to fellow writers. We currently have 20 active members.

  • Eric Pulsifer

    In some of my fiction I introduced the B.I.C. (Butt In Chair) Cartel as a group of stunted artistic types. But what’s even funnier is that soon after I started writing the thing, a few friends (a couple of writers and an artist) and I formed our own Cartel to encourage and push one another.

  • I would love to have feedback. Due to time difference (9h), I always hesitate taking a course hosted in the US. Hard to participate in the life parts. But here my writing. Thanks for your time. http://rickenba.ch/blog/en/2014/05/07/the-spirit-of-elijah/

  • Eliese

    I am signed up and excited. It looks really neat and helpful. Thanks 🙂

  • Shababa

    Hi! This is a first kiss scene & my second writing ever!

    It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. After we all had lunch, I went upstairs with my iPad. I laid down, the started reading on the couch when he came in. I sat up as he plopped down on the couch and pulled me onto his lap, his strong, warm hand wrapped around my shoulder and waist.

     ‘No, stay,’ he said softly.

     I flopped down on my back, laying my head in his lap. He  stroked my hair while gazing at me  with those dark chocolate eyes; eyes that I wanted to get lost in and never find my way back. His other arm was draped over my stomach, his fingers tracing small circles over my shirt around my hip. His touch was electric. We both were gazing at each other and I noticed he was breathing a bit hard. My wild heart was thumping like the tumbling of thunder. Then he slowly started bending down. I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, his lips were on mine. Goosebumps covered me from head to toe. His lips felt so soft and smooth, just like I thought they would. His lips didn’t move, just stayed there for a few precious moments. I wanted to preserve the moment. That was my first kiss. My first real one. A warm rush of heaven filled me. The whole world was turning. The feeling was so beautiful, it felt unreal.

    I felt his lips move away. Oh God, what if it’s just a dream? What if HE is just a dream? No, please don’t. It would hurt so bad.

    A few minutes passed. He didn’t say anything, just kept stroking my hair. My eyes were still closed. I was too scared to let go. 

    Then I felt his lips on my forehead. He placed a soft peck there and gently lifted then lied my head on the couch. I heard him leaving the room.

    • Your first post and this post show some good writing. Description is good; your emotions are well expressed. What is lacking is a beginning. These posts feel more like scenes from somewhere in the middle of a story. Who is the Him in the first post? It almost appears that he is an intruder breaking into your bedroom?
      In this second post you need to locate the girl and boy. Are they in her house alone? If this is the girl’s first kiss, she must be young. Would her parents allow her to be stretched out on the boy’s lap? How do they know each other?
      Keep these scenes for use in a story after you have introduced and developed the characters a bit.
      Good luck.

      • Hi! Thnx soooo much for reading!! And they are scenes from the middle of a book I’m writing. I posted these cuz these are the first things I write and I just wanted it see if they are good! Thnx!!!!!!!!

    • Sandra

      “My wild heart was thumping like the tumbling of thunder.”I would take out the word wild because the analogy describes well enough to me. “My heart was thumping like the tumbling of thunder.” Nice analogy though. Your words really work with the sensual feel of this piece. When you say the feeling was so beautiful. It felt unreal. I didn’t like this part because it beautiful and unreal are vague to me. When his lips moved away, and you are wondering if this is real, it is good because it shows the girl is already having a strong need for this man, but to me it comes out to fast and strong and seems a bit awkward. Other parts are really good and intense. I am not much for romance stories, but this draws me in. It is very intense.

      • Hi! Thnx for reading! I’ll make the changes! 🙂

  • Shababa

    Hi! This my first writing ever! Plzz give some feedback! Thnx!

    I brushed my teeth, turned on the water heater, then stepped into the hot relaxing spray. It was heaven. After a long hot shower, I shut the water off, dried away the droplets with my towel, wrapped it around me, and got out. Pulling on my cute, pink baby doll nightie, I turned on my AC, climbed onto my bed and drifted off to sleep.

    I woke up to something shivering slightly against me. No, it wasn’t something. It was someone. Him. 

    Though my room was quite dark, I could still see him as the moonlight filtered through my curtained windows. He was lying on his side, facing me. His head was tucked under my chin, his face buried between my neck and chest. His perfect mouth was parted slightly, releasing warm puffs of air across my collar bones. I could feel his chest rising and falling against mine. His strong arms were wrapped tightly around my waist. Our legs tangled together. He only had his boxers on. I was enveloped in his sexy, boy smell. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put a name on what he smells like. He smells like…him. So perfect. So beautiful. 

    I was holding him, too. When had he come in? I put my hand on his shoulder. He was cold. I slowly pulled the comforter from our waist and covered his bare shoulder. Reaching for the AC’s remote from my nightstand, I turned down the temperature. 

    Slowly I brushed a strand of his ink black hair from his forehead. He had stopped shivering now. I lowered my head and placed a soft kiss on his forehead before drifting off to sleep again.

  • This is the beginning of a story which I just wrote. The story is finished, but this is as much as I’ve typed.

    Mr. Carlson, a man in his late 50’s, closed the door to his
    apartment at 8:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning just as he did every week day
    morning. He wore a dark suit as usual, today a charcoal gray, white shirt and a
    gray and red stripped tie. In his left hand he carried a tan leather brief
    case. Nothing was different about him today
    except his shoulders slumped and his face looked drawn. Perhaps he hadn’t slept
    well or had had bad news. No one would ever know, because Mr. Carlson would not confide in anyone.

    For 23 years he had lived in the Marble Apartments and had
    seen many tenants come and go.

    He had a nodding acquaintance with some of the other tenants
    in the building and with the super and the doorman, but he had formed no

    “Keeps himself to himself,” Mrs. Bernardi in 4A,
    the apartment on Mr. Carlson’s left, had said to the tenants in 4C when they had
    moved into the apartment on his right. “Quiet man, he is. Plays the
    television real low. Never has company that I’ve seen. But he’s friendly. I
    mean if you pass him in the hall he’ll pass the time of day with you.”

    Like Mr. Carlson, Mrs. Bernardi was a long time tenant and
    had made his acquaintance when he had moved in.
    “I send him over some cookies or a cake now and then. He’s always
    grateful and sends me a thank you note. Very formal and polite, but, as I said,
    keeps to himself.”

    At the elevator, Mr. Carlson pushed the down button just as
    Mrs. Bernardi came rushing down the hall. “Just in time,” she said
    getting into it as the door was closing.

    Two or three times a week they rode the same elevator down
    in the morning. Mrs. Bernardi, a matronly woman carried herself well despite
    the extra pounds she squeezed into a tight corset every day.

    “Good morning, Mr. Carlson. It’s going to be beastly
    hot again. I hope the air conditioning is working at the children’s home. On
    Friday it wasn’t. Those poor kids. What they have to go through. I mean, the
    nuns do a great job, but they need more money, more volunteers. It breaks my

    “I’m sure they appreciate your help, Mrs. Bernardi.”

    “I do what I can.” She dug into a large shopping
    bag she carried and pulled out a flat moon-shaped Japanese fan made of rice
    paper. “You look a little poorly,Mr. Carlson. I expect it’s the heat. Here. Take a fan. I got a bunch of these for the kids.”

    “No, no. I couldn’t accept it. Keep it for the children.”

    “Well… if you’re sure.”

    Mr. Carlson nodded and stepped aside to let Mrs. Bernardi precede him from the elevator when it reached the lobby. Still holding the fan, she gave it to George, the security guard sitting behind a bank of computers. The high tech security system, installed 10 years earlier, had caused some complaints because of the rise in the rents and the worry about privacy. As time passed and crime increased in the
    city, they were glad to have Uncle Charlie’s All Seeing Eyes. That was George’s
    description of the security cameras placed in the elevator, halls,
    stairways, lobby, basement, garage and outside the building, both front and back.

    “Have a nice day,” Mrs. Bernardi called, waving an arm to include both George and Mr. Carlson.

    “Hey, Mr. Carlson,” George called. “You want this fan for the walk to the office? With the AC in here I don’t need it.” Thin and wiry, George wore a heavy sweater and still looked to be cold.

    “No thanks, George. Give it to…” Mr. Carlson couldn’t think of anyone to whom George could give the fan. ‘Give it to your children.”

    “I don’t have any. No wife, either. We divorced six years ago.”

    “Sorry to hear that. Well…good day.”

  • EndlessExposition

    I just joined Story Cartel and I was wondering: how do you leave reviews on the books you download?