Each one of us has some experience, wisdom or encouragement to pass on to somebody younger or less experienced than we are. Recently I was the recipient of such mentoring, and I gained so much from the encouter. Here are several valuable lessons I learnt about mentoring that I hope to incorporate into my own relationships.

Tony is a well-known and highly respected British publisher, and on the second night of the LittWorld Publishing Conference I had a one-on-one “mentoring session” scheduled with him. I was rather terrified. I have never spoken directly to a publisher (having only ever corresponded by email with the lower echelons of publishing houses ) and the fact that he wore a bow tie and spoke a little like I imagine a duke would speak, did nothing to alleviate my nervousness.

Under his intense gaze, I stumbled through a presentation of my book proposal. Then he asked some questions. Not just any old questions. Really difficult questions, that had me stumbling some more. I left that session feeling a little shattered. However, the next day he asked to see my manuscript, and over the course of the week he read 12 chapters of it. On the last day he returned it with his written feedback.

It has taken a few weeks for me to realise the great value of what Tony gave me. Here’s what he taught me about mentoring:

Give freely of your time and experience

Tony listened intently as I spoke; he was fully engaged. After an intensive day’s programme, he still sat up at night reading my manuscript. He invested himself in my manuscript, and in me.

Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions

Tony saw the weaknesses in my manuscript and was not afraid to hone in on them. Sure, this might have left me feeling a little fragile initially, but ultimately it’s what I needed to hear. In wrestling through the questions, I gained insights that will ultimately equip me to improve my book.

Don’t be gushing in your praise, but highlight strengths

On his entire A4 sheet of handwritten notes, there were two statements that buoyed my spirits. I quote: “You are doing a lot of things right,” and “I encourage you to keep going.” This might not sound like high praise, but I value these words as much as I value all the suggestions Tony made. We all need encouragement, but it needs to be sincere. These two simple statements meant more to me than a whole page of insincere gushing ever could.

Give specific suggestions for improvement

Tony was very specific in areas that needed improvement. He also gave me some recommended reading to enhance that advice.

Allow for follow-up

Once I have worked on the areas Tony highlighted, he would like to see my manuscript again. The idea that there will be follow-up is a great motivator for me as I do the required work on improving my book.


Tony gave me the wonderful gift of his time and experience and I hope I will have opportunities to pass this along in as gracious a way as he did. There are many people who need our encouragement. Let’s not shy away from building these mentoring relationships and passing on all that has been given to us.

I’d love to hear who has been your greatest mentor, and what lessons you learnt from them.