Resolve to be a good literary citizen in 2018

Need a worthwhile resolution for the New Year? Here’s one: Kick your literary citizenship game up a notch. Some tips:


  1. Support your local library. Oh, sure, a writer would probably rather that you buy her book, but libraries are important community institutions. They encourage literacy, and in the long run that’s a good thing for all of us. Plus, libraries buy books for their shelves. If you find that your library doesn’t have a book you want to read, ask them about it. They may be able to acquire it so other readers will also have access to it.
  2. Buy books. Whether or not the library has the book you want, you may be inspired enough that you want to own it. By all means, buy it! When possible, buy it from an independent bookseller or—even better—directly from the publisher. We all know that Amazon has low prices and fast delivery on just about anything, and some small presses depend on Amazon for distribution, the literary world would be better off if Amazon didn’t put everyone else out of business. If your local store doesn’t have a particular title you want and you aren’t in a hurry, let them order it for you. Or, with small presses, check out their website and buy direct. Have too many books already? Buy and then pass them along to friends or family!
  3. Spread the word. If you like a book, there are lots of ways to share your feelings about it with others. Tell your friends. Tell your book club. (Some authors may be available to visit your book club discussion in person or by Skype.) Someone like James Patterson and other writers who sell a gazillion copies of every book may not care, but it is extremely helpful for emerging writers if readers post reviews on and/or Goodreads (or similar social media sites). These reviews don’t need to be long—a sentence or two is often enough—but the number of ratings can be helpful. Formal reviews are a bigger step and can be harder to publish, but that’s worth pursuing, too, even if you only post your reaction on your own blog.
  4. Attend readings. I have frequently given a reading to which only one or two people showed up. I’ve organized readings by other people that had the same result, despite expending effort to publicize. Even other writers I know who could have come did not, for some reason. It’s disheartening when it happens, but it happens often. Go to readings if you hear about them. You don’t have to buy the book, although that’s nice, too. If an author is just doing a signing instead of a reading, stop by and say hello. It’s not an imposition, believe me.
  5. Write a fan letter. No, really. I’ve occasionally received emails or Facebook messages from readers who tell me how much they enjoyed one of my books. Maybe that does nothing for the aforementioned James Patterson, but it’s still a thrill to me. It’s encouraging, to say the least. We write in isolation. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that the work is being read.

There’s nothing particularly new about these tips for being a good literary citizen, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded now and then.

Tips for Writers: Being a Good Literary Citizen

citizenshipThis morning, a writer friend of mine posted some nice words on Facebook about my book, What the Zhang Boys Know. I appreciated his comments, and would have appreciated them even if he weren’t a terrific, well-regarded writer. He was being a good literary citizen, and it got me thinking about what that means. I had some thoughts about this myself, but a quick Google search revealed that another writer friend of mine, Cathy Day, has already given this subject a lot of attention–she teaches a course in it–and a couple of years ago wrote this blog post about it: Literary Citizenship by Cathy Day. Her piece pretty much covers everything I was thinking about, but let me reiterate.

Her first suggestion is to write a note to an author when you read something you like, or take that a step further–befriend the author on Facebook, or do an interview with the author that might appear in a magazine or a blog. Anything to spread the word.

The next one is related, and that’s to talk up good books. Write about them on your blog. Tell your friends. Tell the world! Review books on Amazon and Goodreads. Do full reviews and publish them in magazines or literary journals or newspapers. This is a big one for me. Especially when I read something published by a small press or an emerging writer, I’ll rate it on Amazon or Goodreads or both, and I’ll usually write a short review on my blog. It means a lot to authors, and it really does help sales.

Cathy also suggests that if you want to be published in literary journals you should read and support journals. Supporting means, at the least, subscribing. This is important advice. I subscribe to several and if every writer did that, the magazines wouldn’t be struggling to survive. On a similar note, if you want to publish books, Cathy suggests that you BUY books. I love that she doesn’t insist on paper vs. eBooks or Indie bookstores vs. Barnes & Noble or even Amazon. Just. Buy. Books. It’s important. (This one is easy for me. I love owning books.)

The last one Cathy mentions is a catch-all–be passionate about books and writing. She advises that if you live in a literary desert, create your own oasis by forming a writing group, talking about books, running a reading series, etc. These are all great suggestions–it’s something that I’ve done in my town with the SWAG Writers Group. It’s named for our town and county and we hold meetings and open mics and we host readings by visiting writers. It’s not that hard!

I would add one thing to Cathy’s list, and it’s really already implied, but I would urge writers to attend readings and other literary events. You don’t have to buy the book, although that’s nice too, but just show up. Be a responsive audience member. Lots of people attend open mic nights because they love to hear themselves read, but they don’t drag themselves out of the house to hear someone else read. That’s not good citizenship, in my book. Pay it forward and support your fellow writers.

Thanks to Cathy Day for her suggestions.