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