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.

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