How to Be a Good Literary Citizen

How to Be a Good Literary Citizen

by TWC Founder/Director Judith Lindbergh

As writers, most of us accept that our work is a lonely business. But when we raise our heads from our manuscripts, we love to know that there is, in fact, a lively community out there, cheering us on.

That community is generally less bounded by geography than by passion. Our dearest writing fellows may be just down the block or on the other side of the world. We turn to them for comfort, guidance and advice, mostly privately over coffee, in Facebook forums, email messages, or on Skype. When we ask them to read our raw pages, they usually say, “Yes!” and within weeks, come back with thoughtful comments and suggestions to revise. And, quid pro quo, we do the same for them.

This is what it means to be a literary citizen. But sharing coffee, comfort, and pages is just the start. Being a good literary citizen means engaging in the conversation and getting noisy in the greater world.

Being a good literary citizen means engaging in the conversation and getting noisy in the greater world.

Books compete with lots of other forms of media. Whether it’s video games, whatever’s hot on Netflix tonight, the exhausting 24-hour news cycle, or your kid’s soccer tournament, people have plenty to keep them busy even in their “free” time. So picking up a book out of the myriad options is a long-shot at best. And a book by a lesser or unknown author is really bucking against the odds. In the publishing business, this issue is called “discoverability” and most authors feel like they’re shouting into a thunderous crowd. How will anyone know that our book is there? So when someone in our community has a book coming out, as good literary citizens, we get behind them and start making noise, doing all we can to help raise awareness and give that writer and that book the best possible chance of being found.

Most writers aren’t blessed with a celebrity’s social media “platform” (a word that fills my body with shivers of dread). But agents and publishers often expect us to, even demand it. So we rely on our literary friends. For years, Michelle and I have participated in a historical novelists’ private Facebook group which supports other writers in that genre. Whenever someone has a book coming out, we post the cover image on our own pages. We shout for their good reviews and nearly everything we lay eyes on. As often as we can, we attend their book events and readings; and when we can’t, we share them with other friends who might stop by. This is part of our effort to be good literary citizens, members of the writing community, involved, vocal, working together to give everyone their best shot.

As good literary citizens, we get behind them and start making noise, doing all we can to help raise awareness and give that writer and that book the best possible chance of being found.

At TWC, we do the same for our instructors. Last year, we were thrilled to host Lisa Romeo’s book launch for her long-awaited memoir, Starting With Goodbye. And just a few weeks ago, we did the same for Donna Baier Stein’s latest collection of short stories, Scenes from the Heartland. Lisa was published by University of Nevada Press and got quite a bit of support; but university presses have limited marketing budgets, so Lisa did much of the legwork. A small press like Serving House, Donna Baier Stein’s publisher, has even less. And, to be truthful, even a “Big 5” publisher doesn’t always give writers the support they really need. Only bestselling authors get those full-page ads in The New York Times Book Review. (But who reads actual paper any more?) In publishing, you have to already be someone to get attention. So, to build up the buzz, we rely on our literary community.

Next Thursday, April 11, I’ll be chatting with literary friend Kris Waldherr in person at Words Bookstore about her debut novel, The Lost History of Dreams. I’ve known Kris casually for some time through Michelle, but Kris is also friends with other writers in my literary circle who are adding their voices to the cheers.  I remember the excitement when this happened to me, and how all my writing friends, my co-workers at HBO, and even my old boss at the midtown law firm (who didn’t fire me for writing in my spare time on the job), came to my readings and supported me.

Now we’re gearing up at TWC for 2020 when we’ll be cheering on Michelle and her historical novel Beyond the Ghetto Gates. You’ll see we’re already at it, sharing her blog posts about her adventures in hybrid publishing. Often, as we work side by side, we tangent into marketing-speak, trying to come up with strategies that will launch her book off the ground and help it soar.

If you want to be a good literary citizen, head over to your local bookstore and see what events are coming up. (And buy a book while you’re at it. Local booksellers are literary citizens, too!) You just might meet a great local author whose work you’ll fall in love with and who might fall in love with yours. Friend and follow other writers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter–not just those untouchable wonders who make it to the bestseller list, but the people who are circling in the outer sphere, who are grateful to hear from you and truly welcome your support. Share when other writers have something exciting going on. Join writers groups and organizations online and in the flesh. Meet and hang out and offer to share and read pages. Show up. Participate. Help make noise.

Most writers will never be bestsellers, and as lovely as that would be, that’s hardly the point. But just like the heavens, there is room for countless stars. And every now and then one seems to shine just a little brighter because everyone is pointing to that one special spot and shouting, “Look there!”


Related Posts

Brave New World for Words, or What I Learned at the Author (R)evolution Day Conference – Part I

Brave New World for Words, or What I Learned at the Author (R)evolution Day Conference – Part I

I couldn’t decide if it was my personal “coming out party” for my latest book or my moment to come to terms with reality. But with a new novel very nearly ready to share, I knew I had to get back in touch with the […]

The Mystical World of Historical Fiction by novelist Stephanie Cowell

The Mystical World of Historical Fiction by novelist Stephanie Cowell

Stephanie Cowell is a very old friend. For those of you who’ve been in my classes before, she’s the “Stephanie” I mention enviously (in the most generous of ways) when she got her first book contract so many years ago. She’s a novelist of inestimable […]



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *