4 Ways To Earn Your Literary Citizenship Card
Why Indie Authors Need to Stick Together
by Jan Flynn
If you’ve spent time in any kind of writing community — virtual or physical, in a class, a workshop, a critique group or just over coffee with your writing buddy — the term “literary citizen” is not new to you.
As an example, in 2013 Chuck Sambuchino posted an online piece, 5 Ways To Be a Good Literary Citizen for Writers Digest, in which he exhorts writers to be ready and willing to honestly promote others’ work with helpful blurbs and reviews, to read and critique others’ works in progress, to support literary magazines and publishers through subscriptions and book purchases, to recommend others’ work on social media.
Keeping the engine that supports the whole literary establishment chugging along, after all, is more and more the responsibility of writers.
In 2014, Becky Tuch published a Salon article titled More Work, No Pay: Why I Detest Literary Citizenship bemoaning that reality, noting that writers are asked to take on an ever increasing share of the promotional burden by the very industry that profits from their labor. With publishers spending less and less on marketing and with the demise of the chain bookstore, it’s writers who are expected to take up the slack. Since we do all the reviewing and posting and tweeting for free — or at our own expense — it’s a nice deal for the publishing establishment.
Whether there really is a publishing establishment in 2017, or more of a beleaguered fortress clinging to the edge of a cliff eroded by the seas of change, it’s clear that writers need community. On this point, Sambuchino and Tuch agree. And it’s more important now than ever.
Yes, we do our primary work alone. But we can’t do it in isolation. Some of us love the solitude of our writing garret (whether that garret is actually a cabin in the woods, a coffee house or an airport terminal), while some of us have to nail our pants to our chair to get ‘er done, but soon enough the time comes to share our words with someone else.
It doesn’t take us long to learn that the most helpful and most compassionate readers of our early drafts are, almost always, other writers. And once we are published, it is indeed other writers who are going to be some of our best allies in getting that work seen by the reading public.
Besides, if we’re going to have any fun at all — and I fail to see why any of us would take on such a Sisyphean task as fiction writing unless there was some fun to be had along the way — we needs us our peeps, right?
So yes, please, blurb and review and tweet and post on behalf of your writing brethren. But to progress from literary visa status, from bookish green card to full literary citizenship, here are four more requirements, in my view.
Excuse me, would that be the sound of your eyes rolling? Did I just point out the wildly obvious?
If you honestly spend a portion of every day reading, and by that I mean reading like you used to before you became a writer with a capital W — you know, curled up on your favorite whatever, totally absorbed while the rest of the world twirls on unheeded, reading for pleasure — then feel free to bypass this admonition. Relax your spinning eyeballs and move on.
But if, as I suspect, most of the reading you do nowadays is critical reading, or informational reading, or any kind of obligatory reading — for which there is absolutely a place, don’t get me wrong — then please, please carve out some time to settle in with a good book or poem or story, one you’re reading just because you want to, and recapture the magic of what got you started on this journey in the first place. Do this every day if you possibly can.
If you want to be a storyteller, after all, you have to be a good listener.
2. Be Someone’s Jiminy Cricket
You recall Pinocchio’s little pal, who stood by his puppet friend every step along the bumpy road to becoming a real boy? Even if you’re a new writer, there is another writer somewhere nearby (because writers are like spiders: wherever you are, there is at least one within six feet of you) who needs a Jiminy Cricket.
A coach, a cheerleader, a mentor, a conscience. Someone to be accountable to. Someone to keep them plugging away when things are tough, and someone to praise them when they achieve goals that nobody but another writer can appreciate: a word count surpassed, a query sent, a rejection bravely endured. Be that someone for another writer. It’s nice to be needed. Cue When You Wish Upon A Star.
3. Be a Fierce Guardian of Time
Guard your own as well as others’ time. While I advocate generosity, you are your first responsibility when it comes to time management. Be judicious about what you say yes to, so that you can say it wholeheartedly when you do. Be honest when you have to say no. Demonstrating respect for the one resource that none of us can buy has a halo effect; it encourages others to do the same.
4. Lighten Up
Sure it’s a tough ol’ world out there in publishing land, but nobody held a gun to your head and made you be a writer. Nor does the tough ol’ world or anybody in it owe you success. Do your best, take your shot, be proud of what you’ve achieved that’s within your control, and let the rest go.
Nurture your sense of play — productive play, I mean, not indulgence in time-sucking distraction — at every opportunity. Forget the tortured artist thing, unless she’s a character in your novel. This is a good reason to have set writing hours, because it means you therefore have hours that are not about writing. There’s more to you than your word count.
Go forth, literary citizens, and make the world a better place for writers. One in which literary immigrants and refugees are welcome with open arms. Just sayin’.
Find more writing and publishing tips at Nothing Any Good.
About the Author
Jan M. Flynn is the author of Corpse Pose: And Other Tales, a collection of Twilight Zone-esque short stores, released on Amazon’s Kindle Select in January, 2017. You can also find Jan’s work in literary journals including Midnight Circus, The Binnacle, and 2017’s Noyo River Review, as well as anthologies. “Cord,” a tale placed in an alternative, haunted American past, appears in Into The Woods (Hic Dragones) to be released in March, 2017.
Flynn’s short stories have won both First Place and Honorable Mentions in Writer’s Digest annual competitions. Her debut novel The Moon Ran After Her is based on the experiences of women in her extended family who survived the Armenian Genocide. A member of the Napa Valley branch of California Writers Club, Horror Writers of America, and Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, Jan posts regularly to her blog at JanMFlynn.net. She lives in Northern California with her husband Michael.