The literary community is much more than an abstract ether of rejection and acceptance letters syncing contemporary artists together on the web. It’s not just a hunky dory image of a spotlight on a youthful reader possessed by a fleeting muse in a coffee house. It’s real people and real connectivity in a real age of driven networking. Contemporary literature is a thriving community with its arms wide open.
The greater good the literary citizenry serves cannot be denied. Its members watch out for each other, keeping each other inspired and creative. They are a tight knit bunch as concerned with their own development as they are with the welcoming of every new voice joining the artistic conversation, which bubbles under keyboards from China to Chiquimundi and back.
But how do literary folks everywhere move past the warm and fuzzy conceptualization of community and become powerful movers and shakers within the group? It starts by owning up to his or her own potential to serve as an exemplary literary citizen. Being “exemplary” doesn’t mean owning a polished Submittable account with heaps of published work or being a traveled laureate. Literary citizenship starts with the smallest attempts to broaden one’s own experience, until all the ripples eddy into a big splash on the scene that will surely be as rewarding for the author as it is for his or her community.
The staff at Sundress meditated on the lofty subject of literary citizenship for awhile across various snowy summits in the Smokey Mountains and came to some pretty nifty conclusions. (Actually, we just solicited advice from loyal Facebook users. Thanks, friends!) Here are some of the best ways to be the best kind of literary citizen you can be.
1.Revive with Reviews
“Review some work you might not pick up otherwise unless you were going to review it. Try to learn from it and see its merits,” says Sandra Marchetti. Writing reviews is a great way to flip the breaker in your critical mind to spark some new ideas. Through evaluating the work of others, you can come to realize your own strengths and weaknesses, or even discover some new ones. Really excavating a work also gives you some key talking points within your literary community, points that could further the efforts of your peers.
But don’t just stop at reviewing creative writing! Go further, reviewing literary journals, non-fiction, and websites. T.A. Noonan encourages writers to cite the things journals and presses are doing differently or strongly. The Review Review is a great example of a voice putting literary journals under the microscope.
2. Harness Your Passions
It’s okay to be a stuttering, flabbergasted literary fan; but when the spasms stop, it’s time to promote your newly discovered sensation and create some internet buzz. “Be available to blurb/help promote on Facebook when new work from writers you love/admire drops,” says Sara Henning. Social media is a powerful tool most artists rely upon today, a tool only as effective as its constituents.
Speaking of social media, Lisa Marie Basile encourages us to “Read work by people you don’t know and share it across social media.” The next best thing to loyal excitement is distributing that same loyalty and pizzazz to other authors. Be brave. Branch out.
3. Self-help with Self-promotion
You’ll never be scolded for shouting off rooftops about your publishing victories, except by the neighbors. Sebastian H. Paramo writes, “Don’t be ashamed to self-promote where you have published or your friends’ work. It shows support for the press and encourages others to do the same.” Paramo makes an excellent point that success is all the sweeter celebrated and shared.
But moderation is key, for too much presence or a sudden jump in publication may lead to a misunderstanding of one’s place in the greater artistic landscape. Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker refers to such successful leaps as tipping points, or moments where one’s craft culminates in a sudden series of publications. Dana Guthrie Martin warns against such points, saying they can argue with one’s creative flow. “Never think you’ve arrived in terms of your own writing. You haven’t. You are always on the journey, just like everyone else,” Martin says.
4. Recognize Relevance
To further one’s public relations endeavors and really promote peers, it’s vital to work smarter, not harder in terms of utilizing connections. Rather than posting paper fliers for a reading or paying for feed space on Facebook, why not send an email to someone with some pull in the literary world? While Stephen King might not pick up the line, there are plenty of major and minor players with a variety of strengths. Gladwell campaigns for writers to recognize someone’s status as either a social butterfly, a specialist of a certain corner of knowledge, or a persuasive activist.
“Be able to identify these personality types in others, and you will not only be making friends and contacts in the literary world who will be people that you can relate to on a creative level, but who will also be advocates for your work in a post MFA world,” Gladwell says.
“Sponsor other writers by reading and sharing their work. Make a point of doing it *especially* when you get no political benefit from it,” Sara Biggs Chaney says. Chaney marks an important distinction between an alliance like the one Gladwell might foster and the idea of camaraderie for the sake of itself. Authorial friendships can launch entire movements once people began to discover their common goals.
6. Stop Trolling in Its Tracks
How many times has a perfectly constructive feed on the internet been derailed by a line of thought as trite as it is obnoxious? Debates that are anything but productive can pop up, and people can be downright shocking. Trolling happens, but Chaney brings up another form of feed policing that any committed literary citizen should take seriously. Aside from perusing for those in direst troll peril, try to up the anti of a literary discussion with your own two cents.
“… when you can, try to raise the level of discourse that passes between writers online. When you think that your perspective could help someone else or provide insight in any way, try to provide it. Don’t be cute or hateful just because you can,” Sara Biggs Chaney says.
7. Fight for Rights
“Stand with those who have been hurt or wronged by other writers. Say no to bullying, abuse, assault, and other transgressions that occur in the writing community,” poet Dana Guthrie Martin says. This social responsibility should not be taken lightly. Passivity towards injustices, whether spoken or typed, will only lead to a breakdown in our community. If any person should be unduly ostracized or their voice stymied by oppressive harassment, his or her fellow artists have every right to step in to defend one of their own.
8. Wear Appropriate Hats – Submit with Tact
Leslie Salas makes an excellent point on the issue of submissions and bruised egos: “Another addition: Don’t be an asshat to editors. (The amount of unprofessional grumpy whining we get when writers try to skip the slushpile or when they get rejections is ridiculous.)” Sad but true, editors are often overwhelmed, and all it takes is one email to make one’s day go from bad to worse. Try not to be that headache if you can help it.
Erin Elizabeth Smith goes on to advise all those submitting to journals to “Practice internet decorum.” Remember, anything you spew into the airwaves or onto a blog could spread like a bad germ. Accepting rejection, arguing a literary point, or posting a seemingly innocuous social media comment must be handled with integrity and grace. Not a proverbial curtsy in the style of a Jane Austen heroine per se, but grace nevertheless.
9. Suit Up and Show Up
While the internet and its multitudes are a great way to grow closer to one’s craft and reach an audience, a vast and very tangible marketplace of indie book stores, zines, and release parties are alive and well in the digital era. Literary citizenship should be a hands-on experience in the backyard, one that fosters the same frantic DIY attitude the draft process instills. Dana Guthrie Martin says friends and fans should show their support for presses and their catalog of authors by arriving in person to their respective events.
Don’t let the unknown keep you at home. A roster of readers or a press you are unfamiliar with at a local event may be the perfect way to unveil a fresh scene or make new, productive connections. “Go up to people you don’t know whose work you like and say it was good,” Lisa Marie Basile advises. That’s always a good way to break the ice.
Don’t know where to find such events? The websites of local bookstores, small presses, and MFA programs often cite imminent events. Annual art festivals occasionally sprout up that feature literary readings, such as the Pygmalion Festival in Champaign, IL.
10. Escape Comfort Zones Before You Zone Out
Last but not least, carrying out the role of a good literary citizen means being equally good to yourself: change things up despite your authorial goals. Varying one’s literary intake makes for surprises in the craft process, and personal discoveries lead to public discoveries upon their acceptance by a journal or press. Dana Guthrie Martin expands upon this, saying that writers can box themselves up if they are not careful.
“Read writing that challenges you so you don’t fall into the habit of liking one kind of work. At least learn to appreciate aspects of work that doesn’t exactly speak to you,” Martin advises.
In the interest of breaching each of our literary routines, below is a list of sites for anyone interested in fulfilling and broadening their role as a literary citizen. May this list and the ten points above serve ye well.
Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.
Photo courtesy of Allie Marini Batts.