Some New Literary Citizens

I’m so excited to share some of the work my students have been doing so far this semester.

I teach a class called “Building Your Author Platform.” The focus is to help our Professional Writing students who want to write books or in some way work with books build that platform so needed in the publishing world. I designed the class a few years ago after I studied under Professor Cathy Day at Ball State University in a class that focused on literary citizenship.

Much of the writing world is online—and as my students become a professional writers and/or prepare to be professionals in the publishing world, they need to be in that online community. In my class, I try to help them understand what it means to join the writing world “out there” and professionalize themselves in their writing careers.

I teach them about becoming good literary citizens and being ready to enter the literary world upon graduation. They learn how to use social media strategically to build networks with the people they need to know, to add to the conversations going on in their field of interest or writing genre, and to understand what to say and the best avenues to say it.

maranatha
Here we are at Maranatha Christian Writers Conference.

They spend the first part of the semester figuring out who they are and what they’re passionate about. They build a personal website centered around that passion. They look for other websites and blogs by people they admire–other writers or publishing professionals. They join Twitter or learn to use Twitter more strategically by building their tribe. They write “charming notes” (explained further here).

They each reported on different social media platforms and how they might use them to expand their tribes (Facebook pages, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Goodreads), and we talked about where each of them might best need to “hang out” depending on where their tribe members are. We played with newsletter programs and created sample newsletters.

And every year I learn something new from them. This time around, since I do have a book coming out next summer, I realized that I need to do some polishing up of my social media presence. I learned from a student about Goodreads author pages–so I went in and built one. I’m also working on creating a newsletter. (Stay tuned!)

Here’s what my students have been up to:

(1) My student Jessie is a constant learner–someone who might suddenly have a question and can spend several hours researching and learning about something new. She decided to call her website Pioneer Curiosity, and there you will enjoy following along with her to learn about the next new thing.

(2) Taylor wants to be an editor (be still my heart), so she has created a website dedicated to the things she’s learning, the magic of words and great books, and the work she is ready to do for you! Check out Taylor Editing for her writing about this love of words–as well as her pricing for freelance work!

(3) Laura can write just about anything, but she loves writing about local people and things that get her out talking to someone interesting or visiting something amazing. Local is anywhere that you are, so she writes about Exploring Local and finding the fascinating things in your own backyard!

(4) Ari’s special interests include world-building and languages. She’s a fantasy and science fiction writer, a world-builder, and a conlanger (a person who constructs original languages). So over at The World-Maker’s House, she’s talking about those worlds that live in the minds of writers, worlds they’re trying to get on the page for their readers.

(5) Becca is graduating soon (as in a few weeks), and she has discovered a passion for helping young women with the pesky details of “adulting.” Tackling issues like budgeting money or polishing a resume or handling stress, her Extraordinary Young Women site will be helpful for any extraordinary young woman about to embark on the adult world.

maranatha-2
When you take students to a writers conference and wi-fi is an issue in the townhouse.

(6) Chrysa has already been around the block a few times–she came into class with an active blog and strong social media presence (oh yeah, and a couple of completed book manuscripts that she has pitched at writer’s conferences). Her delightful blog, Chrysa’s Corner, includes book reviews and advice on munchies to eat when reading and details of her journey as she tries to get her books published.

(7) Alycia also came into the class with a blog already up and running. Over at Just Be Lovely, Alycia talks about the things that happen in her world and offers to bring you along on her journey. You’ll find thoughtful, heart-breaking, and delightful posts on many different topics.

(8) Marshall, our one lone male in the class, is a gamer and a writer of speculative fiction with a “slight lean toward the darker things” as it says on his Twitter profile. This is a totally foreign world to me, but Marshall has given me new appreciation for the story aspect of gaming. Find out more at Stories from Dice.

I’m always amazed at how creative my students are. This talented group of men and women will soon be unleashed upon the world.

Look out.

 

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Building an Author Platform–One Board at a Time

The students in my “Building Your Author Platform” class have been busy. We spent the first couple weeks of this class figuring out who we are as writers and who we need to be out there online. They thought about what they write, their interests in both reading and writing, where they want to take their writing, and who they want to meet out there and add to their “tribes.” I have a couple of students who write psychological horror/thrillers, several who write fantasy/sci-fi, a Star Wars fanatic, some YA writers, a student who doesn’t want to write but wants to promote books (bless her!), a scientific writer (she even has a moth of the month you can learn about!), and a couple who are also just multi-talented and still figuring it all out.

They then built their websites to go along with the sort of “brand” they’re creating of themselves. Then, following principles of literary citizenship, we’ve talked about how the best way to “network” is not to “network” per se but to simply to be interested in what other people are doing. They’re writing charming notes each week to someone they admire. They’re following and commenting on one another’s blogs and blogs of writers they admire and want to add to their tribe. They’re tweeting (and tweeting and tweeting and tweeting . . .).

I love it when a student stops by my office to say, “My tweet just got ‘favorited’ by my favorite author!” and they begin to realize that reaching out simply means a tweet, a retweet, or a kind comment on a blog. I want them to understand that, once they leave this college cocoon where they’re surrounded by likeminded writers who understand them, they will be out in the bigger world where, chances are, fewer people “get” them as writers. They will need that online “tribe” that continues to discuss the various virtues of the new Star Wars trailer or the plot line of the latest Brandon Sanderson book or whether their own character in the latest story is speaking in a believable way (“Let me just read you this . . .”). The tribe is a place where they can continue to join the conversation about things that matter to them.

Your platform--where is it taking you? How's the view?
Your platform–where is it taking you? How’s the view?

I tell them that they will need to attend a writers conference — hopefully once a year — to get recharged and reinvigorated. They will need to continue to buy and read books (that doesn’t seem to be an issue with this group).

This past week we also listened to the pitches of those students who have books in the works. I wanted them to both practice writing proposals and pitching those proposals to agents. Half the class is in that position, so the other half acted as agents and I gave the authors five minutes to sit down in front of an agent, give their book’s synopsis, and be calm and professional all at the same time. It was great practice for that opportunity they will have sooner or later to actually pitch that finished book.

Platform building isn’t all about me, myself, and I — which I think is why many people are scared of it. No, platform building is about building a network of likeminded folks both in your physical world and online — caring about them, sharing their work and their words, joining the conversation, and rejoicing with the successes that happen in the group. Then, one day, when success comes knocking on my students’ doors (as I have no doubt it will), they have a group ready to celebrate with them.

One board at a time. Reach out to your favorite authors in your genre. Thank them for something. Comment on their blog posts. Share your work and your thoughts on your own blog. Take your time, because it will take time. But the time to start is now–even if you don’t have a book to sell. Just go out there and join the conversation. You have something important to say.

How to Support an Author’s New Book: 11 Ideas For You

So last week I talked about Literary Citizenship and why I love it. A key, of course, is supporting our fellow authors. In fact, that’s what it’s all about. Chuck Sambuchino offers 11 ideas for how we can support new books.

Writers In The Storm Blog

By Chuck Sambuchino

large_5595133805My Writer’s Digest coworker, Brian A. Klems, recently geared up for the release of his first book — a humorous guide for fathers called OH BOY, YOU’RE HAVING A GIRL: A DAD’S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO RAISING DAUGHTERS (Adams Media). On top of that, my coworker Robert Brewer (editor of Writer’s Market) recently got a publishing deal for a book of his poetry.

So I find myself as a cheerleader for my writing buddies — trying to do what I can to help as their 2013 release dates approach. I help in two ways: 1) I use my own experience of writing & publishing books to share advice on what they can expect and plan for; and 2) I simply do whatever little things I can that help in any way.

This last part brings up an important point: Anyone can support an author’s…

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Why I Love Literary Citizenship

Much is being written lately on the topic of literary citizenship. Since this was the topic of my Master’s final research paper, I thought I’d go ahead and weigh in with my two cents. (I could write 50 pages, but I already did that. Let’s see if I can condense my thoughts here into a readable blog post!)

I just happened upon this term in the last couple of years–but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. You see, I’ve worked in publishing for thirty years and went back to school with the hopes of teaching at the college level. As I sat under Cathy Day, she (thankfully) talked to her students about what’s out there in the real world–how to join the literary world, how to get published, how to organize submissions, how to handle rejection, and how to find their “tribes” once they leave the cocoon of a university writing program–everything I already knew was extremely important for writers to understand.

I was thrilled that she talked about this because too often (I feel) creative writing programs focus only on craft without giving students the tools to know what to do with their writing. Yes, I get it. You have to first be a good writer, no, an excellent writer. That’s a given. Roxane Gay puts it this way:

You’re not going to become a better writer by focusing more on getting your writing published than writing work that merits publication. You won’t become a better writer by resenting the success of others or spending most of your time indulging in conspiracy theories about publishing. Yes, sometimes the game is rigged, but mostly it is not. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things when so much information about writers and what they’re doing or could be doing is readily available via social networks, blogs, and the like.

So of course, being great writers is step one, and I don’t advise that writers let themselves get distracted by the marketing side at the expense of their product. But, after thirty years in publishing, I come at this with a different perspective, and so I maintain that students should be taught what to do with their writing. How to research the literary magazines or the online sites or the commercial magazines or the book publishers that might be interested in their kind of writing. How to write query letters. How to approach an agent. How to create a book proposal. That’s all part of learning to write.

Because, in the end, while writing can indeed be an end in itself, most of us write because we want people to read what we wrote. We want to share it.

And I’m sure it’s my years in publishing talking, but I’ve sat on the other side of the table, needing to help authors understand the importance of marketing their own books.

I know, what a pain after doing all the work of actually writing the book to have to be burdened with actually doing the marketing, too. Isn’t the publisher supposed to do that? That’s the question Becky Tuch asks and precisely why she detests literary citizenship.

But I understand the business side of publishing; it is a business after all and, if it doesn’t make money, none of us gets published. And yes, all those big-name authors get all of the marketing dollars and the rest of us are left pretty much to fend for ourselves, but there’s a reason for that as well. There’s a statistic in Christian publishing that says 9 percent of the authors sell 80 percent of the books. That means that 9 percent of writers are pretty much carrying their publishing houses. So let them have the marketing dollars! In secular publishing, the number may be similar–and we can be sure that it is indeed the big names who get taken care of. Those authors help keep their companies open, which then allows them to take a chance on little ol’ me.

But here’s the deal–literary citizenship is not to be entered into because you want to sell your books. Instead, it’s about joining Renaissance Fairethe literary world because that’s who you are. Just as you might identify with those who join the worlds of ComiCon or Renaissance Faires because you have an affinity for comics and superheroes or feathered caps and falconry, so you join the world of Words and Books as a literary citizen because that’s who you are. You join with like-minded people to talk about what you love best.

The side effect of being “neighborly” in that world (by doing what many lit cit blog posts have discussed regarding ways to be literary citizens) is that when your article or book is published, you can naturally talk about it with those who care–and who will, in turn, talk about it with others. That’s where the “marketing” part actually begins to happen.

But literary citizenship doesn’t start there. It doesn’t start with “marketing” or “selling.” It’s not all about us. It’s not all about “gimme” as in “gimme your attention–me me me” as David Ebenbach describes in his article, Literary Citizenship Does Not Mean Gimme. Instead, it’s about joining a world of word lovers–reading, appreciating, talking about, and sharing one another’s work.

So let’s not hate literary citizenship, let’s embrace it because, in essence, it’s who we are. Let’s come together in this world of Words and Books enjoying what we love most and making sure it continues for all of us for a long, long time.

 

 

Senior “Citizen”-itis

I was speaking to a former student the other day, a 2013 Taylor University graduate who took my Editing class a few years ago. I mentioned that I am winding up my three-year endeavor to obtain my master’s degree. My final thesis/research paper was turned in and, at that moment, I wanted to be done. I said, “I guess I have senior-itis.”

He got a little glimmer in his eye and said, “It’s a joke, I shouldn’t say it.”

“What?”

“You really have senior ‘citizen’-itis.”graduation

Hardee har har.

I’m not quite there, Drew. But I’m getting close. And oh my. You’re probably right.

With a pile of copyediting projects to grade (the extensive project seemed like a good idea when I assigned it), several more class papers to write, and freelancing jobs stacking up, I was feeling so ready to put the whole “homework” thing behind me.

And I need my full eight hours every night. As my dear Grandpa Chaffee used to say, “Gettin’ old and decrepit.”

Being an older student has been wonderful and full of high points–which I talked about in this post. If I had to do it over, I don’t think I’d do it any other way.

I’ve found new friends I will cherish forever. I have some great new writing opportunities to work on in the coming year.

And I’ll admit. When I began the program I had a bit of an attitude: “I’ve been in publishing for thirty years, but apparently I don’t know anything until I have a master’s degree.” But thanks to amazing professors at Ball State I learned how much I needed to learn–and will always need to learn–when it comes to this wonderful field I’ve been occupying for so long. Writing never gets old. Editing is a skill that requires constant sharpening. Publishing is changing as fast as I can flip the pages in the nearest book. To truly be a professional, I need to keep up with my literary citizenship pledge and keep on writing!

It’s been tough, full of ups and downs. I’ve shed a few tears. I’ve felt on top of the world. I’ve felt like a total loser. When I’d look at a new syllabus and bawl my eyes out, my husband would always say, “You can do this. Every new class you think you can’t, and then you rise to the challenge. You can do this.”

We’re almost there.

It’s good to have a cheerleader. Even a senior-citizen one.

 

(Photo credit: By Cary Bass (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])

Cathy Day’s principles of Literary Citizenship

It’s been a little over a week since the Midwest Writers Workshop, held annually here in Muncie, Indiana, sent many writers back to their computers to hone their craft. One thing about this particular conference is our focus on helping our attendees not only learn more about their craft, but also to become good literary citizens. What does that mean? Although I wrote much about this topic early this year on my blog, I offer you Cathy Day’s latest post on her Literary Citizenship website as a great reminder to all of us writers that we need one another.

Literary Citizenship

Cross Post Alert: I published some initial thoughts and principles about literary citizenship, in March 2011 over at The Bird Sisters, writer Rebecca Rasmussen’s blog dedicated to artists and writers. I got a lot of my ideas from this post on the Brevity blog.

Literary Citizenship

I’ve been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years now, and here’s something I’ve observed: what brings most people to the creative writing classroom or the writing conference isn’t simply the desire to “be a writer,” but rather (or also) the desire to be a part of a literary community.
Deep down, we know that not everyone who signs up for the class or the conference will become a traditionally published writer. Well, so what? What if they become agents, editors, publishers, book reviewers, book club members, teachers, librarians, readers, or parents of all of the above?

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Midwest Writers Workshop–Day 2

It’s the middle of day two of the Midwest Writers Workshop here in beautiful Muncie, Indiana.

Writers are scurrying from pitching an agent to a social media tutoring appointment to their next session from one of our amazing faculty to a manuscript makeover appointment to finding a bathroom to grabbing a snack to checking out the book table to heading to yet another session.

And that’s what it’s all about. Learning more about the craft that we all love.

We’re all here supporting one another as writers. Some with published books. Some with dreams of publishing. All with a passion for words.

That’s why I love it.

This place reeks with people who love words and writing. We’re all geeks sort of geeking out over words and how to put them together. This place reeks of geeks.

And it’s awesome.

There are lots of writers conferences, and I’m a strong proponent of all writers attending a conference for the continued training, support, and encouragement from other writers. I’m new on the planning committee for the Midwest Writers Workshop (we’re celebrating 40 years with this conference), and I’m amazed at how this team pulls together to make a great conference happen.

This year, Cathy Day and I worked together with some savvy Ball State students. Several of the students are acting as assistants for the five agents who are taking pitches, and the others are working in the social media lab giving one-on-one tutoring advice in the art of social media (websites, Twitter, Facebook pages, etc., etc.). Here’s a photo of our social media lab:

The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers
The social media lab with one-on-one tutoring about social media for writers

I’m sitting in the social media lab listening to the students talk about how great the attendees are, how they feel like they’ve both been able to teach something to their clients as well as learn something from them, and how they’re enjoying connecting with other writers. We’ve built in time for the students to attend a couple of workshop sessions as well.

We’re all in this writing life together.

And we’re having a perfectly awesome time.

You ought to think about attending next year!

Words Matter (and So Do Fish)

Thought you’d like to see a glimpse of my fan club.

My fishy fan club.
My fishy fan club.

Seriously, these little guys totally love me. They’re like groupies (not group-ers, group-ies). Whenever I walk outside my back door into the garden, they all come as one and follow me as I walk by. They dog-paddle (fish-paddle?) at the edge of the pond and watch my every move.

They totally love me.

Or, more likely, they totally think I’m going to feed them.

But still . . .

I like the fact that they notice me. I think it’s funny how they come as an entire group with their little mouths up out of the water looking at me so longingly.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, the little pond was already there with all of these fish (a neighbor recently ‘fessed up that she had taken some of the overflow from her pond and dumped them here during the year that the house was vacant). We had moved in at the end of October and didn’t have a clue what to do to winterize a pond. We figured that the house had sat vacant the winter before and no one had done anything, so we’d just let it go and see what would happen. Sure enough, the little pond froze over and got covered with a layer of snow. We figured we’d have to skim out the dead fish and start over come spring.

Then, as the water thawed, so, apparently, did the fish. By the time the Indiana air turned warm, the fish were back to their usual selves.

The moment I drop some fish food in the pond, I’ve got myself a fan club.

Wouldn’t the writing life be nice if we just dropped a few of our choice words into the world’s pond and we suddenly had such loyal fans? Fans who waited on our every word? Fans who knew we posted on our blog every week and sat by their computer, eyes wide, mouth agape, waiting for us to toss the morsels their way?

Eh, maybe not. fishies2

I just reach into the bag of fish food and toss the same morsels to those fishies every day. And they love me for it.

I can’t do that with my writing. I’m not looking to recycle a formula or take the easy route. In my blog post a couple weeks ago, I talked about the hard work of writing. Our words matter. That’s why even though only a few people may read something we write, we still agonize over what we want to say. We want to represent ourselves well, say what we mean, write something that will be enjoyable or helpful or compelling or inspiring to those folks who take a few minutes of their day to read our musings.

We do that because our writing matters so much to us.

We do that because we instinctively know that the words we put out there can have a life of their own.

Back before everyone was blogging, before Facebook and Twitter, I had a couple little books published. They’re long out of print, so imagine my surprise when a couple of years ago I found one of those books at a garage sale. (You know you’ve arrived when you find your book at a garage sale.) Then, a few years after that, when everyone was blogging and Facebooking and Tweeting, my son sent me a link to a YouTube video a woman had done to recommend another of my books.

Our words live on.

So I guess that’s my encouragement to my writing friends. You never know when a piece of your writing will rise again. Even if a book you wrote years ago went out of print causing you untold despair, it still lives on.

I tell students in Writing classes that they never know how or when a piece of writing will inspire someone. That’s why it matters so much. That’s why we do that hard work of writing. We put ourselves out there because we have something to share and we want to join our friends in digital conversation.

I’ll never know the paths my words have taken. I only know that they’re still out there with little lives of their own.

Our words matter. They live on.

Just like my fishy fan club.

The Hard Work of Writing

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’ve been guilty of saying just that to students in my Editing class. And while it’s true that I get to do what I love (and that, in itself, is a blessing), it’s not true that I’ve never worked. Many many days have been “head-down-plod-through-get-it-done-keep-going-don’t-give-up-the-manuscript-is-soon-ending” kind of days.

Editing is hard work.

And so is writing.

So my friend Kameron McBride (a BSU student and Midwest Writers social media intern) writes in his blog and makes the point that, indeed, writing doesn’t just happen like the cobbler going to sleep while the elves make the shoes. It’s sweaty, difficult, and painstaking work. We don’t (ever) wake up to a manuscript magically completed.

An illustration for the Brother's Grimm story "The Elves and the Shoemaker"
An illustration for the Brother’s Grimm story “The Elves and the Shoemaker”

So it’s a good thing we love it!

To be good at writing takes constant practice. Another BSU student and MWW social media intern John Carter discusses the importance of trying to create a schedule to keep him writing regularly over the summer. Then, of course, once “real life” is in place and summer vacation is a thing of the past (at least if you aren’t in academia), then that schedule and routine will be invaluable.

My friend L. Marie has been posting lots of writing process interviews. We writers must juggle life and overcome fear and discouragement. I love her post about this. (And, if you want more, read her whole lineup–especially if you’re into YA.)

Yep, this writing life is hard work–discouraging at times, frustrating, often unrewarded (except when we’re outstanding in our own minds).

And, like any skill, we need to work to improve. Sure, maybe some of us were born with an innate ability to put words together, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to learn or to hone our craft. As Barbara Shoup (director of Indiana Writers Center and, incidentally MWW faculty this year) points out in this blog post, the craft can be learned if you’re patient and willing to work at it.

Work at it.

Here’s what my friend and mentor Cathy Day says about it:

Convincing yourself each day to keep going, this means that you are a writer. The world will be sure to declare, “You matter, but you don’t. Wow, your work is exciting, but yours is old fashioned and dull.” What do you do when someone says, “Eh, you’re okay, I guess.” Do you stop? Or do you keep going? That’s the moment when you know whether or not you’re a writer.

Cathy says, “You must do it simply because you want to.”

Kind of like what Mo Smith (yet another MWW social media intern) describes here.

And it’s hard work.

But therein lies the glory. We want to do it so much that we’re willing to work at it. To stare at the screen on the tough days. To get up early and write when that’s the only time available. To keep on plugging when it fights against us.

That’s the hard part for so many. I hate to sound like an old fuddy-duddy (even if I am one), but in a culture where crimes are solved in a TV hour and purchases are made immediately online and we get upset if someone doesn’t answer our text within 60 seconds–well, have we lost what it means to work at something tirelessly?

We each have to answer that for ourselves.

5 Pledges of Literary Citizenship

In the grand tradition of “last lectures,” Cathy Day posted a note to her students on the Literary Citizenship blog at the end of her class this semester. It’s not really a final lecture since the class will be taught again for another group of fortunate students; the post is more of a wrap-up of everyone’s accomplishments.

And for me who got to sit in on the class this semester, it was a way to think about who I am in this literary world.

istockphoto
istockphoto

I took the challenge and revised my blog to focus on my literary life, and I invited you to join us on the journey as I learned what it meant to be a good literary citizen. Bottom line:

Be interested in what others are doing.

I was doing that, but not in a visible way. Now I “like” and comment on blogs. Now I follow Facebook pages of literary magazines and authors. Now I link to other people’s blogs. Now I’m finding people on Twitter who are as passionate about editing and proofreading and good grammar as I am. Now I write notes to authors I appreciate and thank them for inspiring me.

I learned to write about my passions. I decided to focus on areas of editing and grammar, with nods to all kinds of other topics (it is my blog after all). It was great to stake out a territory and then look around for folks already there and join them.

I learned some technical things like how to tag and categorize posts (yes, I CAN talk about things other than grammar) and how to better use Twitter. I learned about book reviewing.

And I’m finding my tribe.

As any great teacher will, Cathy challenges her students not to stop now that the class is over. This is about building a literary life, after all. At the end of her post on the Lit Cit blog, she challenged us with a few questions. I encourage you to think about them for yourself, but here are my pledges of citizenship in the literary world:

I pledge to continue to blog on a regular basis and to share with my readers great books, bloggers, articles, and ideas (yes, and even great grammar!). At times, I’ll write about what I’m doing, but that’s not the focus. It’s not all about me (that’s just true on so many levels. Wow . . . wouldn’t our world be a better place if we all adopted that mantra?).

I pledge to write a personal note to someone at least once a week to thank that person for his or her contribution to the literary world.

I pledge to keep finding, following, and connecting with folks in my tribe. And then I’ll talk about them so more people can know them.

I pledge to be continually interested in what other people are doing.

I pledge to talk about literary citizenship whenever and wherever I can. It’s that important.

Have you pledged citizenship?