Literary Citizenship by Katey Schultz

Have you been struggling with your outreach, or growing your audience? You’re in luck! In this special four-part series with Katey Schultz, author of Still Come Home and the collection, Flash of War, you’ll learn how to engage with the literary world in a meaningful and beneficial way. Up first: What You Care About Should be the Same as Your Social Media Feed.

What You Care About Should be the Same as Your Social Media Feed

Author Patricia Ann McNair first told me there was a name for what my writing friends and I were doing to support each other. She called it “literary citizenship,” which can best be described as engaging in person and online with writers, booksellers, publishers, agents, editors, readers, and organizations in any way that positively exposes you and your writing to a wider audience. From book reviews to blurbs, from blog interviews to retweets, “pay it forward” is the name of the game in literary citizenship; but so is authenticity and sustainability—two things I’m passionate about. As author Jane Friedman says, “It’s not about competition. It’s about collaboration.”

Besides a (finally!) useful and enjoyable relationship with social media, literary citizenship can also help you:

Maintain a consistent presence online and in-person by making it clear to others what you care about.
Establish connections you wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to make, leading to collaborations, shared speaker events, book club connections, and more.
Cultivate surprise endings: Word of mouth (in person and through social media) are still worth their weight in gold. You never know what a connection might lead to.
Making literary citizenship part of your writing life starts with determining what type of conversation you want to have. What conversations do you care about? Use this worksheet I created to help hone in on what’s most unique and useful to you. To help – here’s a download

Here’s one example of what happened for me, once I completed the worksheet and brainstormed how to get started: My interest in the natural world ties in nicely with a local organization, the North Carolina High Peaks Trail Association. When I blog about the outdoors, I tag them. They share my posts. I reach more readers, some of whom subscribe to my list and eventually take my online classes. Win-win, right? But it doesn’t stop there. This group recently auctioned several signed copies of my book at their latest annual fundraiser. Not because I asked them to, but because they see me as someone who contributes to conversations they care about. Who bought my book at the auction? Someone I don’t know…which is exactly the point; someone I otherwise may never have met or who may never have had a reason to pick my book up off the shelf.

When we share how we spend our time as creative individuals, and start naming the topics we care about, we’re able to clarify our vision for “content marketing.” And instead of feeling obligation fatigue over one more public relations task, we’re often pleasantly surprised to discover we actually have something to say. Even better, we have a sense for the kind of audience we want to align ourselves with, and from there, growth is exponential. The best part? Authors who are literary stewards, work within the realm of genuine interest and therefore their posts on social media or conversations at public events don’t feel forced. The topics at hand are things they’re already invested in; things they’re naturally drawn to.

Figuring out what conversations you care about can help you:

Become known as a “giver,” rather than a “taker.”
Align yourself with movements and organizations you genuinely care about.
Make connections based on common goals and shared interests (which are dependable), rather than on markets or trends (which can always change).
First, know what’s already out there. Study how experts and fans in the field are already contributing to these conversations. What do you find effective and enjoyable? What do you find off-putting? Learn from the best and follow their lead. Start sharing when you have something noteworthy and useful.

Second, be positive. Every debate has its naysayers, not to mention its extremists. As long as what you share in person or online adds to the conversation in clear, researched, and pertinent ways, people should respect what you have to say. Avoid indulging in online threads that turn nasty and stick to sharing information that is new/noteworthy, forward-thinking, offers a solution, or gives someone/something a voice it didn’t have before.

Third, be patient. Noticeable contributions take time. Once you have a sense for how people engage in the movements or themes you’re interested in, you’ll know what you can add and what you have more to learn about. Think of it as raising your hand and being called on during a class discussion. You wouldn’t add something until you knew what the topic was. In the same way, you wouldn’t expect everyone to immediately care about the same things you care about. New discoveries and connections take time; but when you start out with the mindset of literary citizenship, the connections you make will, in fact, last.

Coming up next week, we’ll get nitty gritty with what we, as literary stewards, can actually say and contribute. I’ve shared one example, but when you’re in this for the long haul, you need a sustainable model you so that can feel good about what you bring to the table–rather than exhausted by the thought of showing up in the first place.

KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at www.kateyschultz.com.

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