Literary Citizenship and Why the Writing Industry Needs It

Literary citizenship is a fancy term for forming professional networking relationships. Maybe it’s fancy because it’s literary. Or maybe it’s a jargony-industry term but I had no idea what this was until a few months ago.

Literary Citizenship and Why Writers Need It

Literary citizenship

First of all, this isn’t a new term. I just didn’t know it. I learned about it when I read Jane Friedman’s book The Business of Being a Writer. She talks about it as a platform-building tool (a key aspect of book marketing these days) and how some in the MFA/literary community are against it. Their beef? Some writers and authors believe literary citizenship to be a scheme. You know, by traditional publishers to get authors to do all of their own marketing.

While this may be true to some extent, it’s also a hard reality of the industry. Yes, publishers used to help more with marketing than they do now. Yes, many publishers require non-fiction authors to have massive platforms or name recognition. And yes, it’s a tough slog. Deal with it.

Although I didn’t know the term “literary citizenship” I certainly learned about it early in my freelance career. I just called it different names. Things like “investing in relationships.” Or, “finding ways to help people.” And “becoming a part of the community.” And while there is of course balance needed in doing your own work and supporting other writers and outlets, it has been the key to my freelance writing growing the way it has.

Approach your writing career with an abundance mindset

One reason I love this idea is because it approaches the writing industry with a collaborative attitude, rather than a competitive one. By practicing literary citizenship you’re, in essence, saying, “I’m not threatened by other writers finding success, in fact I’m happy to support them on their journey!”

An abundance mindset is when we look at other writers and authors with an “there is enough space for everyone” attitude. This approach believes whether it’s money, publishing deals, readers or clients, the pie is big enough to go around. Litearary citizenship gives us a chance to engage in a positve way with likeminded people and grow in our craft.

When we look at others with a scarcity mindset then we will hold back from connecting or helping. We perceive every success as something stolen from us and every interaction will be combative and negative.

No writer is an island. We need each other.

How to practice literary citizenship

There are many ways to practice literary citizenship. In general you want to find ways to support the outlets you want to see your work showcased in and the writers in that community.

For some people this means joining a professional association or writing group and volunteering their time by running programs or mentoring writers further behind in the journey.

For others it means writing book reviews and posting them on their website.

Literary citizenship for me largely means sharing writing job opportunities, writing contests and helpful articles written by freelance writers on Twitter.

The big idea behind literary citizenship is the aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s about contributing to and supporting your community and remembering no one is alone in the writing world. Find ways to be generous, approach the industry with an abundance mindset and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Literary citizenship is a fancy term for forming professional networking relationships. Maybe it's a jargony-industry term but it's a great tip for writers!

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