Writing may be a solitary endeavor, but a writer’s life shouldn’t be. Playing an active role in the literary community will introduce you to new people and opportunities, and it will add an overall sense of quality to your writing life. When it comes to writing, community is reciprocal: We get what we give.
There are many ways to get involved, and doing your part needn’t be time-consuming. In fact, you can contribute your skills from the comfort of your own home. Many journals need book reviewers. Alternatively, you can use your blog or Web site as an opportunity to connect books with readers.
Matt Bell, editor of the online journal The Collagist, has done exactly that by sharing a reading log on his personal Web site. “The reading list is one way I hope I’ll meet some more of the fellow readers I’d like to know,” he says. Sharing is also a subtle way of contributing to the big picture. Bell says, “[T]he more people that check those books out, the better … as those writers will hopefully get more books published in the future.”
Agent Andrea Hurst reinforces the need to spread good news about others. “Each time you help a writer or buy a book, you are not only obtaining a benefit for yourself but for everyone involved from author to agent to publisher.”
How else can writers contribute to the community? Hurst suggests volunteering. “Our interns at the agency learn at a very deep level what the publishing business is really about.” She says volunteers gain “an edge over inexperienced writers,” which can help contribute to a writer’s success.
Leah Maines, senior editor of Finishing Line Press, agrees that volunteers are essential to the community. “I learned a long time ago that running a small press was a big job. … I couldn’t make it work if I didn’t have the help of others.”
Your local reading series may also provide unique opportunities. As Kate Gale, managing editor of Red Hen Press, says, “You get to meet writers, and eventually you can probably help curate and run the series. … Find a way to be around the lit scene and help out.”
Another way to contribute to the community is by supporting journals and magazines. By subscribing, volunteering with promotional efforts, or offering your editorial skills, you not only help keep publications going, you can work on skills that complement your writing.
“I love editing a literary magazine,” Bell says. “I’ve been doing it for years now, at a variety of different publications, and it’s a part of my literary life that’s almost as important to me as my own writing. Editing is an opportunity to engage deeply with other writers, and to encourage and promote writers whose work I see as important and innovative.”
In her role as editor, Maines agrees. “I get the greatest joy in helping others see their books in print.” She also adds that writers need to “stay together and support each other” as we all benefit when we share our skills with the community.
While it feels good to give, Gale reminds authors there are benefits to helping others. “You will need blurbs, you will need help with sales, marketing, agent ideas … so you want to stay as connected as you can.”
Hurst agrees, adding that agents care about how writers interact in the community. “We want writers who are involved in polishing their craft, active in publishing communities and open to learning new things.”
However you choose to get involved, the important thing is that you do something you enjoy. Your fellow writers will thank you.
Lori A. May is the author of The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students (Continuum Books, 2011). Web: loriamay.com.