Constance Hays Matsumoto ~
I dove into creative writing later in life with much to learn. Influenced by my business background, I chose to spend equal time between writing and engaging in literary citizenship and learning the publishing industry. Why? Because I’m wired that way. And writing is hard. Writing can also be lonely, which is particularly challenging for an extrovert like me. But maybe you’re not wired that way or are more introverted. Please keep reading, as I hope this article will offer you some ideas to consider.
Literary Citizenship Is and Isn’t
Literary citizenship is NOT a fancy euphemism for networking! Networking is interacting with others to cultivate contacts, and the concept is a major turnoff for many; especially women. Literary citizenship is connecting with and investing in the literary community and developing genuine relationships with writers and book lovers. It is grounded in collaboration, not competition.
At its core, literary citizenship is soft-hearted. Studies show that women are more relational and giving than men—with their time, their money, and their volunteer contributions—so women may find that literary citizenship resonates as uniquely female. Women are naturally wired with a mindset of abundance. And the more generous our gifts, the more abundance we create for others and ourselves.
What’s in It for You
Many authors overestimate the support they will receive from publishers and underestimate what is required of them, even when publishing with a major publisher. Investing time early on in developing meaningful relationships with other writers and publishing industry professionals helped me to be better prepared and relaxed in the months leading up to my book launch, which is now!
Why is connecting a valuable investment of time and an important skill to develop? Because we humans exist in relationship to other people. We are an interdependent species and need one another. And we tend to give help and get help from people who we know.
Take a moment and consider who you will ask for help. Who will share their stuff with you? Who will be there to support you when you feel like burning your manuscript? Other writers! Make a list of names of those people you can count on. Is there room to expand your list? You can do so by being relational with other like-minded people. Will you like everyone? No! But for every person you dislike, you’ll find a dozen more who you do like.
There’s power in bringing women together with shared passion. We help one another. We learn from one another. Along the way, we make friends and meet influential people like literary agents and industry experts. And by supporting others, you benefit yourself.
Build Your Community
As writers, how better to form relationships with other writers than showing up at places where writers show up! Inquire about critique and writers’ groups at local libraries and schools. Search the internet and ask others for professional writers’ organizations in your region. Join national organizations with local chapters, like the Women’s National Book Association. Attend local, regional, and national conferences, starting small in your local community.
Big national conferences like AWP can be a bit overwhelming, but sooner rather than later, challenge yourself and go; especially if offered in a city near where you live. You will come home with a head and notebook full of ideas and connections to further.
Wherever you go or whatever you join, be active and volunteer to help. Better yet, lead something—a committee, a teen group, a conference! Most writers’ organizations are non-profits and rely on their volunteers. Your offers to help will surprise and delight. Givers stand out, are remembered, and make a difference.
Be Relational/Be Remembered
Your goals? To make meaningful connections, for others to remember you, and to develop lasting relationships. Distinguish yourself by introducing yourself to others. Nobody likes a schmoozer, so don’t schmooze. Be selective —don’t give and ask for cards from everyone you meet. Remember, it’s about forming relationships, one meaningful connection at a time.
Be authentic. Offer a firm handshake when safe and appropriate to do so. Make eye contact and be curious about the people you meet. Listen and absorb their story. Ask people what you can do to help their journey. If you find yourself alone at the end of the day at a conference, look around. Someone else is alone too! Approach her. Invite her to join you for dinner.
When you return home, follow-up. Don’t let those business cards you tucked into your pocket wither into lost opportunities. Send an email or a handwritten notecard. If in the same geography, invite the person to a cup of coffee, a quick breakfast or lunch, an invitation to join you at a special event. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.
Find Your Voice and Speak
Build up others the way you want to be built up. When you finish reading a book, say something—to the author in an email or to the world with a friendly review. You don’t have to say too much. A good rating and a kind comment mean more than you might imagine.
Consider what valuable pearls of wisdom you might share with others. How are you known as an expert? Are you terrified to stand in front of others and speak? If so, you’re not alone, as most of us struggle with public speaking. But, we can learn to manage the jitters by practicing, joining organizations like Toastmasters International, and building our skills and confidence.
Start small. Submit a proposal to conference organizers to lead a cozy chat session. Build your confidence and find your groove. It may never be on the big stage. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you showed up, garnered respect from the people who attended your session, and strengthened your credibility.
Be Open to Possibilities
Be open to who you might meet, where the connection might lead, what you might learn, when you might feel a shift in mindset, and how you are changed. An engaged literary citizen invests time in the success of others, giving more than you get. It’s not about you. Yet, it’s all about you! The concept can be counter-intuitive, but it’s pretty simple: get the help you need by giving more than you get.
— Constance Hays Matsumoto
Constance Hays Matsumoto is an engaged literary citizen who writes stories and poetry intended to influence positive change in our world. Her debut historical novel, Of White Ashes (Loyola University Maryland Apprentice House Press), releases on May 1, 2023. Connie is a member of the Authors Guild, Eastern Shore Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society, and Women’s National Book Association, and served on the Board of Directors of the Maryland Writers’ Association. Visit Constance Hays’ Matsumoto’s Website for additional information. Of White Ashes is available for pre-order wherever books are sold.
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