Category Archives: Food for Thought

Literary Citizenship Tips

By Jude Walsh Whelley


Writing can be a solitary occupation. At the heart of the matter, it is sitting down alone, putting words on the page, crafting them carefully, and revising until ready to release the words into the world. How does one prepare the world to receive these words?

Today’s writing universe has most of us doing our own platform building and marketing and for that we rely on help from fellow writers and readers. I like to think of my obligation to help another writer as more a priviledge than a duty. The best term I have heard for this kind of help is literary citizenship. In today’s post I am going to suggest fifteen ways to practice being a good literary citizen.

1. Buy books! This can be a print version, or Kindle, or book on tape, but by buying that book you are providing income for a writer.

2. If you enjoyed a book, take a few minutes and write a review. The more a book is reviewed, the better!

3. If you blog, offer to host an author when her new book is published.

4. If you read a blog post where an author is interviewed or her book discussed, write a comment. Nothing thrills a writer more than having someone want to talk about her work.

 5. If you belong to a book club, recommend your writer friend’s book for club reading and discussion. Most of the authors I know love to talk with book club groups and with skype or google chat, this can easily be arranged.

 6. Go to book signings. The author usually reads from her work and often shares information about how she got the idea, how it evolved, her publishing journey, and her life as a writer. This is also a great way to find out what her next book is about.

 7. Post on Facebook any  upcoming publications, book signings, author updates.

 8. Also on facebook, “like” all author pages.

 9. If a writer publishes links to her blog posts, share them.

 10. Twitter is our new friend! I am just learning how to manage twitter posts with tweet deck and know there are other ways of managing it but bottom line… tweet and retweet if you can.

 11. Volunteer to be a beta reader. A beta reader is someone who is not familiar with the manuscript and will read the entire document and respond in the manner the writer requests. This is a huge time committment, so it truly is a gift to the writer.

 12. Be an encourager! If someone tentatively mentions that she might like to write, encourage her to try. If a person is blocked, remind her that this too shall pass and the words will again flow. When a rejection is recieved, be the soft place for that writer to land until the disappointment passes and the urge to write and try again returns.

 13. Join writing organizations like the Story Circle Network ( or National Association of Memoir Writers ( It is the easiest way to find your tribe and many offer deep online connection possibilities.

 14. Attend writing workshops. I love the annual Antioch Writers’ Workshop ( in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I can reccomend Story Circle Network’s Stories From the Heart ( held in Austin, Texas every other year. Eric Maisel ( offers Deep Writing Workshops all over the world. Just google writing workshops and your city and you will be amazed by the possibilities.

 15. Take writing craft classes! This is great self care for a writer but is also a fast track to building your writing community. You will find kindred spirits and you can support one another as you learn. As many writers supplement their income by offering classes you are again helping a writer make a living.

 These are just my thoughts, please share any suggestions you have!

Jude Walsh Whelley writes fiction, memoir, and poetry. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. This post was previously published on her blog, Writing Now.

Pitching Our Stories: Notes from a writers’ conference

M. Jane Ross

Just home from the annual Writers' League of Texas Agents Conference—a weekend of intense listening, learning, getting to know some warm-hearted and talented Texan writers, meeting agents, and pitching stories. In a detour from my usual topic of food, I wanted to share my takeaways (the non-edible kind) from the weekend. Three key points rose to the top in the ocean of information that was the conference.

The state of the publishing industry

In two words: upheaval and distress! Publishers, and by extension agents and writers, have been badly affected by the recession. Book buyers simply have less money to spend. And beyond that, corporatization and consolidation in bookselling and trade publishing as well as huge transitions in the way we all read, how and where we buy books, and the kinds of books we are buying have thrown the book business into disarray.

Until recently, big-name publishers were very willing to invest in mid-list titles, books by unknown authors that were likely to sell “only” in the tens of thousands of copies. Now, those same publishers are looking primarily for front-list titles (blockbuster books by high profile authors, likely to sell hundreds of thousands of copies) or back-list titles (books that are likely to develop a required-reading quality in some area of the market and to become automatic re-orders at Barnes and Noble over many years). So where does that leave the memoir writer and the typical SCN author? 

Jane (r) with new conference friends Stacey Jensen & Ned Bailey

The market for memoir

Alas memoir writers’ prospects in New
York trade publishing are not promising, unless the story has both
exceptional writing —“sparkling” was the word used by several
agents—and a unique angle. Agent Jim Hornfischer gave the example
of an author he had agreed to represent as a result of pitch session at
a writers conference. The author worked as a volunteer in canine search
and rescue. Her story was a memoir about the work she did with her dog,
whether searching for the remains of the Columbia astronauts across the
fields of north Texas or finding missing children in her community.
Hers is a unique and poignant story with drama and a clear narrative
arc as the author learns to handle loss and to work with communities in

Few of us have a story this unique or dramatic.
More often, our memoirs are the stories of learning to deal with the
trials and losses that are inherent in relationship and in life, within
the communities (geographical, religious, professional, and other) in
which we move. But although our stories may not have the drama and
potential to attract a national book audience, as writers we can (and
should) stay focused on crafting that sparkling prose. And we can focus
too on reaching our own unique platform and audience by other means,
whether through self-publishing, blogging, or a small-press publisher.

Know your platform

Agents stressed repeatedly the importance of knowing your platform.
If you’re Dr. Phil, your platform is your TV show and the show’s
audience. For us non-celebrities, our platforms are the communities in
which we live, work, play, volunteer, pray, share, etc. If your memoir
is of caring for an aging parent suffering from Alzheimers and you are
active in an online forum for Alzheimer caregivers, the readers of that
forum are part of your platform. If you blog and write about herbs,
then your blog readers and other herbalists are part of your platform.
Your platform includes both the medium by which you connect with others
interested in your subject and the number of engaged readers you’re
able to reach through that medium. However you plan to publish your story, you need to identify your platform. You’ll include that information in your book proposal, and you’ll refer to it as you craft the marketing plan for your book.

The best takeaway from the conference for me personally was being reminded that there is a supportive community of writers out there, sharing this journey. Beyond that, I’ve made connections with reputable agents and learned what they are looking for so I can bring that knowledge with me when I talk to my editing clients and writing circle members. I’ll soon be announcing my manuscript evaluation service. The conference experience brought me fresh knowledge and connections so I can better help writers who come to me for assistance as they take the next step towards publication.

There's so much more I could tell you about the conference. But why don't you tell me what you'd like to know. Looking forward to your questions, which I'll answer in subsequent posts.