Sunday, February 10, 2019

Literary Citizenship

At Book Expo America 2018 with members of my literary community: Hunter Shea, Jonathan Janz, Don D'Auria, and John Everson

February is Women in Horror Month, a time dedicated to recognizing and promoting women in the horror field. In both publishing and film, women creatives of horror have often been seen as producing less intense work than their male counterparts because of their softer feminine emotions. And that’s if women horror creatives are even recognized at all. All too often they’re invisible in the industry. If you want to learn more about Women in Horror Month, here are a couple links:

Every year on social media, some idiot male posts a variation on this comment regarding WIHM: “When is it going to be MEN in Horror Month?”

(The answer is “Every fucking month is Men in Horror Month, jackass.”)

And sure enough, this happened on my Facebook feed the other day, and I’ve since seen other men complaining about WIHM (the poor fragile things). These men weren’t being good literary citizens, and while there’s no requirement that writers have to not be assholes, there are many good – and even selfish – reasons to be the best literary citizen you can be.

So what is literary citizenship? It means thinking of yourself as a member of a literary community as opposed to a lone writer who’s in a Battle Royale-type competition with every other writer out there. Writing and publishing guru Jane Friedman explains it thusly:

“For those unaware of the term, it’s widely used in the literary, bookish community to refer to activities that support and further reading, writing, and publishing, and the growth of your professional network. . . . It operates with an abundance mindset. It’s not about competition, but collaboration. If I’m doing well, that’s going to help you, too, in the long term. We’re not playing a zero-sum game where we hoard resources and attention. There’s plenty to go around.”

Here’s a link to Freidman’s full blog on the subject:

(And if you don’t regularly read her blog, receive her newsletter, or read her books about publishing, you need to fix that. She’s an expert in up-to-the-minute information on changes in the writing and publishing world.)

What’s great about the literary citizenship model is that it works whether you’re a person who believes in helping others or if you’re a self-centered, heartless bastard out only for yourself. The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies here. And I believe this is even more true in these days of constant social media interaction, where we have countless ways to connect to – or alienate – an audience on a daily basis. Regardless of whether or not you’re an asshole, practicing good literary citizenship makes you seem like you aren’t one. It’s an essential professional survival skill in a world where so many thousands of books are traditionally or indie published each year, and it gets harder and harder for any one book (or author) to snag readers’ attention. It would be nice if all we had to do was sell our product, but we need to sell ourselves, too. That’s the social aspect of social media. It’s just as important to consumers who they are buying from as what they’re buying. Maybe more.
So here are some tips to becoming a better literary citizen:

1) Accept that you’re part of a literary community – and figure out which one it is.
Of course, you don’t have to be part of anything if you don’t want to be. Bentley Little’s first novel was published in 1990, and he’s been publishing books regularly ever since. He’s famous for being something of a recluse. He has no online presence of any sort, and he doesn’t attend conventions. Has this hurt his career? Damned if I know. My guess is he’d have more fans and more sales if he didn’t keep to himself so much, but his career is his, and if he’s happy with it, then good for him.
Being part of a literary community is a way to more effectively network. Networking is more than just being known by writers, editors, agents, and publishers. It’s not about what others can do for you. It’s what members of a community can do for each other. To put it in starkly transactional terms, helping others is how you pay for the help you receive from them. Networking is how you learn about publishing opportunities, sure, but it’s also helps you mentally and emotionally survive the all-too-often crushing up and downs of an artistic life. I’d argue that this last part is the biggest and most important benefit of literary citizenship.

And while it’s easy to identify the basic literary community where you’d best fit – science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, romance, literary, children’s, YA – there are subgroups. Horror can be separated into literary, weird, extreme, realistic, supernatural, bizarre, and more. There’s a lot of overlap between the subgroups but discovering to which subgroup you belong can help you more effectively target an audience who’ll enjoy your work and build a network of like-minded writers. It also helps you better target your social media posts and commentary.

You can belong to more than one community. I identify as a horror writer, a media tie-in writer, a fantasy writer, a short story writer, a novelist, a writing teacher, and someone who writers about writing. In horror, I identify as a writer of weird, pulp, literary, and extreme fiction. Would it be more effective in terms of the business side of writing if I focused on one subgenre? Maybe. But I love exploring different types of horror, and that’s not something I plan to change anytime soon.

2) Be a contributing member of your community.
Given the caveat that none of us can spend all our time posting online or mentoring others (we have to get our own writing done sometime), do what you can to contribute to your community. Join a writers’ organization, post on their Facebook page from time to time, contribute occasional material for their newsletter or blog. Engage other writers and readers on social media and talk about topics that are of interest to the community – without constantly promoting yourself and your work. Interact with the people of your community as a human being. Engage in conversations that aren’t about writing and publishing. Support other members of the community when they’re going through a hard time. Celebrate their accomplishments and cheer their victories.

3) Start conversations instead of making statements.
Instead of making empty, thoughtless pronouncements on social media – “I just saw Hereditary, and my dudes, that ending SUCKED!!!” – try to start quality conversations. “I just saw Hereditary, and while I enjoyed the film for the most part, I’m not sure about the ending. What do you all think?” (For the record, I loved the ending.) People want to talk, not be talked at. In many ways, all Art is a conversation between creators and audience (and that audience includes other creators). Learn to listen as much – if not more – than you speak.

3) Promote others (and by doing so promote yourself).
Promoting the work of others benefits you in a number of ways. It makes you seem like a positive force in your community, you add to the conversation about art that I mentioned above, people like reading recommendations for books and films that they should check out, you build good will among members of your community, and you don’t seem like a 24/7 self-promotion machine. Honestly, no one gives a shit about your self-promotion, and if that’s all the social media content you have to provide, no one will pay attention to what you have to say. Promote others a good portion of the time, and people will be more open to occasional sales messages from you.

4) Share resources, insights, and advice.
People want to know what you can do for them. Share links to submission calls, share your experiences with writing and publishing – what’s worked for you and what hasn’t – and provide advice on writing and publishing (without coming across as a know-it-all). Not only will this build your audience, other writers will share their tips with you. Give your readers a behind-the-scenes perspective into your own work as well. Talk about where you got the idea for your latest story, what your inspiration for a fan-favorite character was, etc.

5) Try to be positive.
While there will always be a certain number of people who love it when writers shit-post, hate-watch (or hate-read), stoke controversies, engage in literary feuds, or just plain bitch about whatever’s irritating them at any given moment, these behaviors drive away more people than they attract. And while there’s no way to prove whether the people who thrive on negativity will respond to your sales messages, my guess is they won’t. Supporting a writer is a positive thing, and people who thrive on negativity online aren’t there to be positive. They’re deeply cynical (or at least come across that way), and cynical people are most likely to resist a sales message simply to prove how cool they are. (And I admit I may well be grossly oversimplifying and stereotyping here. I’m just sharing my impressions for whatever they may – or may not – be worth.)

Being positive doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone or everything in your community, of course, but you can do your best to disagree civilly, without indulging in personal attacks. And if you think you can’t, you can also just keep your mouth shut. You’re not required to comment on every damn thing that comes across your social media feed.

6) Don’t be afraid to call out bad behavior.
See a publishing scam? Warn other writers. See a writer harassing someone? Tell them to cut it the hell out. See someone posting racist, sexist, homophobic horseshit? Call them out. You can try to engage these people in the hope of helping them understand why what they’re doing is destructive, but it’s not your job in life to educate assholes. If you choose to engage, you can choose to disengage when interacting takes too much of your time and mental and emotional energy. Part of what a community does is build consensus on what it means to be an effective, contributing member of that community. These standards are fluid and can change over time, and this is a normal, natural process. But this consensus-building can be destructive when it becomes a mob mentality, an excuse merely to exclude or castigate others, or tribal Us vs Them behavior. Try not to be too quick to judge. Someone exhibiting bad behavior might be uniformed, ignorant, young (in terms of being a member of the community if not in actual age) or they might have been told that being “edgy” is the best way to get attention in an over-crowded marketplace. But while community-building is about making connections and offering support, yes, this doesn’t mean you have to put up with any shit you don’t want to. Trying to be understanding doesn’t mean giving everyone a free pass to be an asshole. You decide where the line is drawn and act accordingly.

7) Volunteer/Do pro bono work/Mentor.
It’s important for us to serve our community, and while we can’t spend all our time doing so (remember that writing thing we need to get done?), there are all kinds of ways to serve, not all of which require massive effort or investment of time. Volunteer to help out in a writers’ organization or at a con. Contribute an article to a writers’ organizations newsletter or website. Serve as a mentor to other writers, whether you simply answer questions they ask about matters of craft and publishing, provide feedback on their work, offer to blurb their work, or introduce them to members in your professional network. Do as much as you have time and energy for, and as much as you feel comfortable doing. Don’t make the mistake of allowing volunteering to become your life. Your writing and your career come first. The more successful you are, the more knowledge and experience you gain, the more you have to offer others.

8) Be kind.
When in doubt about saying or doing something in your literary community, ask yourself a simple question: Is this kind? Does it make a positive contribution? This doesn’t mean always being nice. If you block a racist on Facebook, they can no longer post on your threads, which prevents other people from having to read their racist comments, which ultimately is being kind to those people. If someone asks you to read a story of theirs and it has a lot of problems, you need to be honest in your feedback. It might not be pleasant for the writer to hear about those problems, but it’s ultimately kind. At the very least, try to think like a doctor: First, do no harm.

9) What about politics, religion, etc.?
You have to do you, and if you’re passionate about ideals and causes, and you want to use your platform to champion them, go for it. You may gain a following of like-minded people, but you may drive away people who don’t agree 100 percent with you. Not only might this decease your overall audience – and sales – but it might further foster divisions within your literary community. In the end, you’re only going to be talking into an echo chamber anyway. You’ll be preaching to the choir. There will be no one of differing points of view listening, so there will be no minds to change. I’m not conservative or religious, but I don’t unfollow people on Facebook who are. I do, however, unfollow people who are cruel to those who don’t share their points of view. For example, the author Larry Correia is a well-known conservative who, by all accounts, is a lovely man in person but who is savage on social media to people who aren’t conservative. I used to follow him on Facebook, but I got sick of his constant tirades and belittling of non-conservatives – including personal attacks against people – and I stopped following him. I also have no intention of supporting his work or his career. (He has such a gigantic following that I doubt he’d lose a second of sleep over this.) Am I hurting myself professionally by cutting out a potentially useful contact from my network? Maybe, but I don’t give a damn. I can’t stand vitriol and personal attacks, and that’s that.

I tend not to be an aggressively political person anyway, so I don’t post many political messages on social media. There was a time when I tried to post messages in support of women writers and writers of color, but several people sent me private messages saying that while they appreciated the effort, I was merely talking into an echo chamber. Besides, talk is cheap. You want to help us? Then help actual people. Introduce them to editors. Blurb their work. Mentor them. I’m grateful for those people reminding me that activism is about taking actual, substantive action, not about simply posting ultimately empty messages on Facebook. They helped make me a better citizen of my literary community.

Being an effective literary citizen takes time, thought, and effort, but the payoff can be huge. Not only will you be helping your own career, but you’ll be helping the careers of others and having on impact on the overall health and growth of your genre. To me, this is at least as important a legacy as the number of works I publish before I die, and in the end more meaningful.

In the spirit of this blog’s topic, I’m going to promote work from people other than myself, AND since it’s Women in Horror Month, I’m going to feature work from my sisters in darkness. They are all wonderful writers, and I urge you to check out their work.

Alma Katsu’s The Hunger was one of the best novels I read last year. Highly recommended!
Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy...or the feelings that someone--or something--is stalking them. Whether it's a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains...and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

I just picked up Melanie Tem’s gigantic collection Singularity and Other Stories. Tem’s an amazing writer, and you need this collection in your life!

Singularity gathers award-winning writer Melanie Tem’s most important short fiction, highlighting her diversity and mastery of her art.

The sixty stories collected here range from "Sitting with the Driver," a western with a dark woman at its center, to "Little Shit," a contemporary tale of a woman who uses her deceptive appearance and psychic power to trap those who prey on the helpless. The child in "Corn teeth" longs not only to become a part of an alien family, but also to become an alien. And in the title tale, a man studies singularities and strin theory to both understand and blind himself to the truth about the woman he loves. Although the story is not science fiction, its exploration of physics is as rigorous as that found in the best sf. Here you will find no triumphant warriors, no powerful and beautiful protagonists, no monsters from beyond the dark cold void or madmen bent on conquest.

Tem's characters are mothers and siblings, orphans and lonely seniors. Her stories are often about family, and always about relationships. Even though Kelly is the only character in "Iced in," the bitter truth that lies at the story's heart is that she is doomed by her failure to maintain relationships. Melanie Tem's stories are often haunted by ghosts and monsters, ghosts and monsters revealed as all too human. In Singularity, she explores the love and terror that lie deep within all of us.

Lucy A. Snyder has an excellent new collection out called Garden of Eldritch Delights.

Master short story author Lucy A. Snyder is back with a dozen chilling, thought-provoking tales of Lovecraftian horror, dark science fiction, and weird fantasy. Her previous two collections received Bram Stoker Awards and this one offers the same high-caliber, trope-twisting prose. Snyder effortlessly creates memorable monsters, richly imagined worlds and diverse, unforgettable characters.

Open this book and you’ll find a garden of stories as dark and heady as black roses that will delight fans of complex, intelligent speculative fiction.

Lee Murray’s latest novel, Into the Ashes, is a fantastic dark fantasy/adventure tale. Coming soon from Severed Press.

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section are tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

Gaby Triana recently released City of Spells, the latest in her popular Haunted Florida series.

When a mysterious old gentleman enters Queylin Sanchez's trendy new age shop, she hopes he'll buy incense, sage, maybe a nice rose quartz pendulum for his wife. Instead, the man enlists her help getting rid of La Dama de Blanco, a ghostly woman in bloody white dress who's been haunting his 100-year-old Palmetto Bay estate.

But Queylin's rituals and spells uncover terrifying secrets hidden in the walls of the estate when she realizes La Dama de Blanco is only the beginning of the haunted home's evil legacy.

Tori Eldridge’s kick-ass novel The Ninja Daughter in available for preorder.

The Ninja Daughter is an action-packed thriller about a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja with a Joy Luck Club family issues who fights the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob, sex traffickers, and her own family to save two desperate women and an innocent child from a violent land-grab scheme.

After her sister is raped and murdered, Lily Wong dedicates her life and ninja skills to the protection of women. But her mission is complicated. Not only does she live above the Chinese restaurant owned by her Norwegian father and inspired by the recipes of her Chinese mother, but she has to hide her true self from her Hong Kong tiger mom is already disappointed at her less than feminine ways, and who would be horrified if she knew what she had become.

But when a woman and her son she escorted safely to an abused women’s shelter return home and are kidnapped, Lily is forced to not only confront her family and her past, but team up with a mysterious―and very lethal―stranger to rescue them.

J.H. Moncrieff’s creature-feature novel Return to Dylatov Pass is recently out from Severed Press.

In 1959, nine Russian students set off on a skiing expedition in the Ural Mountains. Their mutilated bodies were discovered weeks later. Their bizarre and unexplained deaths are one of the most enduring true mysteries of our time.

Nearly sixty years later, podcast host Nat McPherson ventures into the same mountains with her team, determined to finally solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Her plans are thwarted on the first night, when two trackers from her group are brutally slaughtered.

The team’s guide, a superstitious man from a neighboring village, blames the killings on yetis, but no one believes him. As members of Nat’s team die one by one, she must figure out if there’s a murderer in their midst—or something even worse—before history repeats itself and her group becomes another casualty of the infamous Dead Mountain.

P.D. Cacek’s novel Second Lives is available for preorder from Flame Tree Press.

When four patients unexpectedly wake after being declared dead, their families are ecstatic and the word “miracle” begins to be whispered throughout the hospital. But the jubilation is short lived when the patients don’t respond to their names and insist they are different people. It is suggested all four are suffering from fugue states until one of the doctors recognizes a name and verifies that he not only knew the girl but was there when she died in 1992. It soon becomes obvious that the bodies of the four patients are now inhabited by the souls of people long dead.

Autumn Christian’s new novel Girl Like a Bomb is available for preorder from Clash Books.

Autumn Christian's third novel is a dark journey of self-discovery. An existential labyrinth of love, sex, and self-actualization where the only way out is through.

When high schooler Beverly Sykes finally has sex, her whole life changes. She feels an explosion inside of her that feels like her DNA is being rearranged, and she discovers a strange power within. After chasing that transcendent feeling and fucking her way through the good, the bad, and the dangerous boys and girls that cross her path, Beverly notices that all of her ex-lovers are undergoing drastic changes. She witnesses them transcending their former flawed selves, becoming self-actualized and strong. Beverly gives herself over and over to others, but can she become who she is supposed to be, with the gift and curse that nature gave to her?

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