Recently, I watched a writer-editor friend (in the US) run a crowdfunding campaign for a book anthology featuring works by promising writers of color and get barely any response. I must confess I was not in a position to contribute monetarily myself. Anyway, it was saddening to see her efforts come to nothing. She did not even get the minimum amount required for the crowdfunding site to let her campaign keep running for another duration. There are probably all kinds of reasons why the anthology did not get the support needed. But the fact remains: many people would rather buy a $5 cup of coffee than pay $5 for a book these days.
It got me thinking, however, of what else I can do, non-financially, to support writers. As an “emerging” writer myself, I am not able to spend a lot of money to support other writers. Often, I buy my books from used bookstores or library sales. I am not able to donate at the several crowdfunding sites where many writers now share their latest projects and ask for support in exchange for their finished books and other goodies. Heck, I cannot even afford to pay the reading fees and contest fees at many of my favorite literary magazines though I would love to send them my stories in case they find them good enough to publish.
Less than a century ago, when there was no internet and the TV and movie industries were not the behemoths they are now, books and their writers meant something in most societies. Books/magazines were valued, beyond simply means of entertainment, as vital to education, knowledge, and insight. Wealthy patrons sponsored presses, literary magazines, and talented writers. To be a writer was a thing to aspire to because it indicated an honorable, hardworking, and thoughtful way of being in the world.
Of course, as with all things the human race enjoys and desires, we also develop creative capacities to capitalize on them. Literature has become devalued both because of the workings of the commercial marketplace, as Tillie Olsen wrote in ‘Silences’, and the many other distractions we have created for ourselves.
Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals — not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or fine book less? The sense of writers being pitted against each other is bred primarily by the workings of the commercial marketplace, and by critics lauding one writer at the expense of another while ignoring the existence of nearly all.
— Tillie Olsen, Silences
She was right when she wrote this back in the late-1970s. Writers are pitted against each other by the workings of the commercial marketplace.
And Ursula K. Le Guin was also right in her National Book Awards speech in 2014:
Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.
In all the noise and distraction of our times, many good writers get buried entirely because people would rather read articles that took ten minutes to write and zero research or insight versus a work into which a writer might have poured ten years of his/her life. I always say that those ten-minute articles with not much use to them are like fast food — in and out of your system in less than 24 hours. Not to mention, also potentially harmful in clogging your brain with crap. While a well-written story or book will subtly, beneath the waters of our consciousness, alter our thinking and our worlds in innumerable, lasting ways.
I see some writers, not all, who never support other writers. This selfishness seems odd to me because, again, as Olsen said in the quote above: if you came to writing because you love reading, then you will not want one good writer or one fine book less in the world. For me, as with a few other blessed writer friends of mine, it restores my faith in our vocation and in the world when I see other writers thriving and prospering.
Does another writer’s success potentially take away from mine? At this stage of my fledgling writing career, I don’t think so. Reading and writing are both such personal matters. For example: Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy both write about India. Yet they are so different in the themes they tackle and their writing styles. There is room for both to exist in the world. Sure, book awards and publishing houses and literary magazines may choose one over the other. But that’s exactly where we readers come in to help make sure our favorite writers are still noticed and read.
Here are ten things I try to do to support other writers — both as a reader and a writer — beyond buying their books and without spending money I don’t have.
Now, there are many similar lists out there on how to support writers. Many include some of the approaches below — and for good reason. They are practical and actionable.
1/ Share, Share, Share.
Share the works, interviews, reviews, articles, quotes, etc., of your favorite writers on social media, personal blogs, reviews for other sites, etc. Follow those writers on social media and retweet, reshare their stuff. Better to share these things — which good writers will have invested considerable time and skill and integrity into — than fake news or links from sites that only exist to make money off clicks and ads.
This is even more important with the mostly-invisible writers of color who struggle to get their work into the world because the traditional publishing industry still does not get diversity. And with the “emerging” writers who the traditional publishing industry refuses to place bets on for commercial reasons.
If you’re a writer, you might think of this as writerly karma — one day, that goodwill will come back to you too. I certainly need to do more of this than I have been doing (especially since I closed down my literary site, Storyacious, where I had featured at least 200 writers, musicians, and artists over 1.5 years. More on that another time.)
2/ Read books in public places where they can be seen by others.
Especially your favorite books or books by writers of color. I always have a book in my bag wherever I go. A book is also a great conversation starter when standing in line somewhere or sitting in a coffee-shop. Trust me.
3/ Indulge in bookstagrams, shelfies, quote memes, etc.
If you’re the kind who likes to take photographs or selfies, take interesting book collage shots (a well-placed cup of tea with your current reading against a snowy window, say) or book selfies. They’re fun and you can get creative with interesting covers. I haven’t done this but I know people who do a good job of it and manage to attract new readers to books this way.
My approach is to create little quotes from books I love and share those. You can follow along on my https://www.instagram.com/jenny_bhatt/Instagram, if you like.
4/ Leave ratings and reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
These places are run by algorithms that feed on reviews and ratings. You don’t have to go nuts. But do make that little bit of effort now and then. All it takes is a maximum of five minutes of your time.
5/ Recommend or request books by your favorite writers and emerging writers of color at your local libraries and booksellers.
So many small publishing presses do not get any love in these places. And these small, independent presses are the ones who take big risks with introducing us to new, bold writers. The big publishing houses are constrained with sales targets and other corporate goals, remember.
6/ Attend book-related events — readings, book launches, etc. — in your locality.
These are almost always free. All you give up is a bit of your time. And you might even meet some interesting people and learn something new. Where’s the harm in that?
7/ Depending on the subject matter, suggest a favorite or emerging writer for speaking opportunities at your kids’ school, music academy, local supermarket, bookstore, library, place of worship, gym, etc.
If the writer is busy or does not enjoy speaking, he/she may politely decline. So what? Think of what it might be like, though, if they did show up and gave a terrific, inspiring/interesting talk or led a fun class or community discussion.
8/ If you can, offer to be a reader for at least one writer’s work once a year.
A good writer will know to provide upfront questions with their work to ensure your feedback is useful to them.
As a reader, it will develop your own close reading skills and enhance your reading pleasure overall.
If you’re a writer, giving considered feedback will help you with your own writing, of course. And you’ll be building a bit of goodwill again.
9/ Ever considered running a book club — online via social media groups or offline in person?
There are many guides out there in google-land re. how to run successful bookclubs (let me know if you need some of my favorites.) You might even consider inviting the writer to one of your sessions for a discussion.
Though I’ve run book clubs in the past at my work and at online reading groups, as a writer now, I am not able to participate because I am particular about how my reading might influence my writing work-in-progress. That said, I still participate in general online reading groups where members show up with their current reading and share what they like or don’t like about it. Often, these discussions are so enriching because they take off in unexpected bookish tangents and I always learn something new.
If you’re a writer, such reading groups are also a way of gaining indirect feedback if the discussion turns to works that align with your own themes/style.
10/ Write book reviews to share on your personal blog or submit to other sites/magazines.
Not only does review-writing enhance critical thinking, but it is, again, a way of building goodwill among your tribe. Not to say that review-writing must always be positive. I write reviews on my blog here, as you may know, and I aim for nuance and fairness versus gush or dismissiveness.
To Sum Up:
Word of mouth is the most effective approach with all genres. That’s why almost all the ten things here are about raising visibility through sharing, linking, commenting, and recommending writers and their works. Certain genre and ethnicity groups have stronger reader-writer communities to amplify this word of mouth well. But so many genre and ethnicity groups are fragmented and don’t do enough to lift each other up. Perhaps they don’t see how doing so will create a rising tide, which will then raise all boats in that stream, including theirs.
One last suggestion. If you’re not a writer, you can boost a writer’s morale simply by saying the right thing at the right time. Here’s a list I had put together a while ago. Often, all a writer needs is some encouragement — which won’t cost you a thing.