Are You a Good Literary Citizen?


Are you a good literary citizen?

I’ll never forget it. I was probably eight or nine years old, and my family had gotten up early to get a spot in the front for the Blossom Time Parade in a neighboring town.

This was a big deal. Every year, thousands of people from Southwest Michigan gathered, anticipating a show of marching bands, fire trucks, homecoming queens, and buckets of candy thrown out to kids scurrying in retrieval around the pavement like ants.

The year I recall was an extra-big, super duper deal, because “Samantha”–the youngest child from the quasi popular 1980 sitcom Gimme a Break!–was scheduled to appear.

Now, I wasn’t a big fan of Gimme a Break!, nor did I think Samantha was the best child-actor of my youth, but she was going to be there, in my small town parade, and I loved to act in school, and every time I thought about meeting a real life star, a firecracker lit and crackled in my gut. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd at the parade, armed with a glittery pink pen and my diary.

Samantha waved and smiled as she sat on top of a cherry red Corvette. And then it happened. The car paused in line, waiting for the parade to continue, and a swarm of preteen girls crowded around Samantha, holding out pictures and paper for her to sign. My legs took off, and before I knew it, I was there too, in the swarm, buzzing, waiting for my turn to ask for an autograph.

Once most of the girls got their autographs, the car started to move. Panicked, I held out my diary to Samantha as her handler winked at me and said, “Surely we have time for one more.”

My heartbeat skipped.

“No! We don’t have time for any more,” Samantha hissed, pushing my diary towards my chest. Her eyes met mine coldly. “I’m done.”

The driver switched from the brake to the gas. I watched Samantha creep forward in the parade, once again smiling and waving to her adoring fans.

Who knows what was going on with Samantha. Everyone has bad days. But I have to admit, I was one disappointed, disenchanted little girl.

I decided that if I were ever fortunate enough to do well at something I loved, I’d be sure to be kind.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I’m pleased to announce that time and again, as a new author, I’ve encountered kindness and generosity in the literary world.

What is a good literary citizen?

This is my definition: a person who supports creativity, who esteems work, and helps others grow in their craft. It’s a person who buys books (and lots of them!) and networks on behalf of authors and writers she or he admires.

I think about Samantha when authors share their knowledge of writing and publishing with me. I think about Samantha when I witness someone farther down the publishing road give a nod and a hello to another starting out.

I hold out my diary and these kind souls take my glittery pen and jot me a note. “Congratulations! Keep going! Try this agent. Sure, I’ll review your work.” Or even this: “I can’t help you now, but all the best to you!”

I don’t take it for granted. People in the publishing world are busy. There is no reason why some should respond to my letters or emails with such goodwill, but they do. And I learn that sure, there are Samanthas in the world. But that’s okay. There are also authors and writers who do their best to help strong work rise to the surface for all to enjoy.

There are people who value being good literary citizens.

Not every author or writer can help. Not everyone will care to help. But of course, everyone can pass on a measure of goodwill as another pursues her dreams.

And we can do it with kindness for the sake of our literary world.

*In an effort to pay it forward in the literary world, I am doing a daily author interview and book giveaway (from writers who happen to be mothers and write about it) the week of May 6th, leading up to Mother’s Day. Drop by to hear from great authors such as Shauna Niequist, Jennifer Grant, Kate Hopper, Claire Bidwell Smith and one more (waiting on a confirmation :)). Find out more at

22 Replies to “Are You a Good Literary Citizen?”

  1. Hello, I enjoy your literary voice.

    As a freelance writer, I’m grateful when I contact someone for a quote or an interview and I receive a friendly response. There’s something that I have noticed. The individuals who seem to be the busiest and the most successful are often the most helpful. I get the sense that their missions are larger than their own interests or my interests. These amazing folks have big picture views of what can be accomplished when many work together. And you, dear author, seem to fall within both categories – one who receives and one who gives, gives, and gives.

    Thank you!

    Heather Villa

  2. This is such a great lesson to take from the Samantha situation. I believe that when we spread goodwill, it comes back to us a hundredfold. Great post!

  3. Gillian—-this post is right on! I have received so much kindness from others along my own (long, twisting) path, I have decided and desired to do the same for others. It’s not easy—and I have stacks of books beside my computer right now to review, endorse, etc.—but we truly need one another. And just as God’s own goodness is never exhausted, I think He’ll keep providing what we need to maintain generosity toward others. Thank you for this excellent reminder!

  4. Gillian, I live in Bridgman! Imagine my surprise at reading about the Blossomtime Parade! Small world. 🙂 We’ve been here a decade now and the whole royalty thing took some explaining. 😉 I am sorry about your sad experience, but your post was great. I find that encouragement from other writers is very motivating. Best wishes on continued success.

    1. Small world! I’m from Watervliet! And yes, the royalty thing is a bit bizarre. I’m a little proud but mostly embarrassed to say that I didn’t go out for Miss Watervliet, but rather heckled the contestants from the front row. Obviously God wasn’t done (and still isn’t) with me yet :).

  5. I love this post, Gillian, and your heart. From what I’ve seen, I can’t imagine you ever turning someone aside like Samantha did with you. Your willingness to learn, and pay it forward will most certainly be rewarded, in some form or another.

    And I agree, some of the most successful have definitely been the most helpful in my journey. Like you, I certainly hope to emulate their kindness. 🙂

  6. So, i’m gonna take advantage of this goodwill and ask a favour. I need a very good editor for my MS. I need an agent too, but an editor is most important. Any recommendations? Pleeeeease?

    1. Kaycee, do you have a writers group in your town you can join? I joined a memoir class in my town and they edited a lot of my manuscript. I highly recommend getting involved in a class where you are critiqued, and can critique. Keep going! Hope this helps!!

  7. Great topic, Gillian! I try to always be aware that someone is always watching what I say, do, and write! I wish I could revise some of my emotional reactions like some of the shoddy first drafts I’ve written. Ugh! Thanks for the reminder!

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