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6 Tips for Building Your Tribe as a Reader and Writer

Authors give their best advice for building literary community.

 Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend
Source: Photo: Jennifer Haupt: Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend

There’s no question that it takes a village to make a novel a success, no matter how wonderful the writing and the story. I started building a tribe that would help to define me as a novelist, in my mind as well as the minds of readers, long before I secured an agent for my novel or signed a contract with a publisher. It happened organically, without giving a thought to securing author blurbs or book sales. It was about building community to counteract the solitary and sometimes lonely job of writing a novel.

I created a broad, expansive writing tribe in many ways during the eleven years I worked on my first novel, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills , which is finally — finally! — being published in April. I went to intensive workshops duing summers, I took classes at Hugo House in Seattle and traded pages with fellow scribes. I launched this blog to support writers I admire, and to have an excuse to talk with them about their novels and writing lives.

Now that my novel's publication date is nearly here, the thing that's most exciting to me is tribe-building with readers. During the past few months I've started connecting with groups of readers — from book clubs, to Facebook groups, to literary festivals — interested in having conversations about the themes of my novel: finding grace when there can be no foregiveness, building family in interesting ways, and building bridges between cultures. After writing this story in solitude for so many years, these conversations are extremely rewarding.

I am extremely grateful for my every-expanding tribe of writers and readers, a wide net made up of many different threads of support as I launch my novel into the world. Here are six literary tribe-building tips from writers who have, in one one way or another, become part of my tribe:

1. Join a Facebook Reader Group or Book Club

“With more than 6,000 members in Bloom , we engage in powerful conversations about everything under the sun. Readers have been wonderfully engaging, welcoming us into their lives, sharing photos of their pets and families, and offering their own stories of personal strength and resiliency.”

— Julie Cantrel, member of The Tall Poppies and author of Perinneals

2. Start an Online Writers Group

“Writers often work in isolation. Writers are also often prone to depression. The combination is sometimes good for your work (I basically break my own heart for a living) but generally bad for the writer. Which is why reaching out to your tribe is so important. I started an online writing hangout years ago, where we’d chat by video, then work. Now we just chat. It’s a chance to talk shop, commune with fellow travelers, and sustain those connections.” — Jamie Ford, author of Love and Other Consolation Prizes

3. Go to a Festival for Book Lovers and Writers

“In 2011 I connected with a community of authors and readers who I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams, at Kathy Murphy’s Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend… I spent four magical days among book lovers, listening to authors discuss their craft and share the story behind their stories. I left that weekend changed, recognizing that I’d found my lost tribe, people who filled my soul.” — Echo Garrett, co-author with Mark Green of Step Out, Step Up

4. Engage in Social Media Kindness

“One great way to build your tribe is with my fave thing in the world: kindness. Find writers you love on social media and write just a charming line or two to them to tell them. Don't ask for anything. Just give joy and thanks. And always, always, help and support every writer you come across. And always, always thank ANY reader who mentions you or your book. They are surprised when an author thanks them, and happy. And then you get to be friends!” — Caroline Leavitt, author of Cruel Beautiful World

5. Build Community at a Summer Workshop for Writers

"Over the past nine years, during which I've taught every summer at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, I've made many of the most important friendships of my life. I’ve also seen other people forge similar, fruitful relationships with writers they meet there. Of all the things I've ever done in my life, contributing to that experience is the one of which I remain proudest." — Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

6. Attend a Writing Retreat

“When there is trust, women know better than anyone how to tell tales and they’ll do it in a harmony that will break your heart and resurrect you in hope. That’s what Tinderbox Writers Retreats are all about for me and for the women who come to the island — about trusting our own voices, finding the words that become a foundation for creativity and purpose in our lives, our relationships, and our work. — Kimberly Brock, founder of Tinderbox Writers Retreats and author of The River Witch