This is not one of those posts where I talk about how lucky and grateful I am (though I most certainly am lucky and grateful). Instead, this is a post where I (gently?) suggest that expressing gratitude to others is part of the responsibility of being a good literary citizen.
It’s not as though these are the only ways to express gratitude, but these are some of my practices:
1. Thank the editors who publish your work. An email is fine, but a handwritten note is even more notable (if you can find a mailing address!). Did someone read a zillion manuscripts to select yours? Did someone take time to offer suggestions that improved your work? Did someone correct your typos? Did someone tweet about the new issue? Did someone do all of these things for no or little pay?
2. Thank your teachers. A spoken thank you is fine, an email is better, and a handwritten note is a true gift. Did your teacher spend a lot of time reviewing your manuscript and making notations? Did your teacher spend time preparing a class that was smart and logical and organized? Did your teacher treat you as a writer, as a professional? Did your teacher do this for (trust me!) never enough pay? (And here’s my plug for a special thanks for those teachers who work on your thesis. No one’s going to say no to a small, thoughtful gift!)
3. Thank your community. A spoken thank you from time to time is fine, an email is better, and a mention in your book’s acknowledgments is the best of all. As you write, try to keep a running list (no, that’s not going to jinx whether the book will be published or not; instead it’s a way to be reminded of how many people are rooting for you; also, on a dark day, it’s a pleasant fantasy to envision those names in print). Spell people’s names correctly. Spread a wide net: it’s FREE to say thank you in print.
4. Thank anyone and everyone who organized an event you participated in, whether you were the headline speaker or you were a paid participant. I promise you that behind each five minutes of “event time” lurk a million phone calls/emails/stressed-out-moments/worry-nightmares/meetings/misunderstandings-needing-to-be-straightened-out/on-the-fly-decisions/etc. Thank that head person who everyone sees on stage with the mic, and also thank those behind-the-scenes people holding clipboards. Thank your fellow panelists/moderator/reader/attendees. A spoken thank you is fine, but if you want to be invited back to speak, a written thank you will be special.
5. Thank editors and agents who go out of their way to offer constructive advice via a personal rejection. They are busy-busy-busy and they don’t have to offer their thoughts to you. I bet they will remember you. And thank agents/editors you meet via pitch sessions. A thank you note is really going to stand out amidst the tide of query letters. (Obviously, special thanks to YOUR editor and agent! But everyone knows this already, right?)
6. Thank people who write letters of recommendation or suggest you send something to their agent or who say “use my name” at XYZ literary journal. Spoken or email is fine, but best of all is to turn around and be the person who will write letters and offer connections. (Special thanks to anyone who writes a blurb…again, no one’s going to say no to a small, thoughtful gift!)
7. Thank the people who host you at writing residencies, the people who have the titles printed on business cards but also the people who clean the rooms and landscape those pretty grounds and manage the paperwork. Spoken is fine, but a follow-up note will stand out. When your book comes out, if it’s appropriate, send along a signed copy for their library.
8. Thank bookstores that carry your book. Thank bloggers who promote your book on their blogs. Thank writers who interview you. Thank librarians who put your book in their newsletter.
9. Thank readers. Thank audiences. Thank anyone who forked out money to buy your book or hauled themselves to the library to check out your book or anyone who spent time reading your book or your story or your poem. I think we all know that there are countless other things these people could be doing with their time/energy/money, and they chose YOU. Wow. Is that living the dream or what?
10. Thank your family, either the biological folks or the family you’ve created. They didn’t ask to be dragged into the writing life, and they are making sacrifices, too, whether it’s being written about or taking up the slack at home or shifting finances so you can enter that contest or a thousand other things that families do. They are doing these things because they love you, but also they deserve thanks. A hug is fine, but spoken is best. Let them know that you see how they are contributing to your pursuit of your art.
11. Thank writers just for being writers. Send an email to the author of a book you love (don’t get hung up on getting a response or the “right” response). Thank them by writing a review of their book on Amazon or giving it 5 stars on Goodreads. Thank them by telling your friends/book club/relatives about their book. Thank them by reading widely and deeply and appreciating those hard-fought words; thank them by closing a book in the deep heart of the night as you sigh and think, “This.”