Meeting Authors

I really enjoyed the lively and detailed comments last week, both those about

Author Met

various experiences at science fiction conventions and those related to the question of meeting authors.

Meeting authors – and being the author met – is such a complex picture I couldn’t give a fair response in a short comment, so I’m going to have a go at it here.  Mind you, this is not meant to be the Final Word on the subject, but just, as always, one person’s experiences.

Where to start?

I mentioned last time how I went to my first SF convention specifically in hopes of meeting Roger Zelazny.  That went really well.  (I’ve told the story elsewhere, although not on in these wanderings, so I’m not going to go into it again.  Let me know if you want to hear it).

However, I can’t say all my meetings with authors whose writing I’ve liked have gone as well.   One such experience, however, caused me to make a rule that I follow to this day.  Many years ago, when Roger was still alive and we were both still writing for Avon Books, we were seated at a table with another Avon author.  I’m not going to use this author’s real name for reasons that will be obvious as I continue.  Let me call him Sandro Sands.

Well, I’d read some of Mr. Sands’ work and, while I didn’t think it was a great as some people did, I was interested in meeting him.  First meeting went nicely.  Mr. Sands was quite polite, if very, very lively.  Later the same day, I spoke to Mr. Sands again.  This time Roger (who was very, very admired by Mr. Sands) was not present.   Mr. Sands could not have been a more different person.  He was so brash and arrogant as to be unpleasant to be around.  I thought: “Hmm…  Here’s another of those people who have one face for Roger and another for the peons.”  I disliked him greatly.

Time passed.  Another convention.  Another year.  I encountered Mr. Sands again at another Avon Books-sponsored event.  Roger was not around, nothing about me had changed,  but Mr. Sands could not have been nicer.  We had a great chat.  Moreover, he has been lovely every other time I’ve met him in the many, many years that have passed since.  We are not bosom buddies, but we are certainly more than polite professional acquaintances.

I’ve often been glad I gave Mr. Sands another chance.  If I had judged him based on that first bad impression, I would have lost a wonderful opportunity to know an interesting person.  I might have missed some great books (since, like Maria said in her comment, I have trouble reading books by people I dislike).  This experience meant so much to me that I have made myself a hard and fast rule to always give an author a second chance.

The fact is, as Alan said in his comment, authors are humans too.  However, sometimes, even when addressed with polite friendliness, they may not react the same way.  Maybe they’ve just had bad news.  (Remember, authors often are doing business at a convention as well as seeing fans.)  Maybe they have an upset stomach or slept poorly.   Maybe they are coming off a stressful panel.

That brings me to judging authors merely by their behavior on panels.  I’ve talked to fans who obviously believe that panels are easy and fun for the authors.   They figure we just get up there and breeze through the material.  It’s not like that at all.  Most of us spend a lot of time preparing – often more time than the panel itself will take.  Yes.  A good panel is fun, but easy…  Oh, no!  Questions come out of left field.  Another panelist may go on a rant or decide that he or she is the only one the audience wants to hear.  The moderator may decide that being moderator means he or she is actually the only panelist.

This year at Bubonicon, a young man complimented me on a panel I’d been on.  Then he commented with an ingratiating grin, “A whole lot easier without Mr. X?  Right?”  I was baffled.  I’d liked Mr. X.  Yes.  He could talk the hind leg off a whole herd of donkeys, but he was  nice and had opinions.  He’d even shown up to pour tea at the last minute.

I said as much and the Nice Young Man said, “But he seemed to get to you on that panel last year.”  Then I remembered the panel.  Mr. X had decided the whole topic boiled down to one or two jokes he liked.  He kept making them.  I actually thought the panel had a lot more potential and I tried to take it there.  Did that mean I didn’t like Mr. X or that I’d refuse to work with him again?  Absolutely not!

Then there’s the question of when you choose to talk to an author.  Fact is, a lot of well-meaning fans often insert themselves into what are private conversations.  When this happens, the author is at a loss.  On the one hand, it’s a compliment that someone likes your work enough to want to stop and chat.  On the other, you were just taking to a friend.  Maybe you were saying something that wasn’t meant for general consumption.

I hate being rude to a fan, but when to do when the fan is rude, especially when the rudeness persists over an entire weekend?  I’ll admit that I have  asked for a moment to finish what I’m about before turning my attention to the newcomer.  If that makes me rude…  Well, I don’t know what the solution is.

Fact is, it’s hard facing the expectations placed on an author at a convention.  I walked down a corridor early one morning and overheard the following statement: “I was just in the elevator with Lois McMaster Bujold.  She didn’t even look at me.  She’s so rude!  I’m never going to read one of her books.”

I wanted to shake the speaker.  She judged a writer based on an elevator ride?  An elevator ride where the writer did nothing worse than not look at her?  Wow!  It’s enough to make me afraid to walk over the threshold of my hotel room into public areas!

Okay.  Not really.  But I think you see what I mean.

So meet the author by all means.  Chat.  But remember to extend the courtesy you would to any other human being.  Wait for an opening.  If you want to chat, have something to say other than “I love your books,” because, reasonably, the only polite response the author can give you is “Thank you.”  Questions are good, because they open up the chance for conversation.

Finally, as I learned with “Mr. Sands” all those years ago, give the writer a second chance.  You may be glad you didn’t close a door too quickly.

I’m sure some of you have come up with other guidelines or stories about good and bad meetings.  I’d love to hear them.  After all, I’m meeting authors all the time!

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17 Responses to “Meeting Authors”

  1. Dominique Says:

    It seems to me that everyone has bad days, like you said. While I think it is tempting to go with your hurt feelings and reject the author that has rejected you, it is probably better to try meeting with them again at a different time. I think you might miss out on knowing some great people otherwise. Thank you for the insight into the author’s point of view Jane 🙂

  2. Maria Says:

    I hope it was not interpreted from my previous posting that I give author/actors a one chance shot and that is that. Everyone has a bad day, some people more than others. I know it’s hard on bad days to put on a “happy face” at times. I think we all have those days where we want to just be left alone and have little patience.

    I have two stories I’d like to share. My first one is about Mr. David Clement-Davies (an author). I try to attend every Barnes & Noble signing event I can even if I haven’t read the author’s books because I think meeting people, especially writers, is fascinating (especially since most of them do short readings). When I arrived there was a section roped off the the author with a display of his newest work. All the seats were empty. I was a little early so I figured other attendees were just shopping in the mean time. Unfortunately that was not the case. My friend and I were the only ones there when he first came out to talk about his books. I’m sure he was disappointed in the turnout of two people. Especially because he is from England and the only two in attendance had no clue what his books were about. Even with the poor turnout and lack of knowledge about his works he was still incredibly charming and chatty. Not put off or rude. His books were actually about wolves and at the time, having just finished Mrs. Lindskold’s Firekeeper series, I was curious about how he portrayed them communicating. It was a wonderful experience to meet him, and based on the person, I actually became a fan of his.

    My second story is about an original Star Trek actor. I have heard numerous horror stories about some of the cast but never really thought much of it (especially since I’d never really watched the show). A friend of mine was a huge fan of the show so I wanted to get her an autograph. I went up and purchased a picture from his booth to get signed and stood in the very short. When I got up to have it signed he looked up at me, no hello or smile, and asked me who I’d like to have the photo made out to. I said “My friend, Sara”. I started to spell her name out (since there are varying ways to spell her name). He cut me off saying he knew how to spell it, and of course, he ended up mispelling it. I told him he spelled it wrong and he got angry with ME. He didn’t want to give me another photo without paying another $10 and proceeded to comment on what a stupid way my friend’s name was spelled. I could not believe it. I mean, it’s one thing to have a bad day, but that was just uncalled for. Even the other two people in line were put off by his behavior.

    I am not sure what the issue was, but I never did visit his booth again. You think I ought to give him another chance?

    To me there are some occassions where once is enough, but maybe that’s just me. Thankfully, most of my convention experiences have been very memorable.

  3. Paul Says:

    Isaac Asimov has written in his autobiography of autographing a book for Janet Jeppson. At the time, he was suffering from a kidney stone and in a foul mood. When he learned she was a psychiatrist, he made some kind of grumpy remark about “let’s get on the couch together.” She left with a terribly negative impression of him. Later, they reconnected. Eventually they married and, by all accounts, were very happy together for about 20 years (until his death). Good thing she gave him a second chance.

  4. Alan Robson Says:

    I’m not sure I make the distinctions that some of you do. There is at least one author of my acquaintance who I intensly dislike as a person, but whose books are just sublime; and I always make sure to grab a copy in hardback as soon as a new one appears.

    Equally there are authors who are some of the nicest people I’ve met, but whose books simply don’t appeal to me, so I don’t read them.

    I really don’t see any correlation at all between the personality of the author and whether or not their books will appeal to me.

    Does that make me odd?


    -Alan

  5. CBI Says:

    Alan, I totally agree, and am the same way, so you’re not toooo odd.

    One author whom I’ve chatted with numerous times at conventions, and enjoyed on many panels, is one I’ve never read a book by, since the sub-genre wasn’t appealing. (At least as of yet: I guilted myself into buying a book this past weekend.) I can think of at least two others whose books I’ve read: the books don’t appeal, but I like them as people and we’ve gotten along fine. (I don’t volunteer that info to them, but have been honest when asked, and that hasn’t made a negative difference.)

    Hmm. Now that I think of it, besides Jane, I can think of only two authors I’ve met at the convention of whom I’ve highly liked everything I’ve read of their corpus of works. Maybe, Alan, it’s not that you aren’t odd: it’s that I’m odder. 🙂

  6. Tori Says:

    I think it’s always tricky when meeting someone you may have a pre-conceived notion about. Actors especially so since they are paid to be not themselves. Authors are interesting because most are not used to being treated like celebrities in their daily lives so the con environment may skew their behavior. Or just the prospect of talking to a whole lot of strangers. I know that makes me nervous.
    It is important to remind oneself (as either a guest or a fan) that everyone reacts the way they do because of what is going on in their own world. Keeping that in mind helps me a lot in not taking things personally.

  7. Paul Says:

    I’ve traditionally come at it a different way — I’ve usually read work by an author before I see him/her in person and get to observe them at a convention or wherever. Of course, I might hear an author on a panel and become interested in his/her work, but mostly it’s been the other way around. By and large, the in-person image has lived up to the one I’ve had from reading them.

  8. CBI Says:

    I appreciate, Jane, your writing about this. What follows are some comments from a far-from-perfect fan. I must admit that, as a fan, I am concerned about being the rude, monopolizing fan from Hell, especially given that I can become rather intense at times. I’ve observed some fans’ interactions with authors and tried to learn from it how and how *not* to behave. I’ve always figured that a convention was partially a busman’s holiday for the authors, and really do not want to add excessively to an author’s workload.

    But what you said about participants’ preparation for panels was not something that I’d thought about before. For me, the most attractive part of the panel is gaining new ideas, information, and perspectives, mulling it about with my own thoughts, and fitting things into a coherent picture. About half the time it seems as if the
    discussion should go on, with a continued exchange of ideas involving more than the panelists. Thus I will sometimes go up to a panelist after the session, thank him or her, and ask a question or contribute a comment.

    I’ve sometimes been puzzled by the somewhat glazed look on a panelist who was a very lively contributor. Until you mentioned it, it hadn’t dawned on me that the panelists are feeling like they have just finished an hour of continual *work*, and need a break. I’ll try to be less demanding in the future.

    • janelindskold Says:

      Yes! It really is tiring.

      My Jim had given a lot of archeological papers by the time we got together, but he had never been on a panel until he was invited to one at a symposium in honor of someone he highly respected.

      As we were driving home afterwards, he said, “Wow! Now I know why you’re always so beat after a convention. Giving a paper is a whole lot easier, because you know what you’re going to say and how long you have to say it.”

      So fun, yes, but very, very demanding — at least if you try to give your all and not speak from a preset script.

      • CBI Says:

        Very enlightening. I’ve also given a fair share of scientific papers. It is not unusual for the Q&A session at the end to spill over into a continued discussion in the hallway. I was probably putting panels into the same framework. Not so!

        Another difference: most scientific papers (at least in physics) are usually 15-25 minutes long, whereas panels are close to an hour — and hour of *work*.

  9. janelindskold Says:

    You all are fascinating as always…

    Most of my personal reaction to not reading material by an author I’ve had a bad reaction to in a meeting has happened when I haven’t already acquired a taste for that author’s work.

    If I’m already hooked, a bad meeting doesn’t usually “unhook” me.

  10. Paul Says:

    I used to do a lot of specific preparation for convention panels, but now I do a more general prep — the reason being is that very few panels I’ve been on will stick to the topic. Most of them take off in ten different directions and you have to wing a lot of it, anyway — unless the moderator manages to keep things on track.

  11. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Jane’s work is much more demanding and “celeb” than mine will ever be, but I can sympathize a bit. The most difficult thing for me as a school teacher is keeping my personal and professional lives separate while not offending my parents and students! I don’t want to seem standoffish, but neither do I want to have a parent/teacher conference at the grocery store. I can have a sincere liking for my students while not wanting to be “friends” on Facebook. I give Kudos to Jane for trying to keep that balance, and especially for giving people “second-second chances!”

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