Overall, last weekend’s Bubonicon was a great deal of fun. I had a chance to catch up with some people I only see at conventions. I made a few new acquaintances who just might become friends over time. I even had a couple of very interesting meetings.
I was on four panels, all of which went well. My reading of the short story “Choice of Weapons” was well-received and generated some very interesting questions. I signed books ranging from some yellowed copies of my early Avon Book titles to my most recent efforts – the “Artemis Awakening” novels, my short story collection Curiosities, and my non-fiction Wanderings on Writing.
Signing books brings me to my one uncomfortable encounter at the convention. Following my first panel, a man came rushing up to the speaker’s dais and thrust a small stack of books at me. “Can you sign these?” he said. I replied that, in fact, I couldn’t. The man looked astonished. “You can’t?” “No,” I said. “I need to go feed my husband.”
Then again, on Saturday following a panel, the same man materialized with the same small stack of books. “Can you sign these?” “No, I’m sorry. I can’t. I have a prior engagement.” When the man looked shocked, I went on, “That’s what the Mass Signing is for. I’d be able to sign them then.” The man never showed up, and I will forever wonder if he decided I was so rude he wouldn’t bother.
Now, unlike some authors, I don’t mind signing books outside of the usual schedule. In fact, I did a great deal of impromptu signing throughout the convention. However, at those times, I didn’t have another commitment. This brings me around to today’s look behind the schedule – or, as I could have titled it: “What You May See as Open Time Just Might Not Be So.”
This year my Bubonicon schedule was relatively full. On Friday, I was on the first panel of the convention at 4:00 pm. This ended at 5:00, leaving Jim and myself just an hour or so to get dinner before both the Opening Ceremonies (which, unlike at many conventions, are a big deal at Bubonicon) and my second panel of the evening. If we hadn’t eaten when we did, I would not have been able to remain coherent through my second panel!
My Saturday schedule did not officially begin until my reading at 1:30 pm. However, we arrived at the convention early. Once there, I met up with Josh Gentry, editor of Snackreads, to discuss a possible expansion of his webzine. We talked until right before my reading.
After my reading, I then had about a twenty-minute break, during which I discussed “Choice of Weapons” with some of those who had attended and also signed a few books. I then went on to a panel, directly after which I had arranged to meet with Steve (S.M.) Stirling and his wife Jan for an early dinner.
I went directly from dinner with the Stirlings to the Mass Signing. After the signing, I had an informal meeting with Jeremy Brett from Texas A&M regarding the possibility of my putting my papers in their repository someday – Mr. Brett was very persuasive – as well as engaging in some more general chat. Eventually, Jim and I went home, where we medicated elderly cats and fixed a broken pond pump. And collapsed!
Sunday I was once again on the first panel of the convention. (I don’t mind early panels and the concom knows this; what I don’t handle well are late panels!) After that, I attended my first and only event of the convention – the excellent interview of co-Guests of Honor Rachel Caine and David Gerrold by Toastmaster Joe Lansdale.
From there, Jim and I went out to our car, collected our contributions to the Afternoon Tea, went and helped set up, and then worked the Tea (delightful as it is, it’s still work) for the next two hours. After this, we helped with clean-up, and then had a few minutes to quietly sit down and chat with folks before the Closing Ceremony.
I never saw the entire Dealer’s Room or Art Show. Why? Because if a fan wanted to chat, I stopped and did so. After all, being there to talk with fans is part of my job, and I take it seriously – but my desire to engage with fans doesn’t mean I feel I must go without food or be late for previous commitments.
Back in 2011, I wrote a Tangent about some aspects of convention etiquette. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea to repeat a few of those points here, especially those related to talking with an author outside of scheduled events. If you’d like to read the full piece,which touches on a broader spectrum of the experience, you can find it here.
Otherwise, here’s the bit that pertains to today’s Wander with a few additions.
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 talking to a friend. Maybe you were saying something that wasn’t meant for general consumption.
I hate being rude to a fan, but what 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.
And please understand, just because the schedule says that the author doesn’t have another event immediately after, this doesn’t mean the author is free. Moreover, accosting him or her on the speaker’s dais directly after a panel is just about the worst time to do so because the author is trying to clear out so the next event can start.
If you absolutely must talk with an author right after a panel, wait outside the room. Even then, remember, he or she may not be available right then. That’s why most conventions schedule signings, whether group or individual. If you can’t make the signing, then ask the author if there is a convenient time when he or she might sign your books.
I know a number of regular convention attendees read these Wanderings. Perhaps you might have a few tips to offer or interesting anecdotes to share about your own experiences.