Behind the Schedule

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.

Chatting with Folks at the Tea

Chatting with Folks at the Tea

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.

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8 Responses to “Behind the Schedule”

  1. Paul Says:

    Peggy Stewart, an actress who was the leading lady in tons f westerns, was running around a western film festival some years ago when I asked if she could sign a photo or was too busy right now. “Both,” she said with a smile.

    • Paul Says:

      I should add that she didn’t have any place else she had to be right then. The answer came from her wicked sense of humor.

  2. James M. Six Says:

    I try very, very hard not to intrude on others’ conversations or ask for signings outside of scheduled signings. If the author does not have a scheduled signing (some do not), I *do* try to get ONE item (not a stack) signed before or after a panel, usually if it’s fairly quiet.

    On the other hand, when an author is at a signing and this is my one chance to exchange a few words with them in an appropriate setting, having them talking to their friends and saying only “To James?” to me is kind of rude, too, especially when I’m the only person currently in line. After all, I took the time to come see them on their terms.

    Note: bring your own pen, just in case. Some authors don’t carry “signing pens” and will try to dig out their fine point Bic which either won’t work and they trace over their own signature to make sure there’s ink (I had one book like that), or actually pierce the paper (fine points are *sharp*).

    Anecdote: when authors are on Twitter during a convention, it’s actually a good way to ask when they can sign a few books for you if you can’t make/have missed their regular signing. I did that with Kevin Hearne a few years back. Someone forgot to send his books to the local dealers or the convention but I went to the local bookstores to get copies. I asked via Twitter when he’d have a moment and he was happy to show up at his table for me. Note: that was an unusual circumstance, and Mr. Hearne is a person who does pay attention to his messages in Twitter. It probably won’t work with Neil Gaiman, whom I’ve never gotten to sign anything because I can’t stand for 3 hours, let alone 3 hours in line.

  3. Sailor Moon's Mom Says:

    As a classic introvert, I don’t usually have it in me to actively approach the authors at cons (unless there was some previous rapport). Generally I assume that many authors are also introverts. So the prospect of having to don the public persona for a day of panels and then be expected to continue the happy extrovert face for anyone who happens by, sounds exhausting. When I feel peopled-out I often envision anyone asking things of me as a collage of hungry mouths demanding to be fed. So if an author or artist isn’t in a designated signing session (at events where there is a designated signing session) then I consider them “off the clock” because I’d want the same courtesy.

    I have shared many a Bubonicon elevator with authors and artists. I think body language is a huge tell. George RR Martin would usually linger in the corner of the elevator looking down, signaling “Do not approach”. Whereas Lee Moyer was his peppy self and initiated chatting with us for the 2 minute ride, so I asked him if he was having fun, and of course he was. Joe Lansdale seemed happy and upbeat so my husband thanked him for the advice he gave on a panel. And Joe continued the discussion.

    The fans who chase authors for signatures and the like, I think have gotten caught in the thrill of the hunt and forgotten that you are human beings and not just entities representing the creative world. It’s a compliment in an odd form.

  4. Louis Robinson Says:

    I may have said this the last time, but it bears repeating: no, it’s not rude to say you need to finish what you’re engaged in! [and it is rude to not concede to that – something i’ve probably been guilty of too often]

    OTOH, it can be rather difficult to tell if a conversation is private, open, or one the parties don’t mind others hovering on the edge of while waiting. And doing the truly polite thing, and waiting until the person you’d like to speak with is completely disengaged before approaching, is all too likely to see someone nip in ahead of you. Since the old rigid forms of propriety and precedence have fallen by the wayside [and good riddance!] everyone has their own ways of signalling these situations. Reading and obeying them is the key.

  5. Jane Lindskold Says:

    There are so many great comments here, showing such interesting points of view.

    James makes a good point about feeling he can expect to have an author chat if he waits patiently. That said, from my side of the table, it’s amazing how many signature collectors DON’T want to be talked to.

    In some cases, I’ve had the impression that they almost resent having to deal with a human being on the other side of the pen. Sure, some is shyness, but when someone pushes a stack of books at you and said, “Signed only” and there are duplicates, you know they’re not interested in you as a writer, but you as a retail enhancement item.

    Some such collectors are very nice, mind you, and I’ve even had some bring me a small gift “for my trouble.”

    However, it doesn’t take too much of this to make an author careful about initiating conversation, especially since, as Sailor Moon’s Mom says, many writers are introverts. And shy…

    My friend (and fellow author) Pati Nagle says I do the best imitation ever of an extrovert, but the fact is, I’m an introvert and shy!

    • James M. Six Says:

      “when someone pushes a stack of books at you and said, “Signed only” and there are duplicates, you know they’re not interested in you as a writer”

      That reminds me of Sharyn McCrumb’s book, “Bimbos of the Death Sun” (murder mystery at an F&SF convention) in which a fan with a huge stack actually said to the author he (the fan) didn’t care about the people in line and wanted “signature only” for their future value … and the author signed every copy “J.R.R. Tolkien”.

      I’m STILL not sure if that book was good-natured ribbing or vicious satire of fandom, but I’m leaning toward the latter.

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