How to approach an author and not be a nitwit

Dear Miss Snark,

Is it terrible etiquette to ask an author at a book signing about his struggling pre-publication years? Will I be escorted quickly to the nearest exit? Will I be blacklisted if I hand him my card containing information about my P.O.D. novel? Authors read and I think he'll like my work. Then he'll tell his agent he's discovered a talented new author.


(hoping not to be) nitwit of the day

Authors love to tell their "before I was famous" stories. We ALL do. The trick is to phrase it like you're actually interested in hearing HIS story, not garnering support for your current ..ahem..."pre-published" condition. You want to avoid even the semblence of asking about someone's health only in to enumerate your own aches and pains.

You can hand an author your card with the title of the book. You cannot ask him to buy it, blurb it, forward it to his agent or in any way engage him in communication that asks him to do anything.

Oddly enough the author is not at the reading to help you. He's there to sell books. All communication with him will be improved if you are holding a copy of his novel, paid for, and you tell him you've read it and liked it. And you actually have.

For a truly famous author, you have to have three first editions, well thumbed, underlined and know all the characters.

For those of you who think this is a clever strategy, it's not. Authors are crazed beyond reason at readings. They are nervous. They are hoping people show up. They are hoping people buy books. They don't want to do anything but live through the next hour without bursting into flame.

Authors are much more likely to discover you at YOUR reading, or from a shelf talker at your local bookstore. Invest in making yourself look like a real author not a hustling sycophant.


Kitty said...

I e-mailed a certain well-known author after I had read the first couple of books in his best selling series. I loved the books, but I did have two complaints, so I told him in an honest, polite way. He responded very nicely. I blogged on his books, with links to Amazon. I "pestered" him when his next book was due, because I couldn't wait to read it. As a result, he sent me an autographed ARC of his current book this summer.

RiterLady said...

Rules for anyone (published, unpublished, distant relatives, old school chums...pretty much anyone but my mom or husband)attending a reading/signing...

~Please introduce yourself. If you're "Aunt Betty on your mother's side once removed, we met once when you were six" there's a good chance I won't remember. It's so much nicer to reintroduce yoursef and allow me the chance to say, "Oh, I remember you...you made me the great fudge."

~If you're going to stand and talk to me for fifteen minutes, buy a book. If there's a line, wait until it dies down, then come visit, but still buy a book. I love talking to readers/other writers, but my primary job is to sign books. That's why the bookstore invited me.

~If you've read my book and liked it, feel free to say so. Writing is a solitary thing, and it's nice to get a bit of praise. If you read it and hated it, don't mention it. If you feel you must, email me. If you read it and found an error on page 63, don't tell me...I'll just blame the copy editor. LOL

~Please don't ask me to read your work, show it to my agent, my editor...my mom. My agent, my editor and my mom have all declined reading unsolicited material. LOL


Anonymous said...

Gosh this is so true! Nothing is worse that having an aspiring author pick your brain for 45 minutes and then leave without buying the book.

If you buy the book we authors will put up with practically anything.

Simon Haynes said...

And don't turn up to another author's book launch with your query letter and first three chapters, hoping to collar someone from their publisher.

Anonymous said...

The best way to get an author or publisher to read your work is to attend a conference or workshop where they are THERE to read your work. Attend with the attitude that you want to get better and learn from them, not that you are hoping that they will discover you. You WILL learn from them, first of all. And second, if you truly are ready to publish, you won't need to do a thing. Writers who teach (and probably most writers) are thrilled to give their agent a call on your behalf. They were in your shoes once, too.

Kimber Li said...

Kudos to the person asking this question. So few people bother to find out what's appropriate. They just charge ahead with their own selfish interests.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why this is an issue. Authors are people.

Treat them like people and use the social skills you (hopefully) spent your life developing.

Kim said...

A few years ago, there were two authors doing a signing at a Brentano's. I bought both books (score one for me!) and asked both about their pre-pub days. Both were wonderfully gracious and gave me the best bit of advice - they were both members of my local RWA chapter and, after hearing I was an aspiring author, they suggested I might want to think about popping in there (score two for me!)

I can't imagine having had the nerve to ask either of those authors to read my manuscript, or blurb it, or give my name to their agent... why would I? That seems to me to be the height of arrogance. I was grateful for that little gem that they offered, because it did more for me than any of those other things. I learned the basics and, like anything else, that's what you need the most. Besides, they weren't there to become writing coaches or mentors - they were there to sell their books.

River Falls said...

If you read it and hated it, don't mention it.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

If you feel you must, email me.

Um, that goes for riterlady only. Oddly enough, some writers don't like hearing that you hated their work. I know that might be a real shocker, but it's true. Think about it: Do you want someone following you around at your workplace, voicing "complaints" in an "honest, polite way" whenever you do something wrong or something that doesn't dovetail with your own personal taste? No? Well, neither do authors.

If you read it and found an error on page 63, don't tell me...I'll just blame the copy editor. LOL

That's only because it IS the copyeditor's fault, right? Right?

Cynthia Bronco said...

I emailed an author because I really liked what he was doing, but couln't find out who his agent was and wanted toquery her. He sent me her info. right away, I was very surpirsed!

Anonymous said...

As a published author, I disagree with handing him the card. This is his moment, not yours, and he'll remember you for all the wrong reasons.

Email him later, when things have quieted down, and tell him you were there. I would respect that so much more.

Anonymous said...

What does one of these business cards with the name of a novel on it look like? Do you get a new set printed for whenever you are shopping a book? Or do you do something cheesy on your home printer? You don't write it on by hand, do you?

Anonymous said...

What everyone's said, O Young, Striving Neos. Strive not in this writer's path, for I am grumpy and quick to blue-pencil.

The author went to a lot of trouble to land a signing, so buy a book to justify his/her presence at the store. Buying a book(s) while the store manager is hanging around is best.

Buy me a drink afterward and I might share a short 101 on how to find an agent, but that's just me. My interest will last only as long as my drink unless you're really, really cute and I hope to get lucky.

Please do NOT show me a copy of your POD, self-, vanity or e-published effort. I won't be impressed, because I went that extra step and made it to the majors and you didn't. Harsh, but true. I'm not known for my diplomacy unless you're cute and I hope to get lucky.

If I see anything that looks like sample chapters within easy reach on your person I will run away or call security.

If I buy anything from you it's usually out of pity. If you're too thick to get the message, I'm hoping the buying catharsis will make you go away. If you give me a book I probably won't read it. See above note about my not being impressed.

Don't ask to trade copies. If I like your book I will buy it, same as anyone else. Expect this to happen only if you're a pro I admire or you're cute and I hope to get lucky.

Don't impersonate characters from my books; you didn't get it right. (Unless you're cute and I hope to get lucky.)

Been there, done (still doing) that.

-- A very curmudgeonly coot.

Ellen said...

"They don't want to do anything but live through the next hour without bursting into flame."

Hahaha! That hit close to home!!

Anonymous said...

And don't turn up to another author's book launch with your query letter and first three chapters, hoping to collar someone from their publisher.

Especially do not attempt to do this by shoving the papers into the bathroon stall the author is occupying.


Anonymous said...

For a truly famous author, you have to have three first editions, well thumbed, underlined and know all the characters.

Know all the characters. Hmmm, well, there are the 26 letters of the alphabet, digits 0-9, various marks of punctuation, and maybe a few diacriticals. Am I missing any?

Anna said...

I don't mean to sound dumb, but what's a "Shelf Talker"?

(Also, I get incredibly incoherent around authors I love. I think the most intelligent thing I manage to say is "I really like your book", followed by blushing bright red and wandering around in a daze the rest of the day....

Anonymous said...

I was at a reading once when a "hustling sycophant burst into flames" but no one noticed:)

Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed at this - at every single signing I've ever done, I've always gotten the question, "How did you get an agent?" I'm happy to tell my story, complete with years of rejection, and I'm happy to recommend a course of action, but it never fails that the person who asks, "Can I use your name to send my book to your agent?" is the person who doesn't buy the book.

Remember that asking someone for a refeence to their agent puts them on the line as well. If I say yes and you turn out to be a crazy stalker who calls my agent on the phone and won't leave her alone, I get blamed. I want to really have a sense of someone before I send him or her to my agent.

lizzie26 said...

riterlady's paragraphs #3 and # 5 say it all.

And for those who do go to a booksigning, remember: It's NOT all about you. It's about that author and his/her book(s). Period.

Anonymous said...

I don't want to encourage bad behavior but a good friend of mine got 2 big time authors to agree to read her work in progress by going to their signings and nicely chatting them up. It can happen.

And ALWAYS buy the book when you go a reading!

RiterLady said...

River Falls,

I said, if they had to tell me they hated my book to email me because...well, there's this nifty little button called delete that I'd be happy to use! LOL Too bad there wasn't a delete button for unasked for verbal critiques! LOL

But seriously, if someone has something constructive to say about why my writing/story didn't work for them, I've been known to listen, to even find a few gems. I don't always use their point though.


Stacy Jacobs said...

snarkaholic said...
I don't understand why this is an issue. Authors are people.

Treat them like people and use the social skills you (hopefully) spent your life developing.


Anonymous said...

Dear Hoping: There are so many ways to market your POD book and so much information on the net, that it would pay you to do some research there. Look at MJ Rose's work. She gives classes and has a marketing program you can buy into.

It's easier to ask a published/successful author to help you but the likelihood that you'll be discovered is slim to none. Published authors are asked all the time for the name of their agent or their editors and they're also asked to read novels.

Anyone who is published got there the hard way (except for people who had great insider connections) and you'll have to do the same. Trying to piggyback on someone else's success is the easy way out.

Do your research. Do the work. And good luck!

Stephen D. Rogers said...

I was at a recent reading/signing by Dennis Lehane and the woman in front of me tried to convince him that he'd made a major mistake in Mystic River.

He handled the situation in a very professional manner, much to his credit.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

Here, here to most of the comments and suggestions!

(I don't like it when readers email me to tell me they hate my book, either. If I don't like a book or movie, I don't email that author to ruin their day and I've had one or two very rude emails).

You can hand me your card, but please don't corner me about buying your book at my signing--especially vanity press. As far as POD, I bought one or two POD books over the years, but only ones written by writers I already know and trust in their work.

Don't hold up a line (heaven hope there's a line!), but if there isn't, I'm more than happy to chat about my books, my cats, the weather, how I got published. But no, under no circumstances will I agree to read your unpublished work. I don't have any time to, for one, and it's not legally sound for me to, for another.

Please don't ask me the name of my agent at a signing. I always put it in my acknowledgements. And don't even think about suggesting to her that I recommended you. I've already warned her that I will personally let her know if I recommend someone to her, and anybody else saying so is lying.

Yes, I'm shorter than you thought, it's a sad fact. Yes, I have a lot of cool tattoos but please do NOT touch them without asking first.

And I'm not really a huggy person--I'm just not comfortable hugging strangers so I'd rather you didn't ask, though I won't be rude about it if you do.

And...if you bring old books to me to sign, I will most happily do so, but please don't tell me if you bought them used or at a remainder shop. That can be pretty disheartening because it means that they aren't counting toward my royalties and my publisher won't take note of them in considering future contracts.

I do have a real thang about having pictures taken. Always ask me first, please, because sometimes my OC condition has flared up a bit and I really don't want my picture taken when I feel out of sorts or when I'm having a bad hair day. :)

Anonymous said...

So many writers think they need these author connections. They DON'T! I knew no one in the biz when I was agent shopping. I don't even live in the US. I just worked and worked until I got the NY agent and worked some more until I got published. And now that I'm being pubbed, I'm working even harder. There's no shortcut.

People constantly want referrals to my agent. He's never signed one of them. Never even asked for a partial. The referral doesn't even help. It gets your query read, but my agent reads all queries anyway.

Listen to curmudgeonly coot and Judy. They're wise.

Anonymous said...

What I've always wondered is if I should buy the book at the signing or show up and be able to talk about it.

Unknown said...

It's difficult when people come up and don't really want to ask you about your book or want to buy it. All they want is an opportunity to tell you about their book, ask who your agent is and whether they can give you the ms they just happen to have tucked in their purse.
It does happen and it always surprises me. I don't mind if someone has read one of my books and didn't like it, they have a perfect right not to agree with me. It's the people who don't read your genre and sneer at it or haven't bought a book and then expect you to chat with them for 20 mins who get to me.
To be fair the vast majority of people I've met have been wonderful!!

Kanani said...

When I go to book signings, I say something nice, thank the author for signing and move on. I take up no more than a minute, though once, I did share a great laugh with Hubert Selby, Jr. He died a few months after I saw him, and I'll always have that great memory.

If there's a writer I really admire, I send a short (less than one page, usually 3 paragraphs) letter via the mail. But I have never ever asked them to do anything for me since I've gotten so much just from reading their books. I just tell them how much I enjoy their writing. I've always received a very nice response, and usually, I put their letter inside one of their books. I have a nifty little collection. I usually just send the letter to the publisher, who sends it along to the writer. Sometimes a response takes months, but I've never had a writer not write back!

I've never been one to make a fuss over famous people when I see them (I live in L.A.). To me, it would be outside of my scope of manners to do so. It's their privacy.

So if any of the fine writers on this thread find that I am ignoring them when they are at the Ralph's supermarket at 10:00 p.m., just know that I admire you deeply, and hope that you don't get in the ten items of less line with 40. For that, you will get recognized, though not in the way you want.

magz said...

I read the thread. (29 so far)
What EYE heard as best truth? Was the anonymous known as the curmudgenly coot.

Dat Coot.. speaks Troot!

I am madly in Like with ya CC, thank you.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

LOL at Yasmine...There is nothing that bugs me more than people who say something like "I am passing your book around to all of my friends." I have even had a couple ARCs show up at signings. My Lord, people, it's ten bucks!

I really think that this is the author's moment. It's like bringing your baby to somebody elses's baby shower. When a person asks me about finding an agent, etc., I simply point them to the section at the bookstore where I spend a lot of money on books that helped me figure out how the process worked. I tell them the specific titles that I used when I was trying to get published. My way of helping out other writers!

Anonymous said...

"LOL at Yasmine...There is nothing that bugs me more than people who say something like "I am passing your book around to all of my friends." I have even had a couple ARCs show up at signings. My Lord, people, it's ten bucks!"

I think a lot of readers don't get it. They don't see sharing books or buying used books as cutting into an author's profits. (Heck, I didn't know until about a year ago that an author makes nothing from a remaindered book.)

Many of my friends and family assume I'm going to be rich if/when I get published. (I'm agented now.) I'm even getting requests from people to send them a free copy of my book when I "hit the big time." When I explain the monetary realities, they're shocked.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing that bugs me more than writers who talk this way. It may only be ten bucks to you, but that reader may have to use that ten bucks to buy gas to drive to work at a shitty job that pays even shittier.

So what if the reader passes your book around to all his or her friends. There's a damn good chance the writer will get new readers that way. Some of them may even buy the next book if they like what they read. These readers will most likely tell their friends, and on it goes until a pretty substantial readership follows.

Sure as hell, though, they'll be less inclined to buy these books once they hear the writer bitch and moan about the way their book was read.

I hope you don't sneer at the person who has the ARC at the signing. Good way to lose that reader, and all of the ones who hear about your lousy, insensitive attitude and behavior.

Anonymous said...

"They don't want to do anything but live through the next hour without bursting into flame."

Oh yeah. That's it exactly.

Anonymous said...

I'm relieved to hear that other authors are coming across people who are clueless about about actually, you know, *purchasing* your book.

I'm doing a signing in L.A. next month and a few of my friends asked if I'm bringing them free copies so they can get them signed by me at the bookstore.

I'm clearing space in my duffle bag right now.

Anonymous said...

anna -

I think "shelf talkers" are those little handwritten signs that the bookstore staff attaches to the shelf to recommend specific books.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind people buying my book and then lending it to friends because it's good word of mouth.

I also don't mind people asking a ton of questions at my readings and then not buying the book. I feel like they help make the event more entertaining, which is almost as good as money.

Often they'll come to another reading with not only a copy of the book but several friends in tow.

PJ Parrish said...

Yes, we authors at signings are weeping bags of ego and self-doubt. We're pathetic, really. So when someone comes up afterward, when we are all deflated and spent, and pumps us for our agent's name or a blurb, yeah, our eyes might glaze over.

But I tell ya, I was at a signing recently -- dog tired in mid tour
-- and a woman came up to get her book signed (which she had bought, bless her heart.) She gently asked about the difficulties of getting started in this business. She was polite, and more important, articulate about her ambitions and her own work in progress. I was happy to talk to her because she had done some homework and knew what questions to ask. In fact, I invited her to join me for dinner.

We had a delightful time talking about her problematic plot. And at the end of the evening, she discreetly picked up the bill.

How to approach an author? Remember that most of us are like turtles without shells, easily hurt, and that we genuinely like to help other writers. But only if they've've shown some willingness to help themselves first.

leftedge suzy said...

And why do people ask how you got published? That's always the burning question. Is there any other lecture format, other than literary readings, in which audience members raise their hands to ask how the speaker got her job?
I'm not forgetting how difficult and mysterious the process of publication is, but still...........