Where to find an author
Want to meet some authors? Go to the nearest writer’s convention and head for the bar. You laugh. Yet this is a tried and true method whispered among writers in search of famous authors who hold the holy grail of bestsellerdom. Go where the authors congregate. Notice I did not say go up and talk to them, slap them on the back and introduce yourself, push anything but their latest newly released book under their nose — along with a pen, sit down at the table and pretend you are a local writer in search of an interview, or follow them to the bathroom with your juice-stained manuscript ready to slide under the stall door. Please. Do not do any of those things.
By the end of a long conference day full of questions and lecturing and smiling, the authors are in search of some semblance of normal. They, like all conference attendees, simply want to sit down with their friends and chat. They are looking for normal conversation with normal people. They don’t want to be accosted by a fanatic fan or confronted by a deluded stalker. So, since we know you are neither, we can assume that you are one of the normal people they would expect to encounter. Therefore, prepare to meet your author.
Be of good service
You have to use common sense. Sometimes it’s only during the after-hours of a workshop, convention, or conference when the authors have the only real time to meet with their editor or agent. Often they are seeking to reconnect with old writer friends that they haven’t seen in years. That doesn’t mean opportunities don’t exist to socialize. Sometimes a simple gesture can make all the difference.
I always try to be helpful but not overly helpful. I met a fairly new writer at a small writer’s conference. It was his first mystery conference. We chatted. Later, when my friend and I were at the hotel bar, he came in with some friends and invited us over. His friends were well-known writers. We had a great time getting to know everyone. Later, I learned he would be coming to my town for another conference. I offered to provide car service from the airport. He flew in with another writer who was very well known, and I ferried them both to the hotel. When my friend needed a quick press kit, I helped him prepare one at the nearest local print shop. When it was time to return home, he asked if there was room for another writer. Of course. She turned out to be another bestselling mystery writer.
One good turn deserves another
These encounters can often lead to interesting developments. Somehow, during our ride to the airport, those two authors determined that I needed to go to work for Borders as a community relations coordinator. They even volunteered to provide references. Spurred on by their encouragement, I followed through and got the job.
Eventually, that new writer became one of the top-selling mystery writers in the business. Lucky for me, because whenever he was in town he always made a point to stop by our store and sign books and meet the staff. Unfortunately, as his star grew his need for my personal “limo” service waned; his publisher provided someone to help him navigate his book tour in our fair city. Still, the friendship remains.
One of the highlights of my last twenty plus years in writing happened during my stint at Borders Books. My position meant that I dealt with authors all the time. I was in charge of the book signings and events. Our opening act as a bookstore was a signing with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. That was a trip. They had “people.” Their people had requests (demands). I had to come up with a baby grand piano for the two hours Mr. Allen would be at the store. Nothing like going large with your first book signing event. Over the next couple of years I met more authors, and even helped with a huge signing for President Jimmy Carter. Now that man could sign books. His hand flew across the page leaving something that faintly resembled a signature. However, none compared with coming face to face with one of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury.
My “author moment” with Ray Bradbury
Having Ray Bradbury in the house was a trip. Having him in Houston, where an entire generation of space workers devoured his work and shared his imagination, was a sight to see. Families of two and three generations lined up to meet this man whose work had meant so much to them. From the moment he slid out of my manager’s car, I caught site of his white hair standing up on end on the back of his head and the image of mad scientist came to mind. I spent hours watching him greet his devoted readers. He would occasionally draw a cat with his signature for some lucky fan. Always he would give all his attention to the reader in front of him. Often, he would dispense writing advice. Ray Bradbury wrote like no other. His joy in writing permeated every sentence he ever wrote. To be next to him, and to watch him engage with everyone, and even to talk to him was a great honor. He was a kind, generous man. No limo. No people. Just Bradbury.
My “author moment” with Irving Stone
From the time I was about ten or eleven years old, I adored the book The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. My parents gave me a deluxe bound copy that had color plates of Michaelangelo’s work, and I treasured that book. I read it as a ritual every year for more than ten years straight. I always meant to write him but never did. About a year after I started writing, I saw that Irving Stone was in town for a book signing. I gathered up my old, worn book. (I still had it despite a fire and a hurricane-flood.) At the bookstore, I nervously wandered among the stacks of books, all the while clutching my old book and his new release. He was sitting at a table with his wife. I finally gathered up the courage to approach him and gave him my book. I apologized for its look but reassured him that it was a treasured copy. He signed both books and gave me a gentle smile. I gathered the books to my chest, thanked him profusely, and scurried out the door. Then, I sat in my car. I couldn’t stop shaking. It was a good ten minutes before I could open that worn book to see what he had inscribed:
The tears flowed. I was overwhelmed. I knew Irving Stone had been an important writer in my life, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how deep of an impact his writing had made. His words had fed my voracious young mind and formed my creative spirit. He’d left an imprint of his vision of the creative spark and what it was to be an artist and to write, and like a little duckling I had followed. You can’t imagine how sad I was a year later to learn of his death, nor how grateful I was to have had those few precious minutes with him. I am forever indebted to Irving Stone and his work.
Maybe you’re wondering why I’m sharing all this with you. Today is the second day of Armchair BEA 2014 where we participate by writing about a specific topic. The topic is author interaction. These are the stories that came to mind, and with them, a few things I learned along the way. The best advice I ever heard from any bestselling author when it came to navigating the publishing world was very simple: “Be nice,” La Vryle Spencer advised. “Be nice to everyone.”
Use the comment section below to share your own thoughts, stories, and advice.