Reader Request Week 2008 #10: Meeting Authors (and Me)
I have bought tickets to Denvention and I am looking forward to seeing all of my favorite authors. My question is what is the appropriate way to approach an author? Ignore (or not) behavior like stalking and such (knocking on hotel door at 2am) but how would you like to be approached? I’m fluctuating between, Ohmygod,ohmygod,ohmygod, it’s scalzi!!!!!! and a deep scary “it’s good to meet you, John.”
Part of the problem is that I feel like I know you fairly well, because of how open and sharing you are here on the blog, but you know nothing about me. How do/should you (and us as your fans) manage this inequality?
Yeah, it’s interesting. One aspect of fame — even the rather meager portion of it that I and most authors have — is that more people know you than you know, and they have a relationship with you that you don’t have with them. I can’t individually know everyone who reads one of my books or reads Whatever; I’d have no time left at the end of the day. And once again it makes me feel sorry for people who are genuinely famous, who have this sort of unequal relationship with millions of people, not just a few sundry thousands.
I do think it’s worth remembering that even though you’ve read our books (and our blogs) and feel friendly toward us, on our end of things you’re a stranger, even if we’ve interacted with you through blog comments or e-mail or whatever. There are lots of regular commentors here on Whatever who, if they were to come up to me in real life and just start blabbering away, I would have not the first clue who they were, and I might even be a little alarmed (fortunately my regular commentors here are more socialized than that. Right? Right?!?). I’m glad you recognize this fact that our respective relationships are unequal in terms of familiarity, James, and I hope the rest of you internalize it too.
That said, you know: I’m just this guy. There’s no great science to meeting me or any author for the first time. Presuming that you are adult and socialized reasonably well, the way to introduce yourself to me is the same way you would introduce yourself to anyone you’ve not actually met before in real life. You come up, make sure I’m not currently engaged in a task that needs my full attention, say “excuse me” or “hello” to get my attention, and then introduce yourself. Wherein you and I will likely have a nice, brief chat, and after a minute or two we’ll disengage and go about our lives. Pretty simple.
I do know that occasionally people are reluctant to approach me or other writers, because “oh, they get bothered so much, I don’t want to bother them.” Leaving aside the fact that authors are rarely bothered in this way because few people actually know what we look like, I think a lot depends on context. If you were to find me randomly out on the street or at a restaurant, this is not an inappropriate response; I probably do want to be left alone, because I’m busy having my real life. But if I’m at a convention (or book fair, or other public event), I’m generally there to be accessible to fans and readers, as are most authors who are there. I think we all generally like to be recognized in that context. Please feel free to come up and say hello; it’s not a bother.
Bear in mind that it’s not just fans and readers who get this way about writers; it’s other writers, too (because we’re fans and readers as well). I was at ReaderCon a couple of years ago, standing with a group of young writers, when China Mieville, who was the convention guest of honor (and who is a generally lovely person), paused nearby to look at some notes. And this is what happened:
Young Writer: Oh my god, oh my god. It’s China. God, I so want to talk to him. (nods all around)
Me: So call him over.
Young Writer: I can’t! I’m too embarrassed. I wouldn’t know what to say. That’s China, man. And look, he’s busy. Staring at words. I don’t want to bug him. (more nods)
Me: You’re all idiots. Hey, China!
China Mieville: (looks up) Oh, hello. (joins group to chat briefly, then goes about his business)
Me: See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Young Writers: Oh my god! We talked to China! (neo-pro hands flutter, legs pump up and down with glee)
Okay, maybe they didn’t giggle like Japanese schoolgirls at the end. But the rest of it is fairly bang on. Point is, all of us get a bit fannish and intimidated from time to time. But most authors, especially at conventions and seminars, are happy to say hello for a moment or two.
This does lead to another question: Is there a time at a convention when you shouldn’t say hello to an author? Well, sure. Authors are often rushing from one panel or event to another (con organizers work us like dogs to keep you amused), so if you see an author with a holy crap I’m late and I have no idea where my next panel is look on his or her face, try to catch them some other time. Likewise, if you see an author trying to cram a sandwich down his throat like he’s forgotten about the concept of chewing, it probably means he’s only got a few minutes to fuel himself before he’s off to something else. Give him a break, let him scarf, catch him later.
One other thing: Note the difference between public and private spaces, and public and private conversations. If you see an author at a con party holding court with a crowd of folks around, feel free to join in. If you see her talking very intently to one other person, over in the corner, you’re probably not wanted. Likewise: author in the hotel bar, being loud and opinionated? Say hi. Author in the restaurant, having a quiet meal with spouse or friends? Catch them later. This is all common sense and common courtesy, and I’m sure you know all of this already. But feel free to pass this along to your more clueless friends.
So that’s some general advice. Relating to me, here are some things you should know when coming to say hi.
1. I discover that as more people come up and say hi to me, and as my brain becomes more error-ridden as I ingest increasingly massive amounts of artificial sweetener, I am having a harder time remembering names and faces. So: Even if we’ve met before, I might not immediately recognize you by name or face. Just reintroduce yourself, at which point I will like say “Oh, right. Duh. Sorry,” and we can move along. I’m generally very upfront about this inability to remember anything anymore, and hopefully I am so in a charming way, but what I’m saying is: don’t be offended. It’s not that you’re not memorable, it’s that my brain sucks.
2. I am generally very open to being approached (even outside conventions, in my real life), but occasionally you might come up to me when I’m in a conversation I’m really engaged in, or when I’m busy doing something, or even when, despite being in a public area, I just want to be left alone. When that happens I’ll say something like, “Can I catch up with you later?”, which will be your cue to step away. It does not mean “fuck off” (trust me, if I want you to fuck off, I will use words to that effect); it means “please catch up with me later.” The upside to honoring this request is that when I see you again, I am likely to be happier to see you, because I know you’re the sort of excellent person who leaves me alone when I ask to be left alone.
3. I am generally happy to sign books and take pictures. However, I don’t want to read your short story, listen to an idea you’ve had we could collaborate on, go have lunch or dinner with you if we’ve only just met or go up to your hotel room for whatever reason you might contrive (and yes, people have tried to contrive, at least once, although not for the reason you’re probably thinking). Thanks all the same.
4. Also, not that it’s ever come up, or likely ever will, but just in case, here’s the deal for groupies: You’ll have to ask Krissy for permission.
Good luck with that.
I think this covers most everything about meeting me.