I’m a writer. My bliss in life is creating fictional worlds in which (mostly) fictional characters interact. My short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, but until that all elusive agent/publishing deal comes through for my novels, until you can find something I wrote at a book store near you, I feel like I’ll remain in limbo – a writer, but not yet an author.
Good things come to those that wait, and waiting isn’t simply down time. It’s a chance to learn, to grow, and to develop the skills you need to transform your goals into prolonged success. One of the best ways to learn how to do something right is by learning from what others do wrong. And I’m doing exactly that.
It’s probably no surprise that one of the things I enjoy doing is going to book signings. I love meeting authors. I love being in a room filled with other passionate readers. I love walking into a room full of strangers with the rare feeling of knowing that I’ll be okay – there’s comfort in knowing that the other people in the room are my kind of people. And maybe, one day, if I keeping working hard and developing my skill and talent, it might be me up there signing books. No one said it was going to be easy. You can’t expect the things you want in life to be handed to you – you have to work for them.
I try to keep this in mind while I stop myself from lying prostate at the authors’ feet, begging for the magical knowledge, the golden key, whatever secret it is that they know that I don’t that made an agent ask to rep them instead of saying, “I think it’s good, I really enjoyed it, but I’m not quite passionate enough about it.” I keep this in mind, and instead focus on what the authors are doing now that they’ve made it. How are they behaving? How are they interacting? How are they turning casual readers into die-hard fans – or not? Because that’s the real golden key. And it’s a big one.
A couple of years ago, I got the chance to meet one of my favorite authors. I was really excited. I’d read every book she’d ever written. She seemed to be the perfect balance of everything I was striving to be. I sat there in the audience among her other fans, the excitement in the room slowly dying, our collective hearts slowly breaking, while it became increasingly apparent what an inconvenience the event was to her. How annoying we, as fans simply wanting a smile and a signature, must be. It was a horrible feeling. And, although I’d been reading her series for over ten years, I haven’t read one of her books since. Not out of anger or spite – when I read the blurbs, they just don’t appeal to me. To be honest, the series had been stale for a while, and even though I felt this way, I remained reading because I had faith they’d pick up again. I was a loyal fan right up until the moment it became clear that she wasn’t a loyal author. She wasn’t trying. She felt no sense of obligation to provide her fans with her best work – or even her time. She was pumping out the same tired story line book after book because we continued to buy them.
Earlier this year, I met a new author shortly after the release of her first novel. The book was good. It showed promise. The characters were well developed, the plot was entertaining, but there were certain things – a little too much backstory dump in places that turned into rambling, erroneous writing that did nothing to move the story forward or invest the reader deeper into the work. Things that readers know will improve with experience and time, things that won’t necessarily stop a reader from picking up another book by the author. The author seemed comfortable with the audience. She talked about herself for over an hour. By the time she was done, I think we all felt like we knew her a bit. She’d certainly shared enough intimate details of her life with us. Yet as we stood in line, readers telling her how much they enjoyed the book, or how much they identified with a character, the author couldn’t have seemed less interested. She quickly scrawled her name in each book, taking neither the time nor the effort to personalize with a name or message, much more interested in her cell phone. I don’t think she actually made eye contact with a single person while signing their book for them. It was obvious that the author didn’t need anyone in that room to make the effort to look for her next book – she was already a rock star.
And then there’s the author who does it right. Who not only makes eye contact, but takes the time to ask questions of every reader. Who personalizes what they sign from the conversation they take the time to have with each person. Who thanks every reader for coming out, for their support, for reading the book. After all, what is an author, what is their book, without readers? When you write a book, you’re asking readers to let a piece of you inside them – into their heads, their hearts, their homes. You’re establishing a relationship, and relationships are built on mutual affection.
If When I make the transition from writer to author, this is one of the biggest lessons I hope to bring with me. I am an introvert. Most writers probably are. But you’re going into the situation knowing that these are your people. Embrace them. Appreciate them. Thank them. Treasure them. Take the time to make them feel as special as they make you feel.
And while I won’t reveal the names of the authors who do it wrong, I will share the name of the author who, in my opinion, does it the best, and that’s Tom Ryan. If you’ve never read his creative nonfiction book, Following Atticus, you should. Check out his social media and his blog and you will see that this is an author who is doing things right. He’s created a family of his readers. His readers adore him, and he takes the time to make them feel appreciated in return. He has a line around the block waiting eagerly awaiting the release of his second book.
Jodi Picoult is another author who treats her fans with appreciation and sincerity. If you get the chance to attend one of her signings, you should definitely go. She’s a wonderful speaker, passionate about her causes, and also makes her readers feel like family. It’s no wonder that she’s achieve such success – Leaving Time had an initial hardcover printing of a million copies – in the literary world, she really is a rock star – and yet, she’s still humble enough to thank you for coming. Whether it’s the secret of success, or simply good manners, count me in.