At my very first book signing, I was sitting at the table wearing my leather tricorn hat.  I’d had a nice turnout, and it was almost time to leave, when a woman approached my table.  “I saw your pirate hat from upstairs,” she said, smiling.  “My daughter competes in pageants, and we did a whole pirate thing for the last one.  Pink and purple, and I made her outfit myself, even her hat.  It was better than yours.”  While I was sitting there, unsure how to respond to that, she picked up one of my books, had me sign it, then went off happily to pay for it.

We all have those moments.  You know the ones I mean, when the snappy comeback goes horribly wrong, when the name leaves your head, when the compliment turns sideways.  Jo Walton had a blog post on Tor.com not long ago, talking about just that sort of thing. I did it myself, years back.  Orson Scott Card had been invited to speak at my college campus, so I breathlessly rushed out to see him.  Afterwards, I don’t remember how the subject came up, but he mentioned something about Tim Powers.  I squealed, “Oh, do you know him?  Nobody can write better than he does!”  Yep, in my out-loud voice and everything.  😀

It’s so easy to open your mouth and stick your foot right in.  It’s not just fans who do it to writers, though.  I’ve seen writers commit some sins right back at fans, sins that might mean the difference between a sale and a pass.

Some writers seem to have no idea how to behave in public.  Mark Wise mentioned the biggest boo-boo in comments the other day – writers who sit at their signing tables looking like they’d rather be in Torquemada’s torture chamber.  If you’re shy, I can understand that reaching out to potential readers is difficult, but a smile goes a long way.  If you’ve brought along a friend for moral support, that’s wonderful.  Send him out into the store to steer people toward your table, or put him in charge of giving out free bookmarks.  Don’t spend the whole time chatting and ignoring people.

Writers are often brilliant people.  Some of my favorite writers dazzle me with their intellect.  Knowing you’re smart is one thing, but hitting a potential reader over the head with your smarts is a sure way to kill sales.  I ran across a book signing for an iUniverse science fantasy novel last spring.  In an attempt to be supportive, I stopped and picked up a copy. The author took it from my hands, opened it to the Author’s Note inside and insisted I read that first.  It was two pages of the author saying that this book was more than likely too smart for most people to read, but if I felt I was capable of handling the “collegiate level” subject matter, I could go ahead and read the book.  I ended up buying ice cream instead.

I know quite a lot of our readers are writers-in-progress, so while you’re making your marketing plans, keep in mind that your body language and behavior is just as important to marketing yourself as the free bookmarks and blogging.  And smile!

If you haven’t already voted, please go over to Urban Fantasy Land and cast your votes for Faith, Kim Harrison and our very own C.E. Murphy!  And please come by Magical Words tomorrow to enjoy a guest appearance from best-selling author Kim Harrison!

Misty Massey
Magical Words


9 comments to Oops!

  • It is good to hear that even accomplished writers have their foot-in-mouth moments. I am notorious for coming off as flakey and overly nervous when meeting famous people (just ask David Coe who I met for the firs ttime this past weekend).

    I am a total goofball. *grrr*

    But seeing how book readers/writers tend to be anti-social by definition since it is a heavily solitary activity, shuoldn’t we expect this?

  • Misty, I *love* the TIm Powers line! Priceless!

    I had a fan (loudly) tell me that I needed to have my colors done, and I needed to go back to a strawberry blond, that I was too washed out as a blonde. I smiled and said thank you. But hey! I *like* being a blonde. And I was *never* strawberry…

  • Beatriz

    Misty, I’m quite certain that the tricorn was growling under his breathe at the remark. I applaud you for being gracious. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have bitten my tongue fast enough if I’d been in your seat.

    I think having bookmarks or some inexpensive give away on your table is a great way for shy authors to strike up a conversation with folks who may be hovering near the table. Me, I’m painfully shy (quit laughing, I AM) and if the author is one I love I may be very reluctant to approach the table. I don’t want to bother him or her.

    Mark– don’t feel bad. I bet you didn’t hit poor David with your hat, did you? ~blush~ Talk about stupidfangirl behaviour!

  • Mark was charming — it was great finally meeting him. And lovely fan girls can hit me with a hat any time at all.

    At my very first DragonCon years and years ago, when I still had just one book out and was the smallest of fish in the big pond that is Tor, I was on a panel with the late Robert Jordan, Tor’s biggest seller. Naturally we got into an argument about something and I wound up saying something rather insulting to him. I spent the next three days groveling.

  • Mark asked, “But seeing how book readers/writers tend to be anti-social by definition since it is a heavily solitary activity, shuoldn’t we expect this?”

    No, I don’t think so. Take David, for example, since you just met him over the weekend. He’s brilliant (yes, you are, David, so hush!) friendly and playful. Faith is charming and gracious to everyone who approaches her. Catie flew all the way from Ireland to South Carolina and then made the whole conference fall in love with her. And me…well, I’m a goofball, too. But none of us are antisocial at all. 😀

    It’s probably harder for the less gregarious among us. All it takes is the right mindset and a little effort, but the payout is so great.

    Faith, the second it came out of my mouth, I was so horribly embarassed. He was very kind about it.

    Beatriz, I’d say it was less “gracious” and more “stunned speechless”. *laugh*

    David, you? Argue? *grins, ducks and runs*

  • (*choking*)
    David, *argue?* Not you!
    LOL *ducks and runs*

  • Tom Gallier

    Which one of you is Miz Harrison, blogging her today? Why is everyone ducking?

    Ducks, runs for cover….I sure hope that was a pixie that buzzed past my ear.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter

    I love the picture of you in your hat!

    I once had the good fortune of meeting Orson Scott Card and Tim Power at the same time in the then-still-standing World Trade Towers…but I didn’t really notice them because Roger Zelazny and Gene Wolfe were there, too.

  • Aw, thanks, Jagi! Honestly, if I’d had the chance to be face-to-face with Roger Zelazny, I’d probably had embarrassed myself in even greater, more magnificent degrees. *grin*