As Con season is upon us, I feel that there are some PSAs that need to be repeated. Obviously, the anti-harassment and anti-douchebaggery messages are at the top of my list. Keep your hands to yourself. Cosplay does not equal consent. Don’t be a dick.
But there’s more to going to a convention than costumes and walking the exhibitor hall. There are chances to meet your favorite celebrities, authors and artists. While I have no idea what it’s like to be a celebrity at a con, I do have some experience in the author area. I thought this might be a good time to give you a simple guide in how to approach and interact with your favorite authors in a Con environment.
It can be exciting as hell to see your favorite author in the wild. While at Phoenix Comic Con, I admit that I gasped and internally squeed all over myself whenever Jim Butcher walked by. (He’s shorter than I expected. Sam Sykes probably stole his height, the salsa-slinging bastard.) But at no time did I just run up to him and start gushing about how he has influenced my own writing and how someday I really want to give him a run for his metaphorical money.
Nor should you.
If you’re going to approach someone, particularly authors, you have to understand that we don’t have much social interaction. Those of us with day jobs, this may be different, but I sit in front of a computer all day. I don’t talk to anyone unless it is through text. I play with things that only I can see or hear. Basically I am one step shy of being committed to a strait jacket and padded cell. It’s best to assume the same applies to your favorite author.
Approach cautiously and make your presence known. No, it’s not funny to sneak up or glomp someone. If they’re doing something else, give them their space and wait your turn. I know you’re really excited. I know you might be pressed for time. While at PHX CC, I had 5 minutes before the doors opened and I had to get back to my booth. James O’Barr had been at his table for only a few moments and I hated to intrude upon him, but that was my only window to get The Crow signed. I apologized profusely and asked if he had a moment to sign a book for me before the crowd descended. He was very sweet and he did. (Bless you, Mr. O’Barr.)
But anyway, remember that your favorite author is a person, too, and that you should announce your presence before just diving in to any interaction.
It’s Not You…
So you’ve gotten up to Author McAwesome’s table, or have found yourself waiting on the same elevator. You’ve said hi and started a conversation, but they don’t seem to be chatty. In fact, she seems like she is downright repelled by you. You’re about ready to slink off into oblivion and burn all of your books, but I must stop you.
First of all, don’t burn them, give them to me.
Secondly, it might not be you.
Let me ‘splain. I spoke with at least 50 authors at various stages in their careers during Con. From Patrick Rothfuss to Sgt. Tony (a guy who is working on his first novel), they were all there. People who haven’t even put pen to paper, but have stories inside to tell. People who are working on their fifth novel and switching publishers. People who are considering self-publishing. One thing all of them had in common: limits. This is my first major con as a professional and I can tell you that it is nuts. It’s not like being a volunteer or an attendee. Being behind the table was a wild, weird experience. My badge, I found, held magical properties getting me and anyone with me into damn near any door. And that’s freaky.
Now, I’m an extrovert 90% of the time. I’m gregarious, effusive and generally love to talk to people. (Remember that part where I said I sit in front of a computer all day? Yeah, I love having a chance to interact with other humans. I may also thirst for your flesh.) But even with my naturally “out there” tendencies, there is a line at which I say, “Back up, I need to retreat into a cool, dark corner.”
Thing is, most of the writers I spoke with over Con weekend aren’t as “out there” as me. They are introverts to the core. They are timid creatures shrouded with the bones of social interactions past hoping to fool you into believing they are an extrovert. Some of them made no pretense. They said outright that crowds make them freak out. Some of them mentioned during their panels that they aren’t good at public speaking.
So when you meet your author at the elevator, that may be the first moment to herself she’s had in 3 days. She may not have remembered to eat today. (That happens, especially at conventions.) Or, she may just have crippling social anxiety and this moment is the first time she’s had to let down all her guards.
To that point, don’t be surprised if said author vanishes rather quickly. The Drinks With Authors event at the Con was a particularly interesting social experience for me. When we arrived (most of an hour late), Patrick Rothfuss was outside the main room with others, having a quiet moment. I didn’t see him come back in at all. Jim Butcher? He arrived and got mobbed. He couldn’t move until he was pulled up to the front of the room to give away books. After that, I noticed he did a nice disappearing act. John Scalzi bamfed in and quickly back out again.
That’s not assholism. That’s not snubbing. That’s self-defense. I know how crazy it was for me to be flitting about like a butterfly in that room. I was stopped here and there by people who wanted to talk, or what have you, but I’m no body compared to Jim or John or Pat. I know that I was dying of the heat and closeness in that room (me, the people-loving extrovert)… I can only imagine if someone who is more claustrophobic, or one with social anxiety, got dropped into a small, sweaty room with 200 people.
…Unless It IS You.
It’s true that your favorite author might be brushing you off because of a busy schedule, sour stomach or any number of valid, personal reasons. But never forget that you might be pressing too hard. Check yourself. Are you invading personal space? What’s your attitude expressing? What does your body language say? Have you just invited yourself into dinner where maybe you weren’t wanted? Have you perhaps interrupted them while they are having a conversation, or spending time with their family? Before you decry your favorite author as an asshat in person, just remember that interactions have more than one person involved.
Also, They’re Working.
Yes, Cons are fun and such, but for the actors, authors and professionals on site, this is work. This is business. Last weekend, some 77,818 people gathered for Phoenix Comic Con and I feel like I talked to all of them. (Except Nathan Fillion.) I shredded my voice and slept most of Monday because the experience itself was exhausting. It’s WORK.
Also, some of the authors–myself included–weren’t just sitting on panels and manning a table and selling stock and meeting potential readers and networking with other authors or editors…we were also wrangling families. My daughter was on site Thursday, Friday and Sunday afternoon. Talk about “Take Your Kid To Work Day”. Oy.
It’s stressful to be both Mom and Jamie Wyman, Author, at the same time. Keep that in mind.
Then again, it is possible that some authors–like any other brand of human being–are just assholes. It happens. Try not to take it personally and move on with your life. (I know this can be easier said than done if, say, you’ve traveled to meet said author and tell them how their writing shaped your existence only to be handed a sales pitch or a withering glare.)
What I’m getting at here, gang, is that Cons are crazy and many authors are, by nature, introverts who spend most of their time in their own heads. Some authors I met last weekend were pretty frosty at first. That’s their right, and it might be what they need to get through something so harrying as a convention. Don’t press, don’t push or try to “wear them down”. (Seriously, please don’t do this. Ever.) If that person thaws out, peachy. Grand. If not, it may not be a personal affront to you. While fun, cons can be exceedingly overwhelming and some authors turtle up when they feel uncomfortable. Their shells may be spiky due to past experiences or their general personality. And if there is an asshole in any given situation, make sure it’s not you.