How to Approach Authors in the Wild

Authors are wild animals: skittish, easily frightened, biologically fragile, and hungry for human blood and whisky. How do you fanboy/fangirl without terrifying them? Keep reading.

This could be a controversial post, mainly because you might not like what I say, or because it might make you feel sheepish about past experiences. But please understand that it comes from the heart to help you maximize your interactions with cool people. These are tips I've adopted myself when approaching bigger sharks in the authorly sea, although it might be noted that I began an interaction with Joe Abercrombie last week with, "Yo, Joe, so this is going to be super awkward, but..."

Because here's the secret: Authors are people.

At the ConFusion 2015 bar with authors Wes Chu and Myke Cole, with bonus Mallory O'Meara.

At the ConFusion 2015 bar with authors Wes Chu and Myke Cole, with bonus Mallory O'Meara.

Authors are not gods, monsters, or robots that exist for your pleasure. And if you piss them off or terrify them, they're going to avoid you. So, how do you stalk these wily creatures?

1. Via Social Media

Do: 

Offer insight, compliment books or posts, remark on covers, congratulate on awards or reviews, show them fan art, alert them to news stories relevant to their books, tell them you enjoyed meeting them at a con previously, ask when their next book is out, let them know about a nice review, join in a thread to which you can relate. Be respectful and not a dick, as you would to anyone you met in line at the post office. Just because we can't get in a fistfight doesn't mean you want to poke us like bears. 

Just pretend you're a normal person standing around the water cooler at work, really.

Don't:

Correct them, point out a spelling or grammatical error in a tweet, add them to a 1000-person Invite or thread on FB for which the notifications will explode, try to be obviously clever, send them a Wikipedia link because you think that perhaps they literally believe that Yeti eat babies, admonish them gently for their parenting choices, tell them you hated their book, ask them questions that can be easily answered by a simple online search, creep on them, or command them to do anything, really, such as, "Tell me why I should buy your book," or "Explain to me why Yetis eat babies, you Communist."

Adding: Don't act too familiar until you've met in person and gotten along and they understand your sense of humor. You might *think* you sound sassy and jovial when in fact you sound like a complete ass. I've been on both ends of this stick.

Newsflash: Using a ;) emoticon after a dickish statement does NOT make it any less dickish; probably more so. And, dear gods, do not tweet or DM a link to your self-published book.

If you have enough positive interactions with a writer you admire, they will begin to think of you as a friend, much like a pack of wolves accepting a stray kitten. If you constantly piss them off, peacock them with your Google-fu, or shake your finger at them as if you are some powerful demigod/overbearing mother, they will at best ignore you and at worst block you or tell you off.

No one comes to social media because they want randos to crap on their day.

2. In person

Do:

Bring alcohol or cake, preferably that you didn't make yourself. Bring books for them to sign or ask for some bookmarks to put out at your local bookstore or library. Start off the conversation by telling them your Twitter name and mentioning a conversation you had; our memories are full of lies and plots, but we want to know we know you. Ask for a pic, if you want. Enter a group/bar conversation gently and contribute as you would among colleagues. Watch for social signals and back off if it's a bad time or someone looks like they're about to cry or murder you. Wait your turn in line, if they have a line, and take a reasonable amount of time without monopolizing them. Remember that while authors are "on" during panels and signings, if you catch them at the bar or in a restaurant, they may be "off" and enjoying downtime with close friends--do not automatically sit down unless invited. If they say, "So I'll see you at the con/in my next panel," that's a signal to back off.

Note: The faster you establish your bona fides-- I'm @iloveyourbook on Twitter, I'm that book blogger who gave you five stars, I met you at your home con and love your books, I'm friends with this friend of yours--the less awkward and guarded an author will be and the more likely they are to be warm, welcoming, and open. Because you feel *safe*.

Don't:

Don't bring food or beverage items that could be toxic/awkward/full of your beard hair. Don't ignore all social signals or follow the author into the bathroom. Don't ask them where they're doing dinner or where they're staying. Don't tell them at length all the things that you thought were wrong in their book. Don't pitch them your book or the idea you'd like them to write in their next book. Don't ask for an intro to their agent or editor. Don't use them as rungs up the ladder to meet bigger celebrity authors. Don't start arguing religion, politics, or barbecue recipes. Don't stand very close behind them, breathe heavily, and claim to be reading their tattoos. Don't try to pick them up, skeeze on them, or ask them for a threesome with their significant other-- and, yeah, this happens. Don't hover just outside a circle of authors at the bar but never engage anyone. It's not a zoo. Technically. 

See, we love coffee and alcohol, but there's a difference between, "So.... can I buy you a drink?" *eyebrow wiggle, lip lick* and "I loved YOUR BOOK and promised on Twitter last week that if I ever met you, I owed you a Scotch. Is now a good time? You like Laphroaig, right?"

Because yes. Yes, I do.

*

As John Henry Cardinal Newman said, "It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain." If you approach writers (or, yeah, even celebrities) with that in mind rather than grasping at what you consider an ideal meeting experience or getting what you want out of another human being, you'll have far better success. Even if you have purchased an author's book(s), they don't owe you anything; the money you paid was exchanged for their work, and that transaction is done. Most writers are, at some level, nerds, and we know what it's like to be gripped with anxiety and self-consciousness. We're forgiving, but more so if you're genuine, kind, and read social signals to avoid making us uncomfortable or overstepping your bounds.

For me, and believe me, I'm not a celebrity, you can get a much better meeting if you tell me your Twitter name or somehow establish how we know each other online. I have social anxiety and respond much more warmly to people I "know." 

tl;dr: Authors are people and will respond with warmth if you're kind, genuine, and show appropriate social understanding. Or if you buy alcohol and cupcakes.