Whenever I get home from an event, I worry that I was somehow an asshole, or that I messed up, or that I disappointed a reader or potential fan. I mentioned this issue on Twitter and Facebook, and my feeds BLEW UP, which tells me that many people feel this way on *both* sides of the panel table.
Authors are not perfect, and I've had plenty of books ruined for me after sub-par interactions with their writers. And that's why I'd like to talk about why an interaction can go wrong.
Note: Kevin Hearne is immune to this list because he's the nicest person on the planet.
1. THE AUTHOR IS AN ACTUAL ASSHOLE.
Sorry not sorry, but some people suck. I have been treated horribly by authors who have utterly no excuse for their behavior, and when (non-asshole) authors drink and talk, the same names come up over and over again. The good news is that... it's not your fault. Some people are just assholes, and authors are no exception.
2. THE AUTHOR IS AN INTROVERT OR SHY.
This is me! I have Chronic Resting Bitchface. I can't introduce myself to people. I never want to bother someone or make them uncomfortable. So if you are shy and kind of hover around me, and I don't recognize you, I might avoid eye contact and check my phone. I am not one of those people who will wave at you and urge you to pick up my book or bookmarks. I will stare at the table and wait until you walk up to it and say something specifically to me because I would never want to pressure you to, say, be within twenty feet of me against your will. I am not a hard seller. This is one of my personal flaws that I am trying to fix.
Once you establish that I know you via social media, that you've read my books, or that you are even vaguely interested in my books or a shared fandom, we can be buddies forever. It's just rare that I will instigate a conversation with a stranger. Because I am terrified of strangers.
3. THE AUTHOR IS HAVING A MAJOR PROBLEM.
I've been at events and gotten a text that my grandmother was in the hospital or my dog had escaped or that something went wrong with a book, and that makes it extra hard to focus on fan interaction and answer panel questions with anything approaching grace. I've been at events and recognized the first stages of a cold or the flu, and even if I start pounding Vitamin C and water, I don't want to touch anyone for fear of passing on germs. I went to RT with hemorrhagic conjunctivitis and could barely see. So, sometimes, an author isn't being an asshole so much as fighting an internal fight or worrying about a loved one, all while 600 miles from home and antibiotics and trying to put on a brave face in public.
4. THE AUTHOR IS WITH THEIR FRIENDS.
This one always worries me, because I've been the nobody snubbed by a clique, and I never want to be the snubber. I've been the shy kid, the bullied kid, the friendless kid. I've been that person at a con who knows absolutely no one and can't seem to squeeze into a circle of conversation. And yet I know that, at some point, I'll be hanging with some of my best friends to the exclusion of others and I might not even know it. These days, my very best friends are writers I only get to see a couple of times a year, and most of our relationship happens online, and when I actually get to see them, I am giddy with joy and focused on them. And if someone is hovering outside that circle, I might not notice it, and I hate that.
So if you approach me at the bar or restaurant and I'm geeking out on hanging with friends and not "on" in a public space, you might think I'm an asshole, and I'm sorry if that ever happens. This is why most authors try to firmly establish times when we're available to readers and the public-- book signings, author tables, Drinks with Authors events-- vs. times when we're not scheduled for anything and have clocked out in the corner with a large drink and besties.
5. THE AUTHOR IS RUNNING LATE.
This happens a lot at Dragoncon and other huge, sprawling cons. A panel will run five minutes over, and that gives me twenty minutes to fight a crowd of 80k people uphill for four blocks or risk being late to the next panel and ruining my reputation with the track director. But a reader wants to talk to me after the first panel, and I want to give them the experience they want, all the while watching the clock count down to an established commitment. I try to let people know when our interaction might be truncated, but I know that I still mess it up sometimes. This is one reason why I try to go to smaller cons and festivals, too-- we have more time for a personal conversation. For Dragoncon, I have 12 panels in three days, while for the Dahlonega Literary Festival, I have 3 panels in three days. You can imagine which event will give you more real, honest, unhindered time with your favorite authors.
6. THE AUTHOR HAS TAKEN OFFENSE.
Sometimes, the author is not the asshole. Does that sound dickish? Probably. But if you open a conversation with, "I had some problems with your book," or "I hated the ending," or "YA is stupid," or "I found some typos, and I think you need better editing," or, "You're ruining my genre," or, God help you, "Will you read my book and give it to your editor?", chances are, I'm not going to be super psyched to talk to you.
And it's happened! All of it! For real!
Great friendships don't start out with unsolicited criticism. No one wants to be confronted by a stranger about something they can't change. Even if you have valid complaints about me, my clothes, or my work, in person and at a public event is not a great way to communicate it, especially if you want the conversation to become chummy. So let's be pals based on positivity and squeeing, and then nobody has to be an asshole.
Also, if you've talked shit about me (or my friends) online or on a panel, chances are... I remember it.
7. THE AUTHOR IS OUT OF SPOONS OR HANGRY.
Being "on" all day is challenging, and that's before you add in travel, time zones, jet lag, sleeping in a different place, writing deadlines, and the aftermath of the bar. Most cons or festivals have the writers heavily scheduled with panels, meal events, parties, signings, readings, and receptions. Even if you see a huge, gaping hole in a writer's posted schedule, they may have a two-hour lunch with an editor or a series of podcasts that will leave their vocal chords shredded and their brain mushy. When you say hi and they stare straight through you as they tug a bag of books through the halls, it might be that they've forgotten how words work. Your best bet for a great interaction is after a lively panel or during the day, as by 11pm, most writers are zombies.
Also, if they were booked through lunch and haven't eaten in eight hours, you won't want to get between them and food. Just sayin'.
8. THE AUTHOR IS HAVING FEELS.
Every writer has at least one horror story about a panel that went insane. I had one major SFF writer call me some ugly names for writing Romance. I had a traditionally published friend get viciously attacked for his stance on agents. I had another friend who was called a whore for not going indie. I've seen panelists so talked over and mansplained that they left in frustrated tears. What happens on a panel can get out of hand, and that leaves a writer amped up on adrenaline and/or rage and anxious to leave and find a safe space to get their shit together. If you encounter a writer in the hall after such a panel, you're not going to get a friendly, charismatic person who makes good eye contact-- you're going to get a haunted person with wet eyes who's shaking and looks like they're trying to escape a bear. And let me tell you--it can be hard to find the words to say, "Excuse me, but I just got publicly humiliated and want to go to my room and cry," when that's how you're feeling.
Nothing makes an author as happy as finding a new reader at an event or meeting a fan who connected with our books. And most authors will be legitimately upset if they learn they've inadvertently hurt your feelings and will want to make it right.
If I ever botch an interaction with you, please let me know so that I can avoid doing so in the future-- or find you at the event and hug you and give you swag. As I mentioned in this post on how to interact with authors, if you tell me your Twitter name or how else I might know you, I will go from shy and frightened like a bunny to snuggling you like a koala. I'm so grateful for everyone who approaches me at an event, and I'm doing my best to get over my social anxiety and give you the interaction you deserve.