Monday, July 13, 2009

Too Cool for School (and for the Book Store) (Or, Book People Are Nice)

Some unspecified amount of time ago, I attended a book event that started with a reading and ended in a Q&A. It was the author's debut novel, and it was clear she was a little nervous about the event. She seemed edgy and jumpy.

Nerves are totally understandable at this kind of thing. I speak in front of people all the time, and still get totally fluttery/twisty beforehand. So that feeling I definitely relate to. But what's important is that you control how your nerves manifest themselves.

The author in question's method, it became clear, was to allow herself to get a little defensive--probably she felt on-the-spot, and the need to impress to everyone in the audience with how cool she was. I cringed for the first time at something she said to the event host: "Well, Eric, I'm totally prepared that some people might not like the book. After all, not everyone appreciates great literature, you know?" Which might have been joking, but somehow seemed not quite funny enough, perhaps because of her tone of voice.

But I know other people in the audience started reacting negatively to the author not much later. There came an audience question about how one of the book's characters came to a particularly difficult and troubling decision. The author's answer went something like this:

"Well, I mean, it's real life, right? We all make interesting decisions. For example, you made a *really* interesting decision when you decided to wear that outfit."

Hum.

I give the author the benefit of the doubt--I'm sure this was intended to be light banter. I'm sure it was her nerves talking. But that was not a nice thing to say. I gotta say, I did not like the author much at the end of the event, and knew there were other people in the audience who felt the same way. Perhaps the majority of the audience.

I told this story to another biz friend, and she came up with a similar story of her own.

She went to a book reading of a literary author she had loved for a long time (can't remember who it was; maybe she'll remind me if she doesn't mind I'm posting this). At any rate, he was touring on roughly the same schedule as Anchee Min, the bestselling author of Becoming Madame Mao and others. Anchee Min is an author now, but used to be a Chinese opera singer, and had been doing opera demonstrations during her book talks. This literary author made some fun of Ms Min during his reading, joking about being on the same tour circuit as her, and proceeding to wail like a drowning cat in his imitation of Chinese opera. This friend of mine felt a little disgusted that he had done that, but thought hey, maybe that's what Chinese opera sounds like, so she went to see Anchee Min read next week. Anchee Min sang, and it was... beautiful. My friend couldn't bring herself to ever buy another book by that formerly favorite literary author--his public persona involved making arguably racist jokes at the expense of other writers.

The thing is, book people don't want cool. In fact, they might actively DISlike cool. They like good-humored a lot, and they usually appreciate funny, but most importantly, book people are really, really nice. That's one thing you need to know about book people, whether you're a writer, a shopper, a reader, a seller, an editor, whatever.

The ones who aren't nice have to pretend to be nice if they want to be successful. To be a writer, you only need to commit to your art. But to be an author, you have to understand that being published means being PUBLIC--in other words, there are a LOT more people involved than just you. And all of those people have a say in whether you're going to make it or not. Once you're an author, you're in the public eye, and have to revise your expression/personality/behavior accordingly (however it fits your particular situation).

There are two facets to this equation. The one: If people think you're a dispicable human being, they're going to think twice about buying your book, no matter how well-reviewed it is. (The reading public, not unlike Mr. Darcy, likes character, and their good opinion, once lost, is gone forever.) The other: If people think you're the nicest person in the world, they'll support you tirelessly, and even forgive a poorly reviewed book or two.

So as you're hitting the road to publication, at whatever stage you may be, try to observe a couple tenets:

- Remember everyone--everyone--has the power to be an advocate for you and your book. This includes the teller at the counter of any given bookstore, the person who walks your dog, and that really, really annoying lady/guy three cubicles over who talks loudly on his/her cell phone all day. So although you might not have liked them before, and maybe you still don't like them, start trying to put out good vibes whenever you see them.

- Remember readers are seeking connection. Think of everyone in the world as your potential soulmate best friend. After all, that's how readers think of their favorite authors. Try to feel warmly toward them, regardless of what they say (remember, they'll be feeling awkward and nervous, too). You don't have to BELIEVE that everyone in the world would ACTUALLY be your best friend if you spent a long period of time together, but remember you'll probably only spend (tops) 5 minutes with most people you'll ever meet on the road. Can you be best friends for 5 minutes?

- If you're a cool kid, try to be a NICE kid, too, and not too cool in a high school kind of way. A lot of us book people were NOT cool in high school, and don't like being reminded of it. There will be people in the audience who don't react well to fun being poked at them or at others in front of them--no matter how nicely or funnily you think you're doing it.

Here are some great examples of application of the niceness/meanness principle.

--John Grisham. This 20th debut anniversary profile ran in USA Today a couple weeks ago, and when I read it, I nodded quietly to myself. In my own retelling: When A TIME TO KILL was first published, it was so tiny it was practically a self-pub. But Grisham was tirelessly loyal to his 3 fans, and his 2nd book brought it all crashing home. Now he's, well, John Grisham.

--Sue Grafton is another favorite example of mine. Sue went driving bookstore to bookstore, one at a time, and making friends with the people who worked there. They must have thought she was nice, because they started buying her books--and heavily. Now she's, well, Sue Grafton. (I've never seen this story written, only heard it told--if anyone has source materials to back me up, send 'em along!)

--Lee Child is another author who gets that readers are what make the difference between "writer" and "author." He throws a thank-you party for his fans every time he launches a book. (Also I have it on good authority he's the nicest man in the world.)

--Diana Gabaldon was an author I had no interest in reading--those books looked so long! But my aunt was a fan, and dragged me to a reading when I was visiting her. Can I just say... 5 years later, I still feel like Diana is an old buddy of mine, she was so kind, bubbly, and warm. I've also heard she still contributes to the same writing forums she did before she got published--she hasn't gotten too famous for the britches she wore "back then." I'm not sure how she has time, but she makes herself available to fans in all kinds of ways.

--We saw a couple weeks ago that Alice Hoffman lost some fans when she was mean on the internet.

--Jennifer Weiner--tirelessly nice. Tirelessly. She even stuck up for Alice Hoffman and reminded us that everyone has a bad day now and then. God, I love her for that, and for everything else!

Favorite nice writer/mean author stories? Please share!

77 comments:

Melanie Avila said...

Wow, I just can't believe some people act like that in public. There's just no excuse.

I don't have any stories to share, but I'd definitely stop reading an author if I found out they were a jerk.

WV: doomance -- when the romance between a author and reader is doomed.

Aimee K. Maher said...

Great blog. I aspire to be traveling author, and I look forward to one day helping people meet my book. The best advice I took away from this is to NOT be so nervous, that I'm not being me. Because "Me" is a pretty rad and fun broad.

Kristan said...

As an aspiring author, I go to a lot of local book readings, and sometimes (given the recent economic downturn) I go knowing that I cannot, will not, must not buy the book! I'm only there to listen and learn.

Then I meet them (Denis Johnson, Lisa See, Jodi Picoult, Andre Dubus III) and they're charming and smart and funny and kind -- and suddenly I'm forking over a precious $20 for their latest! o_O

(Plus telling my friends and coworkers, AND blogging about it.)

So yeah, being nice totally pays off. :)

Susan Adrian said...

Excellent post, moonie. Golden.

Merry Monteleone said...

This is an awesome post, Moonie. I've seen a lot of writers forget this, especially online - often the ones who are newly published or actively seeking agents/editors.... I always wonder what the hell they're thinking. I mean, I wouldn't want to work with someone who's mean and a whole bevy of other unsavory characteristics. What makes them think editors will want to work with that. (maybe they really don't think they're being mean... often I get the impression that they think they're so talented people will overlook it - but most of us won't).

I tend to feel sorry for grown adults that act like the 'cool' kids in high school. Most of us didn't like them in high school, so I'm guessing that in the wide world where people aren't forced to deal with them, they have a lot of people just walking away and avoiding them. Probably not a fun way to go through life.

Rebecca Knight said...

This was actually very comforting :). I am not suave, was a bit of a dork in high school, and really do, deep down, want to be everyone's best friend.

It's nice to know that I don't have to try to pull out the *cool* if I ever make it to signing books, etc, and that I can be myself.

Thanks for the great post! I loved the author stories.

Laurel said...

I think your take on this is dead on. Most authors have an introvert streak and must have gone through an awkward phase at some point. Why else would they develop a day dream life rich enough to write books?

I feel sorry for someone who's trying to be cooler than they are. Stagefright does strange things to people. A little corporate coaching might help some of them. Even just practicing at home in front of a video camera can correct small things they don't know they do that might be off-putting.

At the end of the day, though, newly published authors are people who used to spend every precious second of their free time alone in the basement on purpose. There are bound to be a few kinks when they reach the light of day.

Charles Gramlich said...

Those two stories do much to illustrate your point. And you're completely right. I sympathise a bit more with the first lady than with the literary writer, who should have known better. I hope the first author's attempts were genuinely meant to be funny but they certainly weren't handled well.

Anne said...

I saw a reading by Matthea Harvey when I was still in college, and she was so wonderful and approachable that it made her poetry that much more beautiful and relate-able.
She's still my favorite poet to this day, and someone I hope to emulate in life as well as in writing.

Rebecca Knight said...

I saw Naomi Novik (author of the Temeraire series) at a signing, and she was so down to earth and funny that I will be loyal forever.

She actually drew a little dragon in my book for me :3.

Conni said...

On the "nice author" question - Neil Gaiman. He's, like, the nicest person ever. (Also totally dreamy.)

I went to an Anansi Boys signing in Portland, OR, and he signed for upward of 600 people. And when it got to be my turn, I (totally giddy and OMGNEILGAIMAN) said, "Thank you so much!" He looked up at me, in the eyes, and smiled. "No, thank you."

I swooned, friends.

angelle said...

like how i heart junot diaz bc he was SO FREAKING NICE during his signing???

JenniferWriter said...

Great post and thanks for linking to the article by Jennifer Weiner. If I didn't have anything nice to say I'd definitely want to sit next to her.

I agree with Conni about Neil Gaiman being super nice. He also seems to have fantastically nice fans. He patiently signs and they patiently wait in line. You get what you give.

Valerie Geary said...

Thank you for this post!! It's rare to see articles on the public side of writing, but it's just as important as the private side. Definitely good things to keep in mind at all levels of a writer's career.

Rosemary said...

Yes, book people are nice--including editors, Moonie. And I would like to add a favorite editor story here if that's okay.

I won't mention her name, but I will say that she works for a house that puts out books with lovely orange spines and a cute little Antarctic bird on it.

She listened to me pitch at a conference and asked to read the full. Loved the writing but said the story needed more conflict. I e-mail her ideas and she picks her fave. I rewrite, she re-reads. She wants to offer but can't get it past her editorial board. She feels so awful she allows me to drop her name with a thud all over Manhattan as I seek representation for the book. As a result I get a wonderful agent, and the novel is out on submission.

This wonderful, funny, warm woman is still in contact with me, cheering me on from the sidelines, simply because she likes my work. I'm not her client. I don't make her or her company any money, but she takes the time to e-mail and chat with me, anyway.

My biggest regret is not not being unpublished--it's losing a chance to work with someone like her. (In fact, one of the nice authors you mentioned was one of hers, and I'm not at all surprised.)

So the love comes from your side of the desk as well.

Precie said...

Lovely post, moonie! Always a good reminder, and those are great examples to prove your point. It can't HURT to be nice.

Sidenote: This is the second time in recent memory that you've referred to seeing Diana Gabaldon in person. When I read your first mention, I quietly tamped down my seething jealousy. Not so easy to do the second time. ;) (Yeah, so I'm a rabid DG fan. Visiting her Compuserve forum stomping grounds is part of why I got over my "no one cares what I have to say" head games and started writing.)

JES said...

It's really interesting to attend a writer's conference, literary conference, whatever, at which authors both famous and unknown will be speaking, doing panels, and so on. Why? Because you get to see their personas right up next to one another, in stark contrast. Even when the response isn't a collective gasp, you can hear the difference just in the sort of laughter the thoughtless egos get, vs. the thoughtful self-deprecators.

Just as an aside, re: your take on the difference between writers and authors (which I agree with!)... That an author should be nice, or at least agreeable, in public doesn't mean that s/he has to be so on the page. Bending over backward to please everybody in your writing may be a good way to accumulate fuzzies, but not necessarily a good way to accumulate readers (and the attention of professionals in a position to help your career).

NOT that I thought you were suggesting that! :)

Jen A said...

This is the second time I will have mentioned her name to you specifically, MR, but I want to marry Joshilyn Jackson for how amazingly sweet and human and funny she is. I fell in love with one of her books (Between, Georgia), and then I started reading her blog (Faster than Kudzu) - which is utterly hysterical - and then I finally got to see her do a reading and meet her. Never been disappointed by her. She's just awesome.

Yay for great authors and we ever-so-slightly-dorky book people!

editor pal said...

Worst author ever: a little-known academic writing his memoir. Absolutely rude and inappropriate in his responses to editorial work. Way out of line. I take great glee in checking Nielsen every so often and seeing that his book has sold 17 copies LTD. It’s been out for two years. It’s called karma, pal.

Best author ever: a previously published comedic author publishing her midwestern memoir. Questioned some editorial choices (hey, not everyone understands lowercasing titles used in apposition), but didn’t call me stupid or question my professionalism; just asked for me to explain it so she could understand and learn a little about the English language. I’m so happy her book is doing well, and I go out of my way to recommend it to booksellers, friends, whoever.

Great column! I wish I could pass this on to our authors…

storyqueen said...

When my first book came out, I was on a panel sitting next to Jack Gantos. I was soooo nervous and he was soooo nice to me and funny, too.

A very nice, funny guy.

Shelley

writtenwyrdd said...

Brilliant advice, Moonie! As I am constantly saying things that come out wrong, as in interpreted as mean, or just confusing, I am terrified of having to do readings or signings. I have a knack, and that scares me!

Roberta said...

This is a very good post on playing nice. Thank you. I am new to Texas and am always surprised by the mean things that people say but then follow up with, "Bless her heart".

As in, she's put on a good 40 pounds since last year, bless her heart.

I believe she graduated at the bottom of her class, bless her heart.

Crazy. Mean is mean.

gringo said...

I’m a border writer. There are several of us; we write about Mexico, near the border, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and so on. Every once in a while – as often as someone goes away, someone else falls into the circle. The circle is loose in that we might not know each other so much as we know of each other. As jealous as writers often are of one another, we also try and encourage each other.

One person who admires my work pointed me in the direction of an emerging writer, so I read his weblog. I commented with words of encouragement, he writes well. He thanks me. The only problem is that everything he writes is negative and repetitive. He is a homosexual, and everything is about homosexuality and drugs and prostitution. I encourage him to mix some positive aspects in with the negative ones, because much of what he’s writing is entirely not believable.

He then calls me an old man, and says that he hardly ever responds to comments from readers, and tells me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Obviously, I no longer read him. He is self-published, and my guess is that he’ll only be self-published. This is sad because he has a unique style, is very descriptive, and would otherwise have a shot at getting a novel or two published.

I can tell you first-hand that loyalty to one’s readership and taking criticism and suggestions are the key to having a following. There are people who will buy any magazine in which I have a published story, people who have been loyal to me for over ten years. They are loyal to me because I’m loyal to them. Anyone who reads what I write is a friend, potentially, and certainly has every right to let me know what I’m doing wrong.

I’ve never gone out of my way to attract readers (yet), but I can promise that well over 1,000 people I’ve never met face-to-face will buy the first novel I have published. For them, and for anyone else, I would gladly sign those books with a personal note of thanks. It’s the least I can do. Gratitude breeds gratitude.

Great post Moonrat. I love your stuff.

Stuart Neville said...

The most successful author I know personally is also the nicest author I know personally. Those two facts are probably related.

Throughout my life, whatever field I've worked in, I've always found that the people who are genuinely good at what they do are never arseholes. They may not necessarily be "nice", but they won't be arrogant dicks. It's invariably the wannabes that have attitudes.

Michael Reynolds said...

Stephen King in my email dealings with him has always been very gracious and funny and tolerant of my fawning hero worship.

Sometimes though you end up being inadvertently dickish. I was on a panel with two other writers, overseas in the UK, so I was jet-lagged and bleary. I started out to sincerely compliment one of the other writers on the panel but managed in the course of doing so to deliver an insult that was positively British in its subtlety.

It wasn't till I was playing the tape back in my head that I realized what I had babbled and could make sense of the ashen look on the author's face.

Of course other times it's deliberate.

Joyce Lansky said...

I would have bought a book, but chose not to because the author made a rude Twitter comment about my team during the college basketball tournament. It doesn't take much to lose sales.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Evening, Moonrat,

I saw Tim Dorsey at Powell's in Portland then, when we moved to Florida, we saw him at Atlantic Beach. He was kind, patient, self-deprecating and thoroughly interesting.

Same for Steve Berry at the First Coast Writers Festival. When you'e willing to laugh at yourself, you get everyone else on board. Both of these writers had it down to perfection.

Hope things are well.

Eva Gale said...

Thank you. Really. I get so sick of being called Pollyanna for maintaining Nana's greatest words, "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say them at all."

It gives me hope that one day, if I ever make it out of the slogs of the unpublished, people will appreciate Nice.

Dawn VanderMeer said...

I met Ellen Hopkins at two different events and she is amazing. She is super warm, encouraging, and approachable.

Another author who stands out to me is Anthony Horowitz. My son is a fan, so the whole family went to one of his readings. When it was time to sign books, he took a moment with each person in line. I'm betting every child walked away feeling special.

Great post. I agree--kindness matters.

Rebecca said...

I've got a couple of stories.

I went to a panel a few years ago, and one of the panelists (I think the best-selling one who was there) was... Hm, very obviously very pleased with himself and his books. And his books are good! But he came across as *so* pleased with how awesome he was that I was a bit put off. (The same thing came from reading his blog. I stopped reading it because every post seemed like it was a thumbs up to himself.)

On the other hand, a relatively-unknown author at the reading was so charming and fun when she spoke that I bought her book on the spot and have bought every book she's put out since. (Well, the fact that they're good books also helps there.)

But the *most* awesome author I've ever met is Tamora Pierce, hands down. I bought five of her books at a signing and only handed her two to sign (there was a huge line) but she offered to sign the other ones when she saw them in my bag. But even more awesome (like, a lot), a few years before that, my BFF had gone to a signing and mentioned in passing that she was trying to start an online fantasy magazine; after asking her a few questions about it, Ms. Pierce gave my friend her business card and asked her to drop an e-mail if it got off the ground, so she could link to it from her website. That was *really* awesome.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

Great post! As someone getting ready to launch in the fall, I am taking it to heart. I'm pretty confident I can handle nice, because being a cool kid is not in my genetic makeup. "Dork" is the label that probably fits best. : )

And I agree--the book people (editors, agents, publicity folks, readers, librarians) I've met along my path have been spectacularly kind. Carolyn Mackler was generous to me even though I accidentally tripped her at SCBWI. : \

Anonymous said...

Years ago, when I worked in a bookstore, a very well known visiting children's poet goosed one of the female staff. That author has never been permitted back in the store and his books are never displayed and rarely even stocked there.

stacy said...

Unfortunately I've never met my favorite authors in person.

Once a local hotel in my hometown held a writers' convention. I worked as a bartender there (I was in college), and the writers who attended left me with a terrible impression of writers. They treated the staff with so much contempt I never wanted to meet a writer again. I feel differently now, but it took me years to get over that impression, and I never bought a book from ANY of the people who were at that convention.

Amy said...

Last April, while I was waiting at a book signing for Cassandra Clare, Scott Westerfeld was there in support of his friend. I am a fan of his after having only read a few books in the Uglies series at the time. So I bought another of his books in that store just to get his autograph.

Not only did he sign my book, but he spoke to me and my two friends for over half an hour about anything that came up - he even pulled out his iPhone and showed us illustrations for his upcoming series! He was so nice to us! After that day, both of my friends have started reading his series, and I promise I am always going to be a HUGE fan of Scott's because of how great he was.

clindsay said...

When I was an event coordinator at Stacey's Books, we hosted Jackie Collins for an afternoon event. Because it was San Francisco, of course a good number of the several hundred people who showed up to hear her read were drag queens. Elaborately dressed as Jackie Collins.

Instead of being annoyed or offended, she totally embraced the crowd, took photos with everyone, thanked everyone for coming and spent a good half an hour thanking everyone who worked in the bookstore for all their hard work.

She was a total class act, from start to finish.

Anonymous said...

Major award-winning author came to town this past year with a huge, huge chip on his shoulder. Watching his angry Have Ego, Will Travel performance was fascinating in a train wreck kind of way. As soon as he went off-script in the Q&A, it all went to hell fast. The audience left making comments like "Well . . . that was . . . interesting" (yet many people lined up for his book anyway). My colleagues were talking about it for days. One of the nicer ones summed it up, saying "Don't do your therapy on stage." I'll add to that--if you hate everyone, stay under your rock.

The Compulsive Reader said...

Last week, I sent some interview questions to an author I really admired, excited that her publicist had set up the interview. About an hour after sending the questions, she sent them back with a note attached, "I have already answered every single one of these questions in one form or another somewhere on the internet, go find them yourself."

Needless to say, I was shocked, a bit hurt, and left feeling more than a little dumb. And her latest book, which I have been wanting to buy but never had the time/money/chance? Yeah, not so much now. I'll wait. Or maybe I'll borrow it.

alaska. said...

i love authors that smile. i've mostly met favorite poets - but adrienne rich stands out among the crowds. she is obviously an incredibly famous poet, and didn't have to take the time to do anything. but she always smiled, signed my books, and asked how i was - and gave me advice.

marie ponsot is another person who stands above the masses - she teaches a poetry manuscript class every year at the 92nd street Y. one night she was giving a reading, and i mentioned that her sestina inspired me to write one of my own, as i had never encountered the form before and really liked it.

she not only asked to see a copy, but gave me her phone number (she doesn't believe in computers) and actually "workshopped" my poem.

people also have to be careful of what they do online - i knew cassandra clare before she was a published author, and she was so rude, condescending, and not to mention caught up in a HUGE snafu, that i will never buy/read her books, despite the fact that i adore YA, and am on a supernatural kick right now. i don't believe that publication can change a person's nature that much, and so.

that's it. no money from me. many other YA authors - melissa walker, diana peterfreund, claudia gray, scott westerfeld, and many others - they have my undying support and appreciation.

(karin slaughter also does as well, for being funny and writing great books, not to mention replying to one of my e-mails while she was on tour with a giant "thank you" and "you really got what i was doing" etc.)

sex scenes at starbucks said...

A friend who just sold his first book, Stephen Parrish, does his best to publicize every friend's book he can. They're all on his blog sidebar and he features them on release day.

I aspire to be like that. I just need to master the HTML first...

cindy said...

great blog as usual moonie!! i've yet to have a bad signing experience with authors i've admired. so hurrah to that!

cindy said...

and i am a puddle of fan girl for neil gaiman. he is absolutely the sweetest gracious man plus ALL that talent. just saw him accept his newbery medal last night and wow. amazing. will post fotos soon. i was lucky enough to be invited to a soiree (i'm also with harpercollins) to toast him before the banquet.

no words to describe this weekend for newbie author.

gringo said...

Sex Scenes At Starbucks:

Best blog title ever!

I felt compelled to let you know.

Buffra said...

Just saw Jennifer Crusie at a book signing and reading. She read from her work in progress, was absolutely delightful, and proceeded to sign books graciously and with a friendly word for everyone.

I brought her a copy my dog had chewed to be signed -- it's one I *won't* give away later! -- and she not only didn't seem to mind, she laughed and said how appropriate it was, since a dog featured in the book.

I've always liked her work, but now I like it even more and will be eager to buy her newest when it's available.

Bella Stander said...

Terrific post! Ditto for comments. I posted a link on Twitter.

A friend of mine once said, "Being nice works so well, I don't know why everyone doesn't try it." How true.

Other super-nice authors are Lee Smith and Adriana Trigiani. They were MOBBED at the VaBook Festival.

Check out my Author Behavior Guide.

Whirlochre said...

People do very silly things when they're nervous, or if they feel they have an audience (at last!) for their views. I suppose that's why we have shows like America's Got Talent. And I've been there myself, too.

What's odd is that some people never get the link between your ass is like bread dough and waaah no-one likes me, and move swiftly from having it be a debilitating habit to a character trait by which they are known. I'd like to believe that these people get weeded out of any scenario prior to being handed the Big Mouth of Fame. Doesn't happen in music or art, it seems, so fingers crossed for literature.

If it's true, big love-ins await us all.

Anonymous said...

This is tough for those of us who aren't particularly nice people. Or, at least, are uncool enough to be fairly entirely antisocial.

That said: Tess Gerriston. Just a perfectly charming, warm, and lovely woman.

Lisa Katzenberger said...

Richard Russo did a reading at the Chicago Public Library last year on the night of one of the big Obama debates. The auditorium was packed, and when Russo came on stage, the first thinge he said was that he was so suprised to see so many people there because he expected everyone would rather watch Obama--Chicago politics and all. He was great, funny, down to earth. And he kept bringing up throughout the night that he was baffled by the turnout--he just kept smiling at us all. It was very clear that he was genuinely touched by the crowd that showed up.

Lara said...

I loved this post. If I was the target of a comment like "You made an interesting decision when you decided to wear that," I'd really suffer.

I do understand it can be hard for writers to develop these public personas, though-- after all, the big chunk of work that comes at the first part of any writer's career can be done behind closed doors. Then suddenly the game changes if you're published. It must be hard. But thanks for the tips on not flubbing it!

Lori A. May said...

I love the nice/mean author stories. Thank you for sharing with us the good and the not so good. Some of the postie comments have been great too!

I really do love attending fellow author events and positively love it when a ‘nice’ author reaffirms why I love him or her so much. In contrast, it can be such a disappointment to learn a writer is less than pleasant. As ‘editor pal’ mentioned, though, it usually comes back to karma, thank goodness.

Great post!

Lori A. May
http://loriamay.blogspot.com
www.loriamay.com
http://twitter.com/loriamay

BuffySquirrel said...

I have never forgiven Prize-Winning Author for Mean Remark they made about a lesser-known author whose idea they had borrowed. I will never read their books. I will never buy their books.

Hah.

DDog said...

Some of the nicest authors I've met are the ones that release their work on the internet for free as podcasts. J. C. Hutchins, Philippa Ballantine, Tee Morris, Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, Phil Rossi, Matthew Wayne Selznick... All published authors who have strong, friendly, supportive, innovative web presences, and who have built extremely dedicated audiences through their online interactions. All of their work is fantastic, but their dedication to their fans is the magic ingredient that sustains their fans' dedication in turn.

Lisa Schroeder said...

This is a great, great post. I'll have to link to it this week.

I don't really do cool. And if I tried, I'm pretty sure it would come across all wrong. But nice I can do. And I'm with you - you just can never go wrong with nice.

Matilda McCloud said...

I'm always grateful for Eudora Welty sitting in on my creative writing class in college, patiently listening to our bad stories. She was so gracious. And no, I didn't go to a fancy-schmancy college, so I'm not sure how we were so lucky to have her visit us.

Teshle said...

Echoing the Neil comments. I was at that Anansi Boys signing in Portland, and even signing for me and my friend who were at the end of the, like, 4-hour line (I was wondering if I'd be back home in time for curfew), Neil was still super, super, super nice, answered a question I had about his blog and everything. What a guy! (/Red Dwarf)

Garth Nix was also very cool, he put up with me asking him to write something silly in a book he was signing for one of my friends with a grin.


I did have an interesting experience with Jasper Fforde-- the first signing I went to of his in 2004, he was totally friendly and cheerful (and, also, beautiful accent) but the second one a couple years later he seemed a bit crankier.

While I am always an advocate of Being Nice To Strangers, I think people (i.e. me) also tend to forget that sometimes, authors/musicians/actors/Famous People/etc. just might be having really crappy days like anyone else, and extrapolate one meeting to be indicative of the person's attitude in general. No excuse to be generally rude, of course, but I suppose it's something to remember.

Anna C. Morrison said...

I feel so sorry for the nervous author who was mean to the crowd. If only she had just been herself! I hope that "herself" is a lot nicer than the persona she chose to adopt. I don't want to believe that another author could be so heartless and still create publishable work.

Anonymous said...

Two authors who will never grace a Top Ten list of Nice Authors: Jane Smiley and Annie Proulx.

Take my word for it.

I'm not saying I'm not going to read their work, though. But I won't be buying it.

The former treated everyone in her former university department like they were invisible. And the latter got paid big bucks to give a talk at our university, and was unbelievably sharp and condescending.

terri said...

Not a book signing, but a sci-fi/comic show. It was an anniversary convention and a lot of heavy hitters in the industry were manning the publishing tables.

The truly great artists were charming and gracious signing books they had illustrated for other publishers and indulging requests for photos and signing t-shirts, etc.

The jerks and self-important cleared their lines in record time and then sat and bitched about the con management.

At one little table sat three of the great silver age comic artists, including John Romita Sr. They were chatting about the old days and dashing off small sketches on scratch paper. I walked up, introduced myself, and told them how much I appreciated their work. I also asked John Romita if I could have one of the scratch sketches as a souvenir.

He said, "No" and pulled back the sketch.

Crestfallen, I started to back away and he beamed and motioned me back to the table.

He then said, "No, because these aren't any good. Wait a minute."

A few minutes later I had a one-up original pencil/ink drawing of Spiderman dated and autographed by a master of the craft tucked in my souvenir bag. That was years ago and it still feels like yesterday.

Class shows and class endures.

Avida Novitatis said...

Jon Krakauer was really nice at a book signing. He was reading from Under the Banner of Heaven, which is about Mormons and Mormon splinter groups. When he was signing my copy, I nervously mentioned that I'd especially enjoyed the book because I was an ex-Mormon - half-expecting that he'd maybe roll his eyes because he probably got a kazillion jillion letters and comments from Mormons and ex-Mormons of various stripes and how boring must it be for him to meet yet another one .... But he was so friendly and sincere, and was all: "Really? Oh how interesting, that's great!" and asked me some more questions about it. He's the only really well-known author I ever met in person and I was definitely impressed with the level of niceness.

Anonymous said...

Nice authors: Carol Berg. Only know her from her blog, but she always replies to comments. Karin Lowachee - likewise. Jim Butcher doesn't blog much, but also replies to comments, and he really sounds nice too.


Mean author, or rather: a severe case of difference of opinion. Having read an excellent non-fiction book, I was curious about the author's fiction (and eager to like it) and bought a novel recommended by friends. Before I got to read it, I came across a very long and aggressive essay the author had published on the internet arguing against gay marriage. The rant went on for pages: mean, petty, ugly. I'm not gay - though two of my friends are - but I believe that even without gay friends, I would have found the essay disgusting. How can the marriage of someone else (people you don't even know) make any difference whatsoever to your own marriage, happiness, and self image? Using one's fame and popularity to promote this kind of hate propaganda, ugh! There are so many worthy causes out there that could do with a little support.

Anyway, I never finished that novel nor will I ever buy another one by that author. Seriously, I was so appalled, I don't want to open my mind to any more of the author's ideas & values. I don't have much time to read, and there are thousands of good novels out there.

(I still think the author's non-fiction book is one of the most helpful there is on that topic, so I will reread it several times and continue to recommend it.)

Etiquette Bitch said...

I actually teach classes in how to give an effective reading. It's amazing how many authors think that they don't need this skill.

Horror stories: a certain comedian who plays Landlord to 2 New Zealanders on HBO recently had a book tour. During the Q+A, I can't recall what the exact question was, but his response was something like, "that's a stupid question." (or "that's an uncreative question") ouch. audience members don't like to be insulted.

Sarah Laurenson said...

This post sure inspired comments. I have seen many people be mean and nasty in this kind of forum. Some hide behind that cloak of anonymity. But others do not.

I've had a comment be taken wrong and perhaps there was an element in there that should not have been expressed. So I apologized - sincerely - as I did not mean it the way it was taken.

What's wrong with being nice to people? I'm pretty sure we appreciate it when people are nice to us. But I also know I've had my times of not being nice.

So cutting others some slack is something else I'm working on. But yeah - if I met an author who was mean, I probably would stop buying those books.

ggwritespoetry said...

Wow! What a post! Thanks for sharing!

Mac said...

@ anonymous, Wednesday, July 15, 2009 10:08:00 AM :

If you’re talking about who I’m thinking of... the author in question there - man, he is really difficult for me, because he is so good at what he does. I was a fan of his fiction (and writing advice) for years, and in fact, one of his gay characters actually helped me become more openminded when I was a young teen, so his recent anti-same-sex-marriage rantings have been a cognitive disconnect like I can’t even tell you. I was so loathe to give him up, I immediately started plotting out exactly how I was going to get his stuff through used-book stores or through the library so as not to have to give him my money, but in truth it’s not even a question of “punishing” him, it’s just that I’ve lost all the heart it takes to pick up his writing at all, even though it was kind of formative for me. Which is ironic, and tragic, as it’s some damn fine writing. (Although I heard some of his most recent work was a thinly veiled political screed, so maybe it’s just as well.)

While we praise Neil Gaiman’s famed niceness, let us please not forget the equally fabulous niceness of his colleague Terry Pratchett. Eye contact, smiles, listened to me babble, wished me luck in my studies, and signed everything we brought to him. My copy of “Good Omens” that they both signed (one year apart) with warnings to run away from the sacreliege contained therein is going in the vault. Lead lined. With guards!

While we’re at it, Amber Benson is ridiculously nice, I recently discovered, sort of by accident. Enthusiastic, signs everything with a smiley, and really goes out of her way to converse and make each fan feel like an individual.

silentsgirl said...

I have only had one bad author experience, and that was online. I wrote a negative review of someone's work (and I was hardly alone - this guy has the worst reviews of anyone I've seen lately - he earned Worst Book of the Year from one of the best respected classic film guides for 2008), and he started a campaign of vicious harassment that culminated in my reporting him to his publisher, his ISP and everyone who might have a stake in his future releases (including prospective purchasers). It started with him writing me to say that it was a shame that I wasn't dead, and then it got worse. My suspicion is that this guy is brave as all get out when he's hiding behind his computer but, as my husband likes to say, he's "all mouth and no trousers."

In person, I've had some amazing experiences. Interesting authors, conversations I will remember always, and gracious patience with my swoony questions. My best experiences have been:
Janell Cannon, brilliant and generous with her time and talent
Patrick McDonnell, so funny and sweet
Erik Larson, patiently putting up with my swooning (I may have even flirted with him, may Mrs. Larson forgive me)
Glen David Gold, ditto
Eileen Whitfield, who has since become a friend. I used to treasure her writing - now I treasure her.

Nerd Goddess said...

Shannon Hale is really great at events. She's an absolute hoot, and always makes sure to give time to each fan that has a book signed... even if it means that the lines are long, I don't mind waiting, since she's super nice, and always tries to write a special unique little something when she signs a book. There's a reason I own all her books in hardcover, all signed, and even a few in paperback to boot.

Mark said...

Thomas McGuane is a legendary author and screenwriter, and one of the nicest around.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! Being cool does not equal being mean or snarky. If that's the result of them trying to be cool, yes, they are trying too hard. Ick.

Being genuine and nice goes so much farther. And that goes for both public and online presence. I've witnessed online tantrums and gloating that have turned me off to the point I can't bring myself to place their books.

Shannan said...

Great examples!

I have to agree with Connie et all about Neil Gaiman - friendly, approachable (and dreamy!). Even though I *know* he's way cooler than me (Whatever happened in school, he's cool now) he still gives the impression that he's glad to see and meet you - no matter how much of a dork you might be =D

On the other hand... I remember the time at ALA when I bought a copy of a fairly well-known and critically acclaimed YA author, waited in line for him to sign it, go to the front to have him snatch the book, sign it, slam it shut and push it back across the table - all the while not acknowledging me at all, even when I spoke to him and instead looking at the author signing next to him (also looking at the other author *while* he was signing) and saying "Thank God I'm done" (with having to sit and sign)

I was either the last, or near the last of the line, but still. If I hadn't just paid $10 I didn't really have to spare for the book I think I would have dumped it in the nearest garbage. I've never read or purchased another book by this author and will tell this story (with names when it's in person and so not in print!) whenever the topic comes up.

Calenhíril said...

A little late, I know, but I just have to agree with the anonymous poster up there who mentioned Jim Butcher and Carol Berg. They are good people!

I've been to two of Jim Butcher's signings, and always say "Thanks for writing such a wonderful story," or the like. And the second time he signed some books for me, he remembered me from the first! Such a nice guy, and funny too.

I've met Carol a couple of times, and I'm amazed at the amount of patience she has to spend so much of her time with us aspiring authors. At one con she took an hour off just to talk with me about writing, and at another she spent a few hours with me and some other fans about whatever came to mind, and she was always willing to go to dinner with us or chat at the bar. Good times, and it makes me love her books even more.

Those are the authors I aspire to be.

Dejah said...

Elizabeth Bear, SF author, is a very nice, down to earth lady. She still participates in her old, before-she-was-famous writer's forum, not as much as before undoubtedly, but she gives great advice.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Thanks for re-posting, Moonie. I must have missed this the first time.

I had a bad encounter with an illustrator a couple of years ago. He was scheduled to do a signing at an indie bookstore right outside DC. I jumped in the car with my baby and drove for an hour and a half to get there, battling rain and stand-still traffic (this was the time of the Sniper, and he was supposed to be on the same road I was. At this time police still believed he was driving a white utility van -- the very vehicles surrounding me -- and were stopping each as it made its way north on Route One).

So! I arrived spooked and wet but very excited. As you might expect, there were no crowds waiting on a day like this. I was the only one. I'd pulled out my beloved book, one I'd used for years in the classroom, and eagerly handed it to the illustrator. He was less than impressed with the situation. He was appalled I'd let my non-walking baby only wear socks on such a rainy day and was completely disinterested in how much his work had meant to my students over the years.

The memory's there every time I see his books at the library or teach that book in class. I know he was frustrated by events beyond his control, but still, warmth never hurt anybody.

Debra L. Schubert said...

Fantastic post! Bravo!!!!

Cardinal said...

I have to tell you, Michael A. Black is one of the kindest, sweetest and most soft-spoken authors ever. I'd been reading his books for quite a while, then e-mailed him with a couple of questions because I'm also a fan of one of his co-authors (Richard Belzer). He politely answered my questions and when he realized I was working on a crime novel, volunteered to be my tactical weapons expert. (He's a police sergeant and has 30 years in law enforcement.)

When Left Coast Crime came around, he asked if we could meet for coffee. We did -- he even picked up the brunch tab! I will *always* be a fan of his because he's such a down to earth, caring and considerate author who has taught me so much just by knowing him.

At this point, I'm truly honored to be able to call him my friend. (We had a GREAT photo taken together at LLC in March.)

Jennifer said...

A few months ago, Elizabeth Moon started posting *wonderful* comments and advice on the SFFworld board...and has sold at least one book as a result. She's awesome.

I'm a prickly person and admit to it. I also know that my politics are likely to cost me potential readers...but gain me others, so I don't worry about it. I try my best to be nice, but I think you do have to also be yourself...that it's easy to turn into a total non-entity.

Steve said...

Two words meaning "obnoxious and offensive author":

Harlan Ellison

-Steve

Marian said...

Niceness sells more books than rudeness. It's as simple as that for me.

Heck, my classmates realized they had that leverage as soon as my book came out. Any snarky remarks from me were met with the rejoinder that now they wouldn't be buying my book. I would shape up immediately. :)

Lia said...

My ma and I went to see Bill Bryson speak -- it was tragic; we were like groupies in the front row -- and afterwards stood in a very long line to get our books signed. Not only was he very sweet and patient, he also didn't look too freaked out when I handed him a letter I'd written. Two weeks later, I received a hand-written reply, thanking me for the letter and commenting on a few things I'd mentioned. The love, I could bottle it.

I also have my first book launch coming up in a few weeks, so your What Not To Do post has been invaluable. (Note to self: no needless sarcasm.)