The Art of Meeting Authors (Who Happen to Be People, Too)

It’s exciting, it’s scary, but at the end of the day they’re usually just people. A chance to meet a published author, famous or not, is always worth taking. Call it professional development for writers. You’re a cadet and they’re in the field. It’s a grand opportunity, but there are a few things to keep in mind in order to get the most out of your experience.

1. Be Normal.
—-This seems obvious, and at the same time impossible (because really, who’s normal?) but it bears repeating. I’m all for cosplaying or rocking an awesome graphic tee when you go to meet and support a favorite author, but if you’re trying to be serious and hoping that there’s even a slight possibility of networking…don’t come dressed as a unicorn. You needn’t look like you’re off to an interview, either, but it never hurt to approach an author like a normal, modestly-dressed person. They usually are, too, and tend to be less uncomfortable when you aren’t wearing a costume.

2. Come Prepared.
—-Decide on a few questions you want to ask. They should be genuine and original; stay away from the stock ones that you know someone else will inevitably get to. For example, half the earth will ask, “How do you get published?” or “What’s your writing process?” Go for something with a bit more spark, such as, “I noticed that one of your characters quotes Hamlet in the fifth chapter. How much of your thematic material would you say was inspired by Shakespeare’s plots?” This may seem a bit out of the usual, but that’s the point. It shows that, yes, you’ve not only read the book, but you also have some idea of its deeper levels and know how to discuss them intelligently. Even if you’re not really interested in the answer, ask anyway; they’ll remember your question (and thus, you) more than the others.

3. Don’t Ask Favors.
—-I’m not going to lie, I did this once. But in my defense, the guy was giving an aspiring teenaged writer advice and literally said that when you meet authors or agents you should be prepared to ask them if they’d be willing to look at your work. So what do I do? Whip out a copy of The Company of Souls and ask politely if he’ll consider reading it. Did he? Well, he said he would, because I put him on the spot, but in the long run…no. On reflection, this is a horrible thing to do to an author. They are trying to promote their own work; don’t shove yours at them instead.

4. Be Polite and Don’t Burst Out in Fandom:
—-Especially if you’re really really really really excited about meeting this particular author, it’s going to be difficult to say anything remotely intelligent when you’re finally standing across from them after waiting an hour (or more) in the signing line. You only get a few seconds while they scribble their name on your book, and the temptation to either say nothing or go, “OMG I LOVE YOUR WORK IT’S SO BRILLIANT AND I’M SO HAPPY I FINALLY GET TO MEET YOU” will be strong. But don’t. Harken back to “Be Normal” and greet them politely, with a non-creepy smile. Say something like “Thank you for coming,” or “How are you?” This shows your appreciation in a relatively normal fashion and takes a load of pressure off of them.

5. Enjoy The Experience:
—-Having said all of the above, it’s worth it to mention that you can still enjoy yourself. Don’t get too caught up in the etiquette of it all. Relax, be polite, be normal, and savor the opportunity. Find a happy medium that works for you. There’s a difference between meeting an author you’ve always wanted to talk to, asking them politely for a photo and a signature, and collapsing in a pool of drooling fandom.

Meeting Peter S. Beagle during The Last Unicorn tour.
Meeting Peter S. Beagle during The Last Unicorn tour.

One thought on “The Art of Meeting Authors (Who Happen to Be People, Too)

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  1. All excellent advice. I’m especially interested in number three: I know many published authors who don’t mind doing some favors for the aspiring writers who come to speak to them. (I mean small favors, like naming some agents who might be interested in looking at the aspiring writer’s work.) However, how these requests are received can vary wildly. Your best bet is to approach these authors with the same kindness and courtesy you’d grant anyone else, and check their body language to see if your questions are making them uncomfortable.

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