Monday, March 14, 2011

21 (Or So) Unsubtle Hints & Tips for Aspiring Authors

Having just returned from another in-person event, it's time to share some long-overdue behavior tips for those enthusiastic aspiring authors out there who have unintentionally danced on my last nerve. I say all of what follows with love, because I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that you don't intend to come across as horrible, grasping, remora-like vampires, trying to suck my brains, life and energy away so that you can steal it all for yourselves.

So, in an effort to help you redeem yourselves and come across as the lovely, witty, intelligent, fascinating and literary people that you actually are, I present the following:

1. My genuine interest in YOU does NOT translate into genuine interest in whatever it is you're writing. I'm not an agent.
1a. Nor do I want to BE an agent. Stop suggesting it, like you think that I'm going to have that light bulb moment and not only decide, on the spot, to become a literary agent, but that, as my first act, I'll sign you, right there. What a story we'll have to tell! No, actually, we won't. Because I don't want to be an agent. Because agents actually have to read your work, and, because I'm not one, I don't.
2. No, I really don't want to hear about the books you've written, are writing, or want to write. I barely want to hear about my fellow published authors' next epic tomes. I certainly don't want to hear about yours. When it's on the shelves and I can hold it in my hot little hands, then I'll want to read it, and not a moment before.
3. No, your idea is not unique. At all. It doesn't matter, because it's HOW you write it that will make or break you, but truly, no more sharing of the GREAT idea you have, because I lecture frequently (and so I hear this a lot) and if I have to bite on my tongue too much more, it's going to become unattached to my mouth.
4. Yes, I give great advice. It's why they asked me to attend and speak. Yes, I give it freely AT THE EVENT. No, my great advice is not yours for the asking at any time of the day or night. I have a crit group. You're not in it. If you were, I'd be rooming with you. Not rooming with you? Not in my crit group.
5. Yes, I'm a fun girl, with a nice rack, sparkling wit, and an easy way around men. No, I'm not wearing my wedding ring. Because I don't want to lose it and my husband is fully aware that if I were going to cheat on him, the only men who would be likely to score are major Hollywood actors and/or rock stars. Are you a major Hollywood actor or a rock star? No? Then stop hitting on me. It's not endearing, it's rarely as flattering as you think it is, and it causes those who are helping me to pass the "dangerous stalker alert" sign amongst themselves.
6. No, I don't want to be your mentor. Also, you suggesting it like it would be a GREAT opportunity for ME is both hilarious and annoying. I do mentor people. I CHOOSE who I mentor, of course. Carefully. Over time. Not at the drop of a hat. And I don't mentor strangers, which is what you are -- a stranger I've met at an event.
7. No, your meeting an agent and getting his or her card does NOT mean you now have representation. It really doesn't. It also doesn't mean said agent will remember you 10 seconds after you left his or her sight. It also doesn't impress ME that an agent talked to you. Agents talk to me all the time. One, in particular, usually to say, "Are you meeting your deadline?"
8. No, you don't get to know the name of my agent. However, if I slip up and mention it, should you actually contact my agent and pretend I referred you, I will hunt you down and torture you slowly. I have friends in all the places, particularly the low ones -- don't take the risk, you won't like the result.
9. You're thrilled I gave you such good advice freely and with enthusiasm? Awesome! Pay me back by buying my books. Immediately, if not sooner.
10. You got my contact info and have followed up after the event. Bully for you! This shows great initiative, I'm proud of you. However, if the FIRST SENTENCES in that email don't include the information that you've bought my books and are reading/have read them, truly, don't expect me to be excited about replying.
11. If you haven't bought or read my books, why do you want my help? Maybe, if you read my books, you'd think I was a literary genius, and therefore would prostrate yourself to get any additional words of my wisdom. Or maybe you'd think my writing sucked. However will you know unless you buy and read my books? What an adventure awaits you!
12. If you read my books and did not like them, we can surely remain cordial, perhaps even friends if we really hit it off (in MY mind as well as in yours), but please don't ask me for advice, because if you don't like my writing, then my how to's and so forth are unlikely to apply to you. (See how much time you'll save by buying and reading my books? I do it all for you. Truly.)
13. No one is interested in the plot of your books. Or your characters. We're really not interested in you monopolizing the conversation to tell us about the fabulousness that is your unpubbed manuscript that no one is buying. Trust me, we don't want to know about it. It's as boring as someone telling us their dream, only worse, because your book is longer.
14. Stop sharing your ideas with the world. Mostly because we don't care, but additionally because if you actually happen to have hit upon a GOOD one, we're gonna steal it. Sorry, but that's how creativity rolls. Want to ensure no one grabs that "great idea"? Keep it to yourself.
15. Other than buying my books, the greatest thing you can do for me is to buy me a drink. Doesn't even have to be alcoholic. But buy me a beverage. If I'm sipping, I'm a lot more interested in whoever I'm sitting with.
15a. Grabbing something that's being given out free and handing it to me like you "got" it for me is not the same thing as sitting down and buying me a drink. I may seem incredibly distracted at times, but trust me, I'm hyper-aware of some things, and that's one of them.
16. Am I talking to an actual fan? Someone holding my book, telling me how they loved my book, squealing with joy because they're meeting me, any combination thereof? Am I selling the wonders of my book to a potential new fan who hasn't had the joy of reading my unique wit yet? I am? Then stand aside and wait your turn. My fans come first. People who read and do not write come before aspiring authors. Why? Fans and readers are why I write. Other authors are who I hang out with when not writing.
16a. Are you a fan? Who also aspires to publication? Awesome, go to the head of the line. But still, remember, while I love you so much more than the others, you still need to learn the rules. Because it hurts me to not love one of my fans. And if you do all the don'ts, it will make me not want to love you. And that would make me very sad.
17. No matter what you did or didn't pay to attend, it's not all about you and your books. If you're asking questions, please remember that no one else in the room cares about whatever specific plot, writing, or publishing challenge you're having. Broad, general interest questions are great. Specifics to your current WIPs are not.
17a. Remember #15? There is no better way to score an author's undivided attention than to offer to buy them a drink. Preferably at a nice bar or coffee shop, where they can sit down and relax while chatting with you about your literary aspirations. Buy them a meal and they'll be happy to go over details with you.
18. Don't ask me to read your story. My answer will always be no. Sometimes it might be a very kind no, but not always. I'm busy writing my own books and reading my crit partner's books. I have no time for your books, and it's unlikely that I ever will. Plus, every author knows someone with the "they stole my idea!" horror story, and I refuse to go there.
18a. Don't tell me, while shoving your story that I don't want to read at me, that you know I'll enjoy it. I know I won't. How do I know? Because those writing stories I want to read don't need to shove their stuff at me. I'm usually emailing them, asking when their next book is out, dammit, and/or I'm buying their books at the event bookstore. Is your book coming out or at the bookstore? No? Then I don't want to read it.
18b. If I actually WANT to read your book, you'll know, because I'll suggest you send it to me. If I don't ask, please don't offer.
19. You can give me all your contact info, phone number included, but I'm not calling you (unless my car's broken down in your neighborhood). I'm not writing TO you, either. You can contact me (see #s 9-12 above), but I'm never going to initiate the conversation. I don't initiate the conversation to my mum, my mother-in-law, my cousin, my sisters-in-law, my closest girlfriends, or anyone else, really. I'm a terrible correspondent and a very busy girl. My friends and family are used to it. I initiate conversations with my husband, my daughter, my agent, my editor, and my crit partner. Are you one of them? No? Then don't count on me initiating with you.
20. Personal hygiene is your friend. Extra deodorant is always a good idea. So is mouthwash. So is dental floss. Ladies, this applies to you as well.
21. When I or another published author are speaking, particularly if we are answering a question of yours, or are making a comment about how to write and/or get published -- PARTICULARLY if we're leading a panel, teaching a class, are at the bar, or at dinner -- please shut the hell up and let us talk. That goes double if it's an editor or an agent speaking. You interrupting us to tell us how we're wrong, how we're right, about your book, about your characters, who you've subbed to, or to crack an inappropriate and/or unfunny joke does not endear you to any of us. No one likes a boor, those of us who know what that word means especially.
21a. The quickest way to make me regret speaking to you is to keep on talking to me when I want to listen to someone else. This is worse if we're in a presentation that someone else is doing. Exponentially worse if it's a presentation being done by someone I admire and/or happen to be friends with. Worse to infinity if I have to tell you more than once to hush up until the presentation is over.
21b. Silence is truly golden. Ask your question, shut up, let us talk, don't interrupt, laugh at the appropriate times, nod, take notes, etc., and you'll be amazed at how much we enjoy having you around.

There you have it. How to go from obnoxious to charming in 21 (or so) easy steps. Please memorize this list before my next in-person event. We'll both be happier if you do.


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