I’ve attended approximately four billion conferences and author events since becoming an official wow-she-managed-to-get-a-book-published author about 10 years ago. I’ve sat on panels and taught workshops. Met amazing readers. Answered questions and sometimes… not always, but sometimes… listened to fellow author panelists give what feels like a page-by-page description of their book rather than answer the question asked.
I know, I know. I can hear you gasp in shock that I just wrote that but come on. We can all admit this happens. It’s likely because authors spend a lot of time with made-up people and are not always great with real ones. More than once I’ve had to fight the urge to turn to the generally lovely but chatty author next to me and ask, “how exactly does your book about this couple on the Oregon coast in 2018 have anything to do with the future of sci-fi romance?” There’s an unspoken don’t embarrass your fellow panelist rule that holds me back. Except that one time when a self-important dude moderator who had never actually published a book asked why women couldn’t write “deeper” books. That guy did not get the benefit of the unspoken rule. But he’s still alive, and I think we can all agree he’s lucky for my restraint.
While others might love going to things, I’m the type who loves the idea of it and enjoys it once I’m there, but that hour before getting into the car or on the plane involves a great deal of internal debate. Should I pretend I’m sick? Maybe I can make myself sick? I wish I had steps in the house because I could fall down them and have to skip…
[This is a good time to note that this article is not about author maturity or how to overcome introvert tendencies. Both are good topics. I’m not an expert in either.]
All of this travel and social interaction involves tricking my brain and forcing my body to go… outside. This is bigger than you might think. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot in my life but when people ask me about my favorite place the answer is easy — my house. While, unfortunately, we have not yet reached the future promised to us in The Jetsons, I can get almost anything delivered to my house. All I need to do is open the front door. I don’t actually need to step outside, thank goodness. Still, leaving for author stuff generally means fighting my natural impulse to grab the back door in a death grip and refuse to let go [see: previous comment about maturity].
When I do give in and find big girl clothes — defined here as pants with a zipper and shirt that I remembered to wash and (mostly) fits — and pack, I also bring with me a few personal rules for survival. Authors you should feel free to adopt or ignore these as you see fit. Readers, this will give you some insight into what’s going on in my head when you see me standing alone in the middle of a hallway at a conference, looking lost and pretending to study my phone.
First rule. This is a global rule. It’s probably a good life rule, in general, but it is imperative for authors at any author event. The rule? Don’t be an asshole. That’s it. Four words. Seems simple, right? Yeah, I thought so, too, until I saw and heard so many authors violating it.
How this works for me is when I get to a conference — literally, before I walk in the door of the hotel or convention center or library — I whisper it to myself. If it’s a multi-day conference, I say it every morning on the long ride down in the elevator as we stop at every single floor to allow more people to climb on. See, I might be tired or hungry – there’s a 90% chance I forgot to eat and am hungry — and I have terrible eyesight and a general inability to remember names, so if I’m not careful I can be an asshole. We all can. We’re human. But for those 60 or 90 or however many seconds that someone meets me I want to be the best me, and that means ignoring the fatigue, the desire to find a bag of chips, the uncomfortable shoes I never wear that are currently making my feet swell and the nagging worry I forgot to comb my hair or brush my teeth before leaving the hotel room. The need for coffee has to be set aside because the person standing in front of me deserves my undivided and respectful attention.
As I write this I realized that really is the only rule I have. There is a sister rule that goes like this: don’t be precious. I blame author Meg Cabot for this one. She once wrote an article about being at an event and how some of the authors around her were acting very special and wanted constant pampering. I can’t remember the specifics, but I remember my takeaway was don’t be precious. That seems easy, right? Sit there, be professional and kind and appreciative and grateful. All those things we learned in kindergarten but sometimes forget when we leave the house.
That’s all I’ve got. You have to actually leave your house to go to these events, and you should. The readers you meet will make it worth it. They are awesome, so when you’re not at your best, go hide. Take a minute to regroup and then send the non-asshole, non-precious version of you out again. And carry snacks. Trust me on this. You need snacks.