Close Encounters of the Disappointing Kind

Since I’ll eventually have to give an author reading and do a signing (if I’m so lucky), I figured I should check one out and see how it’s done. Right up front let me admit that I prefer my entertainment be kept at a distance. Plays make me uncomfortable and I’d never willingly attend a poetry reading. Too much emotion or emoting just isn’t my thing, at least when it’s done by strangers and in close proximity to my person. This is why I always talk myself out of attending plays and most people know better than to approach me with a book of poetry.

But an author reading should be different, right?

Not too long ago I found out a writer whose book I really enjoyed was going to be doing this very thing at an area bookstore. I made plans to go, even though I’d have to fight mid-week after-work traffic and had to inconvenience a few people in my life that this would be fun, fun, fun. But they knew it was important to me and did all they could to make sure I got there.

When I arrived it had already started and I was surprised and impressed to see most of the seats were taken. This author has only published one book and has no plans to write another one and, other then a few contributions to anthologies, has put all his efforts into promoting his one title. And he’s done it rather successfully. The book has been up for all sorts of awards and garnered positive and enthusiastic reviews when it first came out a few years back.

Being that he hasn’t written anything new and isn’t planning to, he basically stuck to talking about what I and most of the audience had already read. So even though this was the first time I’d ever seen or heard this person speak, I felt like I already had heard it all before. (Sort of like watching the first Harry Potter movie.) Some parts of his talk sounded route and practiced, when a joke or two fell flat he seemed a little put out by us. And when he asked if we’d read his most recent work, an essay in a well known magazine and no one had, he seemed downright annoyed.

Things got more interesting when the author answered questions from the audience. He was witty and entertaining and gave me a good idea of what I should aim for when my time comes to do the same. After an hour, for the reading and the Q&A, the store manager wrapped things up and announced the author would be happy to sign copies of his book and the anthology.

A lined formed and we readers queued up. Copies of the anthology had run out quickly so my plan was to introduce myself and compliment the writer. Nothing fancy, but I’d come out all this way and wanted to at least say I’d spoken to the writer.

As I waited for my turn, I watched the author expertly sign and chat at the same time. He moved the line along quickly and didn’t linger with anyone. When my time came I was feeling more relaxed until I realized I really didn’t have anything to say to the writer other than I really liked his book and my first novel is coming out next year.

Sharpie in hand, the first thing the writer asked is if I was going to buy a book. My mistake was admitting I wasn’t going to buy another copy of his book. (Mine is currently either in storage or with one of my sisters). He then asked if I wanted to take one for a gift and, thoroughly flustered, I said no. Realizing I wasn’t going to put any money in his pocket, Mr. Writer got a little testy. And I only made matters worse by telling him I was soon-to-be published and had told my editor to read his book since it also deals with family and the wonderful quirks that makes them so interesting. In short, I blithered on like an idiot trying to salvage something from the encounter. The author wished me luck, never putting his pen down and signaled to the next person in line.

After I was summarily dismissed I picked up a couple of other titles, ending my reading drought, and waited in the long line behind a bunch of people clutching their newly signed copies, feeling like a total ass.

I understand authors do readings to generate sales and word-of-mouth. Maybe it’s my fault for not wanting to buy another copy of a book I already own. Maybe I should work on my junior high shyness or just not approach people when I know it’s going to be awkward. Maybe this writer has crossed over into the ‘I’ve heard how great my book is so many times before that unless you’re going to buy a copy, I really don’t need to waste my time listening to you tell me how much you loved my book’ mind set.

Either way, I was and am disappointed. I still love his book, but now that I know him just a tiny bit as a person/author, I’m less enthusiastic about it. Or maybe just about him

(originally published on February 11, 2006)

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