How To

Best of Book Riot: DOs and DON’Ts at Author Events

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

To celebrate the end of the year, we’re running some of our favorite posts from the last six months. We’ll be back with all-new stuff on January 7th.

Autumn is definitely the year’s best book season, which also makes it prime season for author tours and signing events at your local bookstores. As a veteran attendee of such events, I’m here to offer a few tips on how to get the most out of your author event experience.

DO: Arrive early — get an aisle seat. This will be of great value at the end of the event when you can get out easily and not have to wait in the 178-person line to get your book signed.

DON’T: Bring a gigantic, unwieldy armful of books to have signed. It really is poor form, because everyone, including the author, assumes you’re imposing yourself on everyone else’s time just so that you can a make a buck on eBay selling your “more valuable” signed copies. Not cool, man. There’s no shame in bringing a title or two from the author’s backlist, but as a rule of thumb, I’d advocate for no more than three books at any one signing.

DO: Purchase the book you’re about to have signed at the bookstore at which the event is being held, if at all possible. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances (you already own the book, you plan to eread it, you’re broke, etc.), but by helping the bookstore, you can help ensure that they’ll continue to have kick-ass author events. And everyone wins.

DON’T: Ask a poor question. Rioter Jennifer nailed this notion earlier this month with her, “Take Back the Q&A at Author Readings” post (and then the fantastic follow-up post about what questions authors like best), but readers can never be reminded too many times about this one. One question specifically not to ask under any circumstances: “Where do you get your ideas?” When some chucklehead asks this question (and this question has been asked at 99.98 percent of author events I’ve been to), you can almost feel the author’s good humor and willingness to answer other questions come to a screeching halt.

DO: Have something in mind to say to the author when it’s your turn to have your book signed. Sure, you respect and admire this person — you may even be a little in awe of him/her — but the last thing you want is to be slapping yourself on the forehead and yelling “IDIOT” at yourself as you leave the store because you were like an 8th grade boy at your first dance when you finally got your brief one-on-one time with the author. Tell the author how a character really resonated with you. Tell him you really liked a particular set piece because it made you feel things. Tell her you thought NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani’s review of her book was vicious and unfair, and frankly, downright wrong. (Note: This comment will work for 98 percent of fiction.) However……

DON’T: Be Chatty Kathy when it’s your turn to have your book signed. At a recent event, the woman in front of me in line demanded the author explain his rationale behind a key plot point — and of course, not wanting to be rude, he did. In total, this wound up being about a five-minute exchange — much to the chagrin of everyone else behind her. It wasn’t until after she’d asked two more follow-up questions that the light bulb went off in this dimwit’s head, and she turned around to (seemingly for the first time) discover there were other people waiting. (As a corollary, don’t try to invent a connection between you and the author, like “Hey, you went to the same high school as my brother’s girlfriend’s freshman year roommate. Wanna get a drink after this, and catch up?” It’s just awkward for everyone.)

DO: Turn off your cell phone. Seriously, you better. You’re not more important than anyone else here. Okay, okay, I know you don’t think you are, but are you sure you turned it off already? Please, just check it again. You didn’t turn it off, did you? I knew it!

DON’T: Reveal a spoiler. Of any of these, this should be the most common sense. But it’s still amazing to me how often this happens. A guy at a recent event ruined a key reveal close to the end of the novel by asking the author about it during Q&A. Luckily, I’d already read the book, but the groan from the other attendees was audible. I couldn’t believe it.

DO: Thank the author profusely. Many authors, even though they’re putting on their happy faces, would rather not be doing readings. Make sure they know you appreciate them being there. (And if you run across the person at the bookstore, it never hurts to send him/her an ‘atta boy/girl as well!)