Meeting authors as a reader

Yesterday, I discussed what authors like to talk about with each other. So today I figured I’d talk about what authors like–and don’t like–to talk about with readers.

The first part is easy. Although we probably won’t go into as much detail with readers and fans as with each other, most writers love talking about the same sorts of topics in both cases: writing, publishing, and books. If you’re meeting authors at a signing or other event, the most important thing to remember is staying positive and respectful. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb when talking to anyone you don’t know that well, right?

Some of the things that may come up that most authors are not going to enjoy hearing:

1. What you didn’t like about their book. Even if there was something about it that really really bugged you, it’s generally best to keep this to yourself. It’s not that we don’t realize that not every reader loves everything about a book. Believe me, we do. But making critical comments about a story we worked long and hard on to our face puts us in the very awkward position of either arguing or agreeing that we did something wrong, or leaving it at an uncomfortable silence. So save those thoughts for sharing with your fellow readers, and stick to the stuff you liked.

2. What other books or authors you don’t like, especially those in the same genre as the author you’re talking to. That author could easily be friends with the author you’re complaining about. How would you feel if some random person came up to you and started insulting your best friend? Not so good. Talk about the books and authors you love instead.

3. Requests for help with writing or publishing. Discussing character development tips or the basic story of how the writer found an agent and/or publisher is usually fine. But please don’t start hinting or asking outright that the author read your work, or recommend you to someone they work with. Everyone in the writing community has been helped by someone else at one time or another, and we’re happy to keep helping. But most published authors already have numerous commitments and longtime critique partners who take priority. Remember that this person is essentially a stranger, even if you feel you know them well through their stories, and it’s never cool to ask a stranger for a big favor.

4. Requests for behind the scenes details. Anything relating to the process of publishing that an author hasn’t mentioned publicly, he or she is likely not allowed to share. It’s not always because we don’t want to, but there are certain standards of etiquette everyone in the publishing world tries to follow. Be respectful of that.

If you stick to the positive and respect the author’s time and privacy, any author you meet will be just as happy to talk to you as you are to talk to them!


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