How to Approach an Author for Any Occasion
One time at a conference I had the experience of rendering another human speechless. It was in the hotel elevator and I was alone, as I usually am, headed toward my room. I’d already pressed the button for my floor when another person joined me, so I asked which floor she wanted. She simply stared and looked terrified. I offered an encouraging smile and asked again about the floor. She stammered a number as the door closed.
Making my first mistake, I asked if she was enjoying the conference. She nodded. (I will explain this mistake at the end of the post.)
That was all the time we had before the door opened. Saying I hoped to see her at that night’s party, I exited and went to my room.
I never did see her again.
Maybe the woman was experiencing acute anxiety about something else, such as having to share an elevator. Chances are, however, she had just read my name tag and realized I was the author of a book she’d read. Maybe she loved it above all other books—or maybe she’d written a scathing review and was terrified about my possible response. There’s just no way of knowing.
But it got me to thinking about whether approaching an author might seem scary to some people. As an author and a lifelong member of the too-shy-to-approach-people club, I have some thoughts about that.
Here are some of the many ways to approach an author.
Email. Authors make their email addresses available on their blogs and in the backs of their books, or during promo posts, for a reason—they want to hear from readers. This is also true of an editor or publisher interested in acquiring future work or lining up authors for an anthology. Why would an author want to be emailed by strangers? Because most authors’ work is solitary and devoid of feedback; contact with readers and others tells them their creations are reaching people.
Social Media. Authors are easy to contact on social media. I’ve written stories for anthologies, provided unique content posts for review blogs, and simply enjoyed making new friends through being contacted out of the blue on Facebook and Messenger. Fans who contact me on Twitter are likely to get inside info about upcoming books. Again, the key is to be yourself and share your thoughts.
Conventions, Conferences, Signings, and Workshops. These create the best environment for meeting authors. Authors attend these events expecting to meet people in person. We want to meet people in person.
If you’re a fan, we want to meet you.
If you’re an editor or publisher, we want to meet you.
If you’re a cover artist, or purveyor of services, we want to meet you.
The best way is to simply introduce yourself. Appropriate locations for this would be at a signing, in the lobby, at the bar, before or after a panel, at a party, or in an elevator. Just wait for an opening, or for the author to finish swallowing her drink, and say hello. Restaurants are okay as long as the interruption is short. If the author’s soup is getting cold, you’ve stayed too long.
Inappropriate locations? There are many. For instance, the bathroom, especially while the author is in a stall. That is not the time to slide your copy of their novel under the door with a pen and ask them to sign it. Yes, this has happened. Stalking the author to his or her hotel room and knocking on the door is another good way to make a lasting impression, though whether it will be a good one depends on the author.
Meeting Authors in Public. It could happen you meet an author in public. You recognize her name. You’ve seen him on Facebook and… there he is! At the airport. At the gym. In the grocery store. Yep, even the emergency room. It happens. I met a fan at the dentist.
Authors are usually stunned by the recognition, then delighted.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ask “Are you Author X, the one who wrote My Favorite Book?” If the author says yes, proceed with polite conversation, just as you would at a conference. Pay attention to cues and context. Ice cream melts. The author seated beside you on the plane might be counting on an hour of sleep, or want to use the time for writing. As for the emergency room… probably not the best time to interrupt. Few authors are congenial when in pain or worried about a loved one. Send flowers if they are admitted.
Basically, approaching authors requires only one thing… common sense.
Oh, and that mistake? I should have known better than to ask that poor woman a Yes or No question. Some old interviewing savvy: Yes or No questions are dead ends. The best introductory question is one that requires a multi-word answer.
I should have said something like this: “This conference is great! What’s the most exciting thing for you so far?”
I’ll never know what she would have said, but I would have loved learning more about her.
Have you ever met an author in the wild? Or approached one just because? Do tell!