Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Readers in "the wild." What should authors do?

Posted by Simcha 5:44 AM, under | 16 comments

You are sitting at a cafe, enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a book, when you are suddenly interrupted by a stranger who introduces himself as the author of the very book that you are reading. What would your reaction be?

Although this has never actually happened to me, I've been thinking about what I would do in this scenario ever since Matthew Dicks brought it up on his blog. He mentioned seeing someone reading his book at the gym and not knowing if he should approach them or not. While Dicks thought the reader might appreciate meeting him, he didn't know what would be an appropriate way to approach the reader without putting them off.

My initial response was 'of course he should approach the reader. Who wouldn't want to meet an author whose books they enjoy?' But when I thought about it further I couldn't really imagine what the right think would be for an author to say as an introduction. And what if I was approached by the author of a book that I wasn't actually enjoying? While I would do my best to pretend that I love the book, it could get pretty awkward

So I thought it would be interesting to ask a few different authors what they would do if they saw someone reading a book they had written in "the wild." Would they approach the reader, and if so, what would they say? I also asked a few different book bloggers if they would actually want to be approached by an author and what their response would be.

Lois McMaster Bujold:

I've never seen anyone reading my books in public (except at science fiction conventions, which aren't exactly public in the same sense -- non-random, closed venue, anyway). The only place I can imagine introducing myself as the author would be if we were stuck on adjoining airplane seats, and in all my years of flying I've only encountered one seatmate who'd even read my books, though he wasn't doing so at that moment, and only one store clerk who recognized my name from my transaction. Not in a bookstore, curiously; I've never had a bookstore clerk recognize my name.

In my younger days, I would likely have been wildly excited, and might have overcome my shyness enough to go up and try to strike up a conversation -- but not if it would mean interrupting their read!
Nowadays I might be more sly, and just ask them how the book was going without introducing myself. But in general, if one is out and about, one has a bunch of chores to get through -- on both sides of this hypothetical encounter -- so it's likely best to just let be. My guess is it would just freak most people out, and possibly not in a good way.

Jane Yolen has a tale of trying that once in a bookstore (the one probable venue for such an encounter to take place), and finding herself challenged to prove her identity, since the reader didn't believe she was indeed the author. Since Jane writes under a pen name, and all her ID was under her real name, this exchange ended in some embarrassment, I understand. It would be interesting to hear from *readers* asked the same question. Would they be freaked?

As an addendum, when on books tours I am met at airports by the professional local escort provided by the publisher to get me where I need to go on time, instead of holding up one of those cardboard signs with my name on it, they identify themselves by carrying a copy of my book, prominently displayed. There is never any doubt who they are, since it's invariably the only copy in the building.


Jasper Fforde:

I'm not sure, since I have never seen anyone reading my book 'in the wild'.

I'd like to introduce myself I suppose, but I probably wouldn't - being British and frightfully polite, I'd not want to trouble them.

C.L Wilson:

I wouldn't do it. I would consider it intrusive. :)


Peter Brett

I have yet to meet any readers in their natural habitat. I expect if I did, I would approach them and introduce myself if I thought it would be welcome.

The closest anecdote I have for this is the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, where they gave out 300 free advance read copies of The Warded Man to convention attendees in their gift bags. A couple of days into the convention, I saw a woman reading The Warded Man in the lobby. She was more than halfway through. Now, my picture is not in the ARC, so I didn’t expect she would have any idea who I was, and it was a Fantasy convention, so it’s not weird to talk to strangers. Under those heightened conditions, I went over to her and asked if she was enjoying the book because “I heard it was good”.

It turns out she was enjoying it, and we had a nice brief conversation. Once I felt I had gotten her honest opinion, I immediately identified myself, and she happily asked me to sign the book.

I expect that “in the wild” I would do something similar. It’s not my intention to be deceptive, but I know people are less likely to give honest feedback if they know they are talking to the author. I would, of course, identify myself before the deception went too far, though. Otherwise, it could get creepy.

Gail Carriger:

It hasn't happened yet, but I have often wondered what I might do. I think I am inclined to do nothing and hope they are enjoying it. It's a good question to flip around to the readers out there. If you are calming reading a book, would you want some strange author beast lumbering over and saying, "Hay. that's my book. Do ya like it?"

And on the other side of the coin....

Greg Zimmerman from The New Dork Review of Books:

It’s hard to imagine a more thrilling literary situation than if an author introduced him/herself to me while I was reading his/her book. It’d be a story I’d tell for years – just for the mere coincidence factor alone. But if there was an actual conversation about the book – about insights into the characters, about particular plot hinges, about writing habits – I’d be in seventh friggin’ heaven! If you’re reading this, and you wrote a book, and you see me reading it, PLEASE introduce yourself!

I’d suggest the author lead with something funny and/or sarcastic: “I hear that book’s writer is a real jerk.” or “Man, how can you read that garbage?” That breaks the ice immediately (if done in such a way that the sarcasm is clear!), and helps begin the real introduction and conversation. Definitely don’t lead with “So, are you enjoying the book?” as that sets up a potentially awkward situation if the reader isn’t. And definitely don’t ask any detailed or in-depth questions, especially after you’ve identified yourself as the author. That puts a star-struck reader on the spot, scrambling for an answer.

Stephanie from Misfit Salon:

First of all, does the author want my honest opinion? Then he/she shouldn't say who they are. Just casually ask - "What do you think of this book so far?" But you can go to any number of Internet resources to find out what people really think of your book. If an author were to approach someone in public that would mean he/she wants recognition. Now that I have a blog, I would probably start asking a lot of questions, somehow finagle an interview, then extract a promise of a review copy of his/her next book. Approaching a stranger might open up a can of worms!

Melissa from My Words and Pages:

I would be excited! I would feel like I am meeting a movie star. I love talking with the authors here on the blogs, twitter, and book clubs. But if I was reading a book and the author came over and starts off with, "I see you are reading {the book name}. I hope you are enjoying it and thank you for purchasing my book." I think I would be speechless. But in a great way. I would find it rather cool to meet the author and maybe be able to have just a few minutes to talk with them. Coming up with a great opener to start the conversation is the trick though. So, not knowing who the person is you are approaching would make that part hard. But I would love to know the author in around and talk with me, whether I love the book or not.

Although, I could see where the author would be a little skeptical on introducing themselves. There are a lot of people out there that would respond in a not so nice way, if they are not liking the book for any reason or what is happening to the characters. I personally think this is crazy to respond this way but there are many different people out there and anything is possible. Author spend a great deal of time doing this for us, so why abuse them?

Stephen from Fantasy Literature:

I'd personally love it if an author came up and said, "Hey, that's my book!

Ryan from Wordsmithonia:

I would like the author to approach me and tell me that they are in fact the author of the book I'm reading. I would love to be able to discuss the book with the person who wrote it. Now I think if the author were to do that, he/she would have to be prepared to answer questions, even ones they may not like. Now if I were the author I would be a little hesitant because I'm not sure how I would feel if I had a reader tell me how much they aren't liking the book. I guess that would come with the territory.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this blog post. It looks the general consensus is that most people would be delighted to be approached by an author while reading their book, though the author should be prepared to discuss the book and answer questions on the spot.

Personally I think that if one of my favorite authors suddenly introduced themselves to me I would be too awestruck to make an intelligent response, and would then spend the next few days kicking myself for sounding like an idiot. Though I can't imagine anything cooler then getting to sit next to Lois McMaster Bujold on an airplane or having my reading interrupted by Jasper Fforde. So authors, if you pass me by and see me reading your book, please do interrupt me.


Great topic and great responses. I would definitely love it if an author came up to me out "in the wild" even if I wasn't a huge fan of the book. It would just be cool and as mentioned, "like meeting a movie star."

What a fun post. As a reader, I depending on who it was, I'd probably pee myself. lol

I had a similar sort of adventure about 30 years ago. I had written a sports column for the Jerusalem Post about new immigrants being loyal to their teams back home. I went to a party with my roommate, and someone I didn't know suddenly said, "Did you read that great column in the Jerusalem Post this morning." And went on to talk about it. I didn't say a word, although I was thrilled, because I wanted to hear what he had to say. My roommate, on the other hand, was jumping up and down in her chair and finally burst out, "The writer of that column is right here!" So I came out of hiding. But by then, I knew already that everyone like what I wrote.

As an avid reader I'd probably be thrilled. Although I probably wouldn't be able to get them to sign it since they're almost always library copies. Of course if it were like Stephen King or one of my other faves I'd get them to sign it and then buy the book from the library.

As an unpublished author, when I get there one day I'm not sure if I would or not. Part of me thinks I'd go the "so what do you think of that book" since I do that a fair amount with strangers anyway. Depending on their response I'd likely introduce myself or perhaps go and have a good cry.

These responses are very interesting and I am so impressed with all the authors you got to respond. Thank you for asking my opinion, as well. I hope I didn't scare off any authors!

Great post and comments. As an avid reader I would be delighted to meet him/her. Hopefully my English is sufficient for a conversation :)
Unfortunately it didn't happen so far.
Most authors I read live in UK and US and I live in Germany.

which is a great place to visit. :)

I am new to your blog and I think I will enjoy visiting very much. I am a huge fan of Ms. Bujold, I have read most of her work in public. It would be an honor and a dream come true to meet her. Ms. Bujold's work has had a positive impact on my life and forever shaped how and what I read in fantasy. Thanks for this post. Take care,

Thanks for the feedback! Though I was relatively confident that the person would like to know that she was walking beside the author of the book that she was reading, I just couldn't find a way to open up the conversation without sounding like a self-promotional jerk.

And yes, I agree that if my favorite author suddenly appeared beside me, I might also be dumbstruck. I recently exchanged emails with Jasper Fforde and I could barely respond in a coherent manner.

And that was through email!

Next time, I'll see if I can find an opening and offer up my identity.

- Matthew Dicks

Actually, I write under my real (ie maiden) name. But my license--the only thing with a picture on it at that time--was in my married name. Otherwise, the story Lois tells is true.


This post turned out wonderfully! I love it. I understand the authors views, but the are really loved by us readers and would be ecstatic to meet them. I would like to think there are more of us loving the books than not, hopeful wishing. :)

Great post!

A great topic! I, personally, wouldn't mind an introduction. :)

Fantastic post and I hope some of the authors will take our positive responses and go for it sometime if the occasion permits. So if Mercedes Lackey, Melanie Rawn, Kelley Armstrong, or the myriad of other authors I love are reading this and you see a good looking, nerdy type in glasses reading your book, please come and say hi.

As a reader, I would probably love it if the author of the book I was reading walked up and introduced herself or himself. How wonderfully surreal.

As an author, I would simply smile at them, if I could catch their eye. If they were a big fan, they might recognize me from my photos, and a smile would let them know that I was open to them approaching me. Otherwise, I would prefer to respect their privacy.

Thanks everyone for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Any authors who stopped by should realize how much their fans really value them and would not hesitate to introduce themselves.

I really hope that encounter hasn't deterred you from approaching other fans of yours. I know I would be delighted if you came over to introduce yourself, and I wouldn't ask for any form of id. Though the idea of someone going around and impersonating authors gave ma a laugh.

wheels209: Steve, I'm also a big Bujold fan and I was so excited when I received her email response to my question. There is nothing more exciting then corresponding with one of your favorite authors.

ediFanoB: I know what you mean. It's unlikely that I will be running into any of these authors, here in Israel. I'll have to visit America someday and go on an author tour.

Bryce: I guess your right. Even if I wasn't a high fan of the book, just meeting a published author would be cool in itself, and I'm sure I could come up with plenty of questions to ask.

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