How not to freak out in front of celebrity authors

by Jenna Todd

An author can be a very important person to a reader, someone who, through their books, we have invested much time into. With a busy year of writer’s weeks ahead of us, now seems a good time to ask: How much of that enthusiasm should we display – or hold back – to make the author feel comfortable?

A majority of authors have the fortune of not being recognisable, their author photo and blurb our only tiny glimpse into their personal life. It’s difficult to decipher whether an author actually wants to be recognised, especially if they are just visiting the bookstore as a pedestrian. If they slide through a transaction unnoticed, have we as a bookseller failed at our job? If we do recognise them, should we say something to confirm our book industry insight? Are we required to give some positive feedback in terms of customer interest and sales?

Sometimes, the tides are turned on us. There’s a trick that some authors play on booksellers.
Customer: Do you have “xx xx” in stock?
Bookseller: We don’t have it at the moment, but can order it in for you?
Customer Author: I am the author of this book. Have you read it? Why is it not on the shelf?”

Of course there is the time when an author must step into the spotlight to promote their book. It must be quite strange to emerge from a writing cave to be thrust into spotlight of your readers. Author events must feel like continual birthday parties, where you’re not sure if your guests will turn up.

Kate_atkinson_time_out

Kate Atkinson promoting Life After Life at Time Out Bookstore in 2013

From experience (as a spectator), here are a few don’ts when speaking to an author:

  • If an author has written a book on a specific subject, it’s best to presume they know they know more about the subject than you do.
  • It’s not okay to bring up your own body of work when asking an author a question in a Q & A, or to hijack a Q & A in general.
  • Don’t lead with questions about the author’s divorce and/or love life.

And some Do’s:

  • Do your research, read up on what the author you’re about to meet has been asked before and try and ask something different.
  • Be respectful of their time, be aware of other fans waiting.
  • Engage with authors via social media – link them in tweets with your reviews and book love.

I’ve met a couple of my favourite authors and thankfully, they have exceeded my expectations. That said, I can’t help but turn pink, and as I speak to them the thought that I am actually speaking to them hazes my very ability to concentrate on our conversation. The most important thing I want to tell them is that I am a bookseller and how much I enjoy selling their books.

My friend Emily Adams is a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seattle, Washington which has hosted a multitude of incredible authors, from Paul McCartney to John Green.
“I treat authors like anyone else; they are people doing a job. Give them kind words and a smile. Thank them for visiting your local bookstore, and buy a book at the host store to show your appreciation.”

Jimmy_carter_at_third_place

The Third Place Team with former President Jimmy Carter, who visited to promote his book A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. Emily is in the blue floral dress.

I searched even further afield to another bookseller friend, Josh Cook from Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s also a published author, so he can offer advice from both sides.

“Think of them like you would someone you met a party once who you thought was really cool. You’d probably go up to re-introduce yourself, but not if they’re clearly having dinner with their family or talking on their phone, or in a rush to get somewhere, and you probably wouldn’t try to talk to them for ten minutes right off the bat. I think the same rules apply for a celebrity you get a chance to meet. Don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or anything like that, just be honest, respect their personhood, and have fun, and odds are they’ll be honest, respectful, and grateful that you’ve shared with them their impact on your life.”

So that’s it, just be nice. Keep it cool. And as I’m writing to a group of wonderful book people, I’m sure that won’t be difficult.

Many thanks to my American bookseller friends Emily and Josh for contributing to this piece.

by Jenna Todd, Manager, Time Out Bookstore, Mt Eden

A Novel Relationship and The Stars are Out Tonight, at WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers festival, Friday 29 August

Sarah Jane Barnett is a poet, creative writing tutor, and reviewer from Wellington. Matt Bialostocki is a writer, photographer, and bookseller from Wellington. Together they went to a full day of festival events at the WORD Writers’ & Readers Festival 2014 in Christchurch. After each of the sessions they recorded their conversation. This is what was said in their final two sessions.

A Novel Relationship
Friday, 29 August 4pm
Owen Marshall and Laurence Fearnley discuss their new novels, and their experience working with editor Anna Rogers, with Chris Moore.

M: I think we need to open by telling everyone that Rogers said of split WORD-Author_OwenMarshallinfinitives, ‘mercifully, the world has decided we can boldly go, which has made everything so much easier’.
S: She was fascinating, and the close relationship between the two writers and their editor was clear.
M: They were funny, too.
S: Did you not expect that?
M: Well, Fearnley said that she gets nervous about being edited to the point where it can ruin her Christmas. She did say, ‘I once received an email saying I’d used the word “just” 146 times’.
S: What stuck out for me was when Rogers said her editing should be invisible, and that she ‘helps the writer say what they want to say, the best way they can’—
M: And that the best writers were always the ones that valued the editing process. Both Marshall and Fearnley saw it as a positive application to their work.
WORD-Author_AnnaRogersS: It seems we were lucky to hear from her—that there are fewer full-time working editors in New Zealand.
M: While Rogers (left) wants to be invisible, she did say it was noticeable when editing is skipped in the book-making process.
S: I like that, the ‘book-making process’. They did see themselves as a team, the writer and editor. Both Marshall and Fearnley said the editing process helped them see the ‘blind spots’ in their own writing; Marshall said he appreciated an editor with expertise who could ‘interrogate’ his work. Fearnley talked about how there would be parts of her novel that would niggle at her, but that she was resistant to revise because of the domino effect on the novel. A good editor saw those parts too.
M: Towards the end of the session Marshall read us an excerpt from his novel, Carnival Sky, and Fearnley read us a section from an untitled book that’s due out later on in the year.
S: Do you know what that is?
M: I’m not sure. It’s about Quinn, a young artist, and it’s set in fictional Wellington. Something to look forward to!

The Stars are out Tonight
Friday, 29 August 7.30pm
John Campbell introduces Eleanor Catton, Diane Setterfield, Damon Young, NoViolet Bulawayo, Anis Mojgani, Meg Wolitzer, Kristin Hersh. The sold out session was held in the Transitional/Cardboard Cathedral. (all names link to the authors’ other sessions)

S: Holy shit! I mean—can I swear? That was incredible.
M: John Campbell closed with ‘I can’t think of any event in the world that would have been like this’.
S: It’s 10pm.
M: Time to go home.