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Authors Behaving Badly: #2, RWA Literacy Episode

I have only been to one Literacy Signing. I lugged a suitcase full of books from my house to the signing much to the chagrin of Ned who was forced to carry it everywhere (at least when there was no porter in sight). I was excited about finally getting to meet some of my favorite authors. This was before I understood that authors are human beings, not some magical creatures whose books spill forth from on high. I now understand that in order for my favorite authors to remain my favorite authors, the less contact I have with them, the better.

If you have never been to a Literacy Signing, this is what it is like. They place a couple hundred authors in a large ballroom with conference tables set up next to each other in one long row. It’s hot and there is not enough circuation. Each author has a placard with their name in front of them and they are placed alphabetically. Some authors, like Jennifer Crusie, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts, and the like have special places in the corners of the ballroom because their lines are so long.

A line to get into the ballroom begins to form well before the LS doors open. I think that I waited a good half hour to 45 minutes to actually get into the ballroom. What did I find when I arrived inside the ballroom? Some pretty crappy behavior, so my words of advice to authors who are attending the Literary Signing, please avoid these following bad behaviors:

  • If you say you are coming, show up.
  • If you say you are coming, try to stay in your chair for more than 10 minutes
  • If you do come and you run out of books, don’t leave to gossip with a fellow author across the room. There is plenty of time for you to gossip with fellow authors.
  • If you do come, be nice to the reader who stops by your station. If you can’t be nice, even after a long period of sitting there, answering the same questions, don’t participate.

Readers come from all over the world to this event (when I was there I met fans from Germany and Australia) and the fact that you don’t show enough common courtesy to remain seated throughout the event shows a singular lack of respect for your readership. I cannot even begin to count the number of authors who did not stay beyond the first hour. By the time the last of the readers got into the ballroom, I would say that at least 1/4 – 1/3 of the authors had abandoned their chairs and had either left the room or were off gossiping with a fellow author.

  • So you are bored? Why don’t you read a book?
  • Don’t like your seatmates? Read a book?
  • Run out of books? Talk to your fans.
  • Don’t like these events? DON’T FUCKING SIGN UP.

Is it possible that women like Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Suzanne Brockmann, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan have built up a devoted and rabid readership because they care enough to sit for hours to meet each one of their fans and graciously sign their books? Maybe the rest of the authors who aspire to bestselling status should take a little marketing cue from the aforementioned ladies.

I, personally, developed a girl crush on Meg Cabot during this event. This was before she had really become the publishing phenom she is now. She was sitting a bit forlornly at her table. She was chagrined that her publisher had not provided any of her young adult books when I asked if she had any. Despite the lack of books and that I didn’t buy the ones she was offering, she was cheerful, gracious and engaging. I always remember this event when I pick up a Meg Cabot book – her smiling face and her gracious attitude.

When I met with other readers after the LS, we all talked about what we liked and didn’t like, the authors who frustrated us, the authors we thought were rude. I remember those conversations even though it has been years since the event. I am sure the other readers remember too.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Tara Marie
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 07:13:15

    I’ve been to two large signing and both were wonderful experiences. All the authors were wonderful, and Nora should have had her own room her line was so long.

    Though it is organized chaos, and I’m surprised the organizers let you bring books, both of the signings I went to only allowed you to bring in a handful of your own books to be signed.

    I always feel bad for the newbie authors with no fan base, and try to make a point of buying their books too.

  2. Leigh Ellwood
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 07:21:26

    I’ve been on both sides, as an author and a reader. RT was my first big group signing and it was a learning experience.

    I would be curious to know what would attract readers to a station like mine, that of a newbie author. I will admit I did have to get up, because duty called. :-) But does it take more than a book cover to get somebody to come closer. Certainly I did my best to be cheerful despite new mommy fatigue, and I had free candy! Should I have brought the banjo? LOL

  3. Jennifer
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 10:35:29

    I too have been on both sides – sitting in a chair for four hours straight, and standing in a line for over two hours to get the books I’d bought signed, and then standing in another line for over an hour just to pay for the books.
    In the first case it was easy to keep a cheery smile and chat with the people in the room. In the second case I sincerely thought about ditching the books under a table somewhere and escaping (only the thought that My name was inscribed on all the books stopped me, lol)
    At any rate, both experiences taught me that I’d really much rather be on the author end than on the reader end at least where a book-signing is the case. So yeah, I’d expect authors to stay polite and gracious because I know it is really horrible to stand in line with an armload of books.

  4. Leigh Ellwood
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 10:49:52

    Maybe romance cons should have a quick seminar on how to make the most of a group signing. Costumes, interpretive dance, etc. I’m a naturally shy person, not much of a huckster. I need to work on that.

  5. Keishon
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 11:15:46

    What an experience, Jane. I’d remember it too.

    I remember meeting JAK at a booksigning and she wasn’t too thrilled to see or sign some of her older backlist titles that were HTF. In fact, I remember what she said to me that if I ever needed money, she said a few of these could pay the rent. I was so put off with that remark that after the signing I knew that I wouldn’t be going to another one of hers.

    Sometimes author contact is good and other times not and most times that memory will come back to me whenever I see her books or her face or hear anything about her. I know that selling her books on ebay must irk her but to assume that I would do the same? I was hurt.

    Well, I did sell them eventually. I was a starving college student and I needed to eat thanks to JAK.

  6. Shiloh
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 11:48:18

    I haven’t been to RWA yet.

    But I did have to duck out early at the RT signing in 2005. However, I had a reason… it was hotter than hell in there and I was four months pregnant and after the first hour and half, I felt too sick to hang around any longer.

    I don’t mind doing signings but I wish there was a less chaotic way to do the big ones.

  7. Mary Reed McCall
    Jul 24, 2006 @ 18:42:49

    I actually love attending signings. I enjoyed it as a reader and I love it as an author – with the bigger events often turning out better for me. I’m (obviously) a much lesser-known and lesser sought-after author, so sometimes at these bigger events I get to meet new readers who just happen to walk by my part of the table in search of someone else. In past years, some have stopped for no other reason than that they caught a glimpse of the display Avon always provided me (and every Avon author – a blow-up of the author’s latest book’s cover) and it made them decide to come closer and chat for a bit.

    Of course I love when someone takes the next step and buys a book (it’s all for literacy, natch) – but whether or not a book is sold, it’s still a thrill to me after five years of being published, to sit behind the table and talk to real readers.

    There are some rule changes at RWA this year, it sounds like, however – in that no author is going to be allowed displays of any kind larger than a paperback book. So Avon isn’t allowed to provide their authors with the cover blow-ups anymore. I wonder how/if that will affect readers being able to connect with “new-to-them” authors (i.e. how do you know what kind of book an author you’ve never heard of writes, without seeing a cover?…and you can’t do that without displays unless you’re willing to walk right up to the table).

    Many browsers don’t seem to like to come too close and actually talk to an author whose work they don’t know, because then some of them seem to feel “guilted” into buying a book. This is one reason why I make eye contact and smile, but try not to make them feel like I’m giving them a pitch or anything. It’s a tough balance to come across friendly but not pushy, sometimes. :)

    I missed RWA last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like this year, especially with the new rules in place (I wonder if it includes candy bowls and “prizes” etc?) ;)


  8. Jaci Burton
    Jul 25, 2006 @ 10:03:32

    I’m registered for the conference and the literacy signing. There will no doubt be a table with books and a placard with my name. However, my husband and I made it halfway to Atlanta when we received a phone call that his 91 year old father had become seriously ill and they weren’t sure he was going to make it, so we turned around and headed back home.

    I will not be at my table during the literacy signing. So thought I’d post that here so people don’t hate me. Honest, I’m not out wandering around and I didn’t blow off the signing. :-)

    (Dad’s doing a little better, by the way, but I’m still not leaving home this week)

  9. Jane
    Jul 25, 2006 @ 10:15:50

    Jaci – that sucks for you all around.

    Mary – I loved the lesser known authors that I met. It was a pleasure to chat with them.

    Shiloh – that is a perfectly acceptable excuse. ;) but I can’t believe all the other authors had the same excuse.

    Keishon – I am definitely getting to the point that I need to avoid regular contact with authors.

    Leigh – I really appreciated the authors who stuck to their seats even if no one was visiting. I remember buying more than on book from an author just because I felt bad.

    Jennifer – and they don’t allow carts! They should because if you are buying a lot of books, you need one.

    TM – I, too, feel sorry for those new authors.

  10. Shiloh
    Jul 26, 2006 @ 12:25:21

    but Jane… pregnancy IS contagious, don’t you know that?

    How else do people get pregnant…


    Jaci, sweetie, give Charlie a hug from me. Saying a prayer for you and his family. :(

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