Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Matter of Convention

I was at an SF/Fantasy convention a couple of weeks back. They had an autograph table set up in the dealer’s room for the author guests to use. I passed through the dealer’s room many times, and whenever I saw any of my fellow guest authors sitting at the autograph table alone I stopped and talked and bought one of their books.

I didn’t know any of these authors before the convention. Many of the books I bought from them may never get read. I’m sure they’re well written; it’s just that in a world of limited time they are not likely to make it to the top of my TBR pile. I’ve got a lot of friends who I know are writing good books that I’ll enjoy, and there are other authors who I don’t know but whose work I like. Those books are the ones that rise to the top of the heap.

Once my panel load slowed down, I went and sat at the autograph table for a couple of hours myself. A couple of folks I’d bought books from passed through. Most seemed to make an effort to avoid eye contact. I was trying to do the thing you do at autograph tables, smile and cross glances with folks who pass by. It didn’t work on my fellow authors, perhaps because they were so conscious of having done the same thing when theywere at the table.

One particular incident actually bothered me. I’d bought one author’s book at the table, for 19+ bucks. Later, while I was there with my books, none of which approached 19 dollars in cost, the same author came and sat down again. We chatted but he hardly gave my books a glance, and certainly did not buy one. He insisted I take his card, though, and then began grilling me about my publisher and what kind of deal I had with them. He was apparently unhappy with his publisher and was looking to switch. I suppose I was a bit troubled by not selling any books to fellow authors, but my interaction with that one specific author actually left me feeling a little unclean, a little used.

Then I started thinking that, instead of being irritated, maybe I should take the lack of reciprocity as a sign that I’m doing this writing thing all wrong. I understand that a writer’s objective is to sell their books, not spend more money than they take in on buying other authors’ books. That seems to translate into the need to be a bit mercenary. It means: SELL! Don’t BUY!

I’m not sure I can do this, though. I think too much about how nice it feels when someone expresses an interest in your work. I also know, intimately, how it feels to sit at a table with no takers for your wares. And how you still smile.

I guess I’m lucky to have a day job, that I don’t have to subsist on what I make from my writing. I don’t have to be mercenary. I'd love to hear from other writers about this kind of thing. How mercenary should we be? How do we seek a balance between supporting our own careers and supporting other writers?

27 comments:

Heather said...

just think of it like putting a deposit in the karma bank. Now you're up.

Supporting others is always a good thing and they will remember you. The love will come back at some point.

David J. West said...

I like helping out other authors, when I can-but sometimes you just can't.
As for being mercenary, I've been pondering lately the lessening of the ego and getting back to what made me love writing even when there was no one reading my stuff. I think some of the most magical moments for me were with rough drafts that will never see the light of day-but they hold a certain shine for me.

sage said...

Well, I've not published any books, but I can understand how you feel this way. When I talk to authors at such events, I often buy their books, but generally read them (but then I am not at many conventions where there are lots of authors like this and the one I go to is only every other year and coming up in April!)

Angie said...

I think it depends what you can do. I agree that the guy who came up to you and engaged in what sounds like some rather agressive networking (which would've benefitted only him? it didn't seem that you got much out of it on your side) without even looking at your book after you'd bought one of his was particularly rude. That's uncool, and IMO demonstrates a lack of social skills. :/

In general, though, I think it comes down to what you can do and what you can afford. I certainly remember back when I was catching rides to cons with friends or taking public transit if the con was no more than a county or so away, staying in crash space, and pretty much living on soda and chips from the evening parties for the duration. Once I even went with a friend to a con in Phoenix -- my first ever WesterCon -- from the San Jose area, where we had one-way plane tickets and counted on finding a lift back home 'cause we couldn't afford to fly both ways. And for anyone who doesn't know, note that "crash space" meant either volunteering to gofer to earn space in gofer crash, or staying with friends who had a hotel room, and both meant sleeping on the floor more often than not. I've stayed in and otherwise known of crash rooms where primo sleeping space was in the bathtub, or under the bench at the foot of the bed because you were less likely to get stepped on in the middle of the night.

I'm not saying the folks who avoided you after you'd bought their books were necessarily in that kind of financial position, but it's a possibility. And the whole gaze-avoidance thing might've been because they knew they couldn't reciprocate your kindness and felt bad about it.

Or they might've just been self-centered jerks. I'm assuming there was a mix of both poverty and jerkdom in the group, just because that's how most groups go.

For myself, I try to support my friends when I can. I'll try one or two things from a writer I've been hanging out with, to see whether I like their stuff. I know writers who write all kinds of fiction, and I'm not into all of it, but I'll give it a shot. If I like it, I'll keep buying 'cause it's beyond friendship at that point. :) And I appreciate it when other writers I know try my stuff, although I don't expect someone who's not into what I write to keep buying it just because we're friends. Not that I'd object, mind you :) but it's not something I expect, or consider they owe me because we're friends or fellow writers.

For yourself, I've always thought you were a cool guy and a nice person, and this just bears that out. I think you should do what feels good to you. If you can keep supporting writers you meet at cons without getting annoyed at lack of reciprocation, then do that. If it means being more selective in whom you support with more than conversation and advice, then do that instead.

I think, bottom line, we don't owe it to other writers to support their careers, because in all seriousness, if you're writing good stuff, your books and stories will sell within their target audience, and if you're not, having a bunch of writer friends buy copies isn't going to help your career. There's no obligation among the unity of writers to spend money on other people's stuff. But if you want to support writer friends, if you think someone's an interesting person and want to try their work, if you've heard someone else talking about an upcoming book and it sounds interesting, then go for it. Don't feel like you have to, though. [hugz]

Angie

G said...

I look at it this way: if you're playing nice, somewhere along the way, someone is bound to remember the fact that you were playing nice and will reciprocate.

I try to help when I can on my blog and I know that eventually it will be reciprocated. But even if it isn't, the mere fact that I enjoyed sharing something that I like with people other than my immediate family is something that I'm proud of.

BernardL said...

Being supportive is a good thing, but not if it involves simply buying the book without wanting to read it. I have bought many of my writer friends' books. I checked every sample available to see if the story hooked me. If it did, I bought it, read it, and reviewed it. The writer you bought a book from that sat down with you and didn't even glance at your books seems a little odd, unless he decided he'd be under some unspoken obligation to buy if he picked them up and read the blurbs.

With the growing competition and nonexistent ad budgets, writers without huge name recognition are responsible now for nearly every phase of marketing. Day jobs and love of writing keep us going, but the mercenary marketing wolf that needs to be unleashed to sell books is unsavory at best. :)

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I think it was something in my breakfast.

But I am reminded of a Norman Mailer quote, out of Advertisements For Myself,

"The young novelist, always a prick..."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It just shows that you weren't as selfish as the other authors. You showed your support by buying their books. They, however, were so wrapped up in their own world and focused on themselves, they didn't reciprocate. You gave - they just took.
I've purchased dozens upon dozens of my blogger buddies' books to be supportive. Some I'll never read because of the genre. But I understand sales matter and I want to support my friends. Most of them have also shown their support of my book. Although I've noticed that science fiction writers and authors are less likely to buy my book than those of other genres. Maybe our genre just leans towards selfish?

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

PS:

I had a nearly parallel experience some years ago.
Sitting at the author's table with my entourage of friends.

No buyers.Oh, maybe just one.

Then in comes a grizzled old guy.

I recognized him from his photo in the local paper.

One book sold. But migod, what a review in the Newmaket ERA.

Circulation at least 100,000.

I am still selling books, and getting dangerously out of stock.

er, Doesn't everybody? :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Heather, I like to think it will. Sometimes I’m not so sure, but I guess that’s part of life.


David J. West, that’s certainly true, and when I get to write and am in the zone it is very rewarding.


sage, I go to two or three cons a year. Most are small and have a lot of newer authors at them. It’s not that I don’t want to read the books as much as it is there being so much to read and so little time.


Angie, that’s a very good point about a book is supposed to sell if it’s good, and it won’t matter if a few other writers buy it for that person’s career. I should keep that in mind. It’s so hard to get noticed in the first place, though, and I do often enjoy the books I read by newer writers. “most” of the writers I meet at cons appear to be generally middle class, which means they probably could afford to buy the books. But it’s hard to tell just from the appearance of course.


G, that’s something I’m hoping for and I’ve already been the recipient of some of that kind of thing too. So I know it often works. I find that I really enjoy visiting the blogs and communicating with the group we’ve got going now because they are all like that. They help and get helped and everyone works together.


BernardL, it’s a delicate line. And there’s also the casual meeting with someone as opposed to getting to know someone. For example, meeting someone one time at a con is very casual but getting to know people through blogging is something more. I definitely seek to support those who I know, as through the blog world, more. And in turn I’ve gotten lots of support from that same world.


ivan, maybe it’s just the young in general!


Alex J. Cavanaugh, that’s interesting about the SF authors. Could they be thinking of you more as competition than colleague? I wonder about that kind of thing at times. I don’t think that way myself but I wonder if there are those who do.

Ty Johnston said...

Call me a prick, but I would have gently forced the issue and asked, "Hey, you wanna buy one of these?"

If they're rude enough to pull a passive aggressive little stunt, then I can be rude enough to call them out on it.

I realize money considerations are important for a lot of people, including myself, but come on ... that was just rude, coming over and plopping down right in front of an author and his book after he had purchased one of your own. I can tolerate those passing by with sheepish glances because at least they weren't rubbing it in anyone's face, but don't come up to me and start talking shop after pulling something like that.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, yeah, I should have. I'm probably just passive aggressive myself to whine about things rather than doing anything about them. I definitely felt his rudeness, though.

Chris said...

Man, this is a subject I've often thought about, Charles, not just with writing but in the music world of independent bands releasing and selling their own stuff. I think there is so much of this going on that many folks get blinders. There is so much of an urge to SELL and get their stuff out there that it becomes overwhelming. It is especially apparent on Twitter and Facebook; I've had to unfollow a number of people I really like on Twitter just because my feed was overrun with "buy this, buy that" messages. And it doesn't just come from the author, then all of the author's friends -- many of whom are friends of mine as well -- would forward the same link to the point where I'd see one announcement four or five times. Multiply that by however many books and collections out there, and it is overwhelming. I find it distasteful, even as I understand WHY it is happening.

On top of that, if one chooses to review the books one reads, which I do, sooner or later one starts getting requests to review stuff. I'm not a reviewer, I'm a reader, and I review stuff I choose to read and stuff I like. If I wanted to follow up on all those requests, I pretty much wouldn't have time for anything BUT that stuff. I'm all for helping people out . . . but man, it's really started to bum me out. To the point where I almost don't want to write for anyone but myself anymore, because I don't want to play that game.

I think one of the things though is we spend so much time marketing ourselves to other writers, and I don't know how successful that can be. If you think of the $20 you spend on a book, then they turn around and spend that $20 to buy your book, is it really a sale? It's just the same $20 moving around the room.

I don't know, man. It makes my head hurt. But I definitely feel what you're saying.

Cloudia said...

Mercenaries are SO transparent!

Their un-subtlety seems an insult to my heart and intelligence.

Of course, while a merc might sell more books than I do, they probably wouldn't have WRITTEN as I did.....


Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

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Travis Erwin said...

The world is full of shitty people. take heart that you are not one for them. matter of fact I (for what that is worth) have you solidly in my good guy list.

I do believe in karma and therefore do not let the assholes of the world bother me. matter of fact they bring out the writer in me as I sit and ponder the way they will reap what they have sown.

Lana Gramlich said...

Unfortunately the karma bank doesn't often pay back.
Try working on ways to steer every conversation back to you book/s, and don't be shy about it!
Unfortunately you know I can sympathize, considering how many people have come to my photography booth with the sole hope that I'll teach them how to use their cameras!

Richard Godwin said...

Charles it is entirely understandable how you feel and this is a good post because there are many times we feel used by the way this works. The key thing is to write because you love it. I know I will enjoy your books and they are at the top of my pile. I think you wre terated with less than fairness.

SQT said...

People like this usually develop a reputation and it'll come back to bite him in the rear end soon or later. Call it karma (and many have) but you definitely reap what you sow.

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris, I know what you mean. My experience has been much the same. I’m getting lots of requests for reviews now and if I did those I’d never read anything else, or likely get any writing done. And you’re right about moving 20 dollars around. FB mostly seems promotion based, but that’s probably because I friended so many writers on there. I don’t know what the solution is. More people these days are getting a chance to express their creativity, which is good, but when each successive item becomes a drop in a tsunami it can’t get you noticed.

Cloudia, Some folks seem able to write good books even while being cut-throat mercenaries. I don’t really understand it. Those are likely to get a good chance at making it.


Travis Erwin, yeah, I’ve got a couple of story ideas featuring such folks. I will have fun writing those.


Lana Gramlich, I know, I was thinking of that when I wrote the post. I guess doctors and lawyers get that too, people wanting free advice. It seems a bit different somehow, but maybe that’s just me.


Richard Godwin, This kind of thing used to hurt me much more than it does now. I know it will happen, and if anything I’m just curious about it, about how certain people think. I don’t understand them, but I guess that’s a good thing. Leaves mystery.

SQT, yes, I’ve known a few folks who got reps as users. They are all out of the biz now.

laughingwolf said...

i think librans, seeking balance in most things in life, expect, at least hope, hand still washes hand, even if we KNOW it's likely NOT gonna happen... still we're kinda hurt if it does not... so, like you, we sit and smile, instead of venting on the spot....

angie nailed it very well, and you ARE a gentleman, beneath that gruff, hippy exterior ;)... and i'm proud you consider me friend!

Keith said...

Charles, while the reasons why the authors didn't buy your book are probably varied, as the others here have said, the bottom line is you put your money where your mouth/heart/values are and supported these writers. In doing so, you showed a great deal of class (certainly more than the guy networking did), and sooner or later class acts will get noticed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughinwolf, balance indeed. I'm definitely a big fan of that. I get troubled when the balance gets to far out of hand. And yes, you are a good friend.

Keith, It certainly should be that way, and most of the time I imagine that class does rise to the top.

Dayton Ward said...

I often buy books at conventions, including those from other writer guests, but it has to be something I'm going to want to read. Likewise, I don't hold it against another writer guest if they don't see anything on my table that grabs them.

I've also been in situations where we each had something the other liked, so we swapped, and we both "win." Occasionally, another writer even offers to just give me a copy of their book(s), and in that event I reciprocate.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, you're obviously a very kind and empathetic person and I don't believe that's something you can change by deciding to become more 'mercenary'. I'm willing to bet most of those other lonely-at-the-table authors have other jobs as well, and they could have afforded to show some reciprocity. That would have been nice, but they're really not obligated to.

You went beyond the call. As someone up the comment chain said, your karma's in good shape.

Charles Gramlich said...

Dayton, I do a lot of the 'trading' books too. I don't hold it against other writers who don't buy my books per se, but I did sort of hold it against the one guy who could have bought my book and still made money from his sale, since mine were cheaper, and who wanted to pick my brain abotu stuff.

Liane, I do try to keep in mind that buying the books or not is my choice, so I'm on the hook for the results of choices I make. I'm curious about why or why don't people buy in these circumstances, but I imagine there are many reasons.

jodi said...

Charles, I have no experience to draw on for this subject. Have never tried to sell ANYTHING, but I do love positive comments on my blog or someone saying that they enjoy it! It will always be enough for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Jodi, I am definitely not a born salesperson.