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?