Editor’s Note: Our intermittent series on “Ways to Trash Your Writing Career” has become so popular that we’re giving it a regular slot. Book View Cafe members will offer their advice on writing behavior to avoid every Friday. We begin with Madeleine Robins.
I may get challenged on this, perhaps even by some of the people I know and value here at BookView Cafe, but it’s something I feel really really strongly about:
The Wall of Books. About which I have one word: Don’t.
If you’ve been to a science fiction convention you have likely encountered The Wall of Books. You go into a panel on, say, “Using Historical Plumbing in Outer Space Settings” hoping to pick up some useful reference data. There are five people sitting on the panel–or rather, there are four people and one Wall of Books. One presumes there’s a person behind the Wall of Books, but the wall is so high and so impenetrable that one cannot be sure. And you know from the Wall of Books that the panelist isn’t really there to talk about Thomas Crapper or the use of logs in sewer systems–she’s there to display her books in the hopes that people will buy them.
It’s not a bad idea; but it’s not entertaining for the audience, so you’re working against your own best interests. When I go to a panel and I hear smart people talking about interesting things, maybe referencing their own work* but maybe not, I enjoy it. If I enjoy the panel I’m likely to go looking for the panelists’ work. If I feel that a panelist regards me and his fellow panelists as nothing more than buyers, I feel…soiled, somehow. Dirty. Used. Uncharitable toward the writer.
“But everyone says that the way to sell books is to be on panels at conventions!” you say. “Can’t I even mention my book?”
Of course you can. You can bring a copy to show, when you introduce yourself. You can mention that it’s on sale in the Dealer’s Room and makes excellent birthday and Hannukah presents. Having said those things, put the book down and get on with the panel. Be amusing. Be informed. Be polite to your fellow panelists. Because when you’re starting out, you’re selling yourself as an interesting person, a storyteller, someone whose words the audience might like to spend more time with. Don’t hide your light under a bushel and don’t hide yourself behind the Wall of Books!
* There’s a cousin of the Wall of Books: “Well, in MY BOOK,” where the topic is stubbornly wrenched back to the book the panelist is hoping to sell lots of right now. I don’t recommend this technique either; it tends to piss off, not just the audience, but your fellow panelists as well.
Madeleine Robins blogs at the Book View Cafe on the 7th and 21st of the month, and irregularly as the mood strikes. Her Bookshelf is growing slowly, and contains multitudes…