Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: The Wall of Books

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…


About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Ways to Trash Your Writing Career: The Wall of Books — 4 Comments

  1. Thank you; I’m glad someone’s pointing out that the blatant pimp-wall across the panelists’ table isn’t impressing anyone. It reminds me of the pop-ups you get in a corner or (increasingly) all along the bottom of your TV screen during Show X where the channel is promoing Show Y. It’s irrelevant and annoying and if anything it makes me want to avoid Show Y just so as not to feed the marketing weasels.

    I’ve seen panelists offer bookmarks or whatever for distribution after the panel. If someone’s been interesting, I’m much more likely to go up and grab one of those (and then actually have a physical reminder of who the panelist was and what book(s) they have out) than I am to remember and buy something from the pimp-wall. Chances are I won’t recall any actual titles from the pimp-wall ten minutes after I leave the panel room, but I’ll remember varying levels of distaste for the authors who built the wall, depending on how hard they pushed their goods while they were supposed to be talking about Historical Plumbing.


  2. Guilty. I stopped carrying actual books after 3, they got too heavy. Now I just carry covers and more often than not spread them flat in front of me. I’ll try to cut them down to the most recent 2.

  3. Phyl, I’ve been on panels with you; you’re an amateur at the wall-o-books thing. I’ve seen pros who set out ten books, face out, and peer over them owl-like. One panelist kept knocking his wall over every time he took the microphone, which was distracting and vaguely comical and did his cause, I venture to say, no good.

  4. Exactly. When people bring vast numbers of books it is silly, and horrifically heavy in the suitcase. I occasionally bring a book cover, which is pretty and light. (And when I have taken the photo for the cover, as in some of our BVC anthologies, it is sufficiently cool to be quite interesting!)