Although I had never been to this particular convention before, I knew a whole bunch of people, mostly writers, some of them better than others, but I was assured of finding familiar as well as friendly faces. Some are authors I admire and keep hoping to get to know better (and sometimes that does happen) but keep passing like ships in the night, each of us waving good wishes to the other. One of the joys of conventions, particularly those outside my local area, is the chance to meet new readers and authors. I’ve developed the practice of searching out books by new-to-me writers that I meet on panels. If someone has interesting things to say, I’m usually willing to check out their work. I’ve discovered some wonderful writers that way, encouraged many more, and hope to make the practice more widely spread. (And it helps the booksellers in the dealers’ room, too!)
However, some of the most meaningful contacts arise not from working lunches with editors or shop talk with other professional writers. These moments seem to come about by a sort of spontaneous generation, serendipity, flashes of unexpected sympathy with unlikely communicants. We’ve all seen these people sitting at the back of panels, shy and awkward even when they stammer through their questions. They hang around after the panel ends, not sure what to say but wanting that moment of personal contact. It’s all too easy to pack up our latest releases and bustle out of the room, heading for the bar or the Green Room in search of Important People. Yeah, so we get to schmooze with bigger names and small press publishers and thereby feel bigger ourselves.
Those people at the back of the room are the Important People, not because they can influence our careers, get us better advances and publicity, nominate our work for awards. They are important because we have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives. Did you ever write to a Big Name Author and receive a gracious and encouraging reply? Or, when you were a starry-eyed newbie, experience the awe and delight at a kind word, an insightful comment? (This happened to me once, when Poul Anderson asked me in all sincerity what I was working on, nodding thoughtfully as I stumbled through an explanation.)
I try to remember that it takes only a moment to see that fan as a person of worth and resourcefulness, that we are both humans making our way through life as best we can. A few minutes of my time can make someone’s day, linger in the other person’s mind, give her hope. This does not mean I am inviting all and sundry to engage me in endless tedium. It does mean that when I take a little care, we both come away from the encounter renewed and heartened. And sometimes, although this is not the object, we have won life-long readers.
Don’t sell. Inspire.
Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her novels Jaydium and Northlight are available as multiformat ebooks here on Book View Cafe. Her most recent print publication is Hastur Lord, a Darkover novel with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley.