Book Festival Etiquette: How Should I Talk to an Author?

April 25, 2017

For all of us, UntitledTown is brand-spanking new. We’ve never had a Book and Author Festival in Green Bay. Many of you may have never attended a Book Festival at all! And yet, here we are, about to throw a historic, 80+ event Book and Author Festival open to the public in downtown Green Bay for three days.

How are we all supposed to act? Are there rules?

Whether this is your first or 10,000th time attending a reading or joining a writing workshop, let us reassure you that it is very, very difficult to attend a Book Festival wrong. This week, we’re featuring a series of Book Festival Etiquette posts on different topics.

Today’s Topic: How To Talk to An Author

Will I Get a Chance to Interact With the Authors? Yes. Many of our events will allow for a Q & A session with the author afterward. Some festival events are workshops (these are clearly advertised as “Workshop”), which means you can interact with other writers as you try new writing challenges. Most author readings feature a book-signing afterward, where the author will leave the stage, go to a signing table, and begin signing books that you’ve brought or that you can purchase at the event.

Like, Do I Just Go Up and Talk to Them? Well, we recommend waiting until after their event has ended, when they are at a signing table or mingling in the crowd. Wait until their former student or current family has hugged it out.

Should I Introduce Myself? You can. However, some of us lose the ability to form sentences in the presence of favorite authors. Start with hello. Keep in mind, too, that there are often many people who’d like to speak with the author.

Can I Hug the Author? Not everyone is a hugger, so probably not. In general, we recommend asking before making physical contact with any human being you’ve never met.

Can I Tell the Author All About My Incredible Idea for a Multi-Book Series With Eventual Theme Park and Happy Meal Toys? We would advise not to, for a number of really good reasons. Limit yourself to a few minutes of conversation out of consideration for your fellow fans— as well as the next event in the room.

Can I Take Pictures With the Author and Post them On Social Media? Not while they’re reading or leading a workshop, please. After the event, the rules on photo-taking will vary from event to event, author to author. Simply put, if an introducer of an event announces that you may not take photographs or record, please observe this rule.

What if I Act Like an Idiot Around the Author? All of our workshop leaders, panelists, and authors are here because they love writing and being around people who love reading and writing. And guess what! Authors are often idiots, particularly around people they admire! Nine out of ten times, no matter how silly or goofy you are in conversation, you will NOT end up as a character in their next novel or poem.

What Do I Say To An Author? 

Ask how they’re enjoying Green Bay.

Tell them about a great spot around here to visit, and why.

Ask them how they get inspired to write.

Ask them what they love to read.

Tell them a bit of gossip. Writers are to good gossip as crows are to shiny things.

Tell them how much you enjoy their work, particularly the image on page 46 where that deer is running through the woods and the lost girl follows it, because you know that image symbolizes the struggle to find meaning when everything in our modern society is disposable and virtual—and because your favorite author probably spent 34 days writing those 300 words, not sure why they mattered but only that they did, and now you, you, dear reader: you who are so anxious about sounding silly or random or stupid as this writer signs your book? You’ve just explained to your favorite author why that image mattered enough to labor over it for weeks, to fight to keep it in the book despite their editor’s questions— even when your favorite author had no idea why it was there until this very moment.

(Even the legendary author Margaret Atwood says that all writers “really know anything about is the writing of their latest book, and they’re usually not even sure how they managed that, having done it in a sort of stupor; and if they do know, they aren’t about to tell, any more than a magician will hasten to reveal exactly how he made the pigeon come out of your ear.”)

Also, acknowledge the author’s time and travel and craft and dedication and powerful words.

And thank them. Everybody loves to be thanked.