Thursday, October 27, 2011

Authors on a Pedestal - What Do You Do When They Fall Off?

Courtesy of
Last night, I cleaned out the trench between my bed and the wall, stacking books, jettisoning trash, sucking up enough fur to probably form a fourth cat in my household, and basically doing the sorts of tasks that pile up to unimaginable heights when you are, as I am, not a domestic goddess.

Last weekend, I likewise cleaned out the very back of my brain, hoovering through the detritus and scraping off the barnacles clinging to the underside of my skull.

I went to a romance writer's conference.

I love romance writer's conferences. There's nothing like being in the company of hundreds of people who get your obscure pop culture references, have mad love for the same books and authors, and don't look at you funny when you do or say something particularly - odd. Er.

Really, it's like the mother ship calling me home.

This was the NJRW conference - my home chapter, my homies, my peeps. My sole goal was to have a good time, which involves networking and workshops and other professional things. Also some Sangria. And the 6-pack of Magners Cider I brought with me. Yea, a good time was had by all.

How good a time? Well, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James gave a talk about the state of the industry - to published authors. As a yet unpublished writer, I was not eligible to attend (ahem). Katiebabs/KT Grant of the Babbling About Books blog, has an excellent recap of this seminar though that I highly recommend

The conference kicked off with New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak giving an excellent 3 hour workshop (you thought I was going to say tour. Don't deny it.) on creativity during which she had me say "enormous penis" into the podium microphone as part of an example on subtext, but that's a story for another day.  

New York Times Bestselling Author Suzanne Brockmann gave the keynote speech and spoke on having to work to find the love place, the place from which she writes from that still believes in happily ever after even with our country in its current economic and social upheaval. New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander gave a wonderfully funny special presentation workshop (which I had the honor to moderate), and New York Times bestselling author (I'm sensing a trend here) Rachel Gibson wound it all up with her luncheon speech about - well I'm really not sure what.

Here's the thing. There are plenty of places you can go to read about the particulars of what went on at the conference. My chaptermate Nancy Herkness has a great round up on her blog, for example, including the hot firemen and a list of the Golden Leaf and Put Your Heart in a Book winners while KT Grant is continuing to post details throughout the week of the numerous professional highlights of the weekend.

I want to talk about something that's been niggling at me since Saturday. As I said, Rachel Gibson gave the luncheon speech. I've liked her books since my first days at Avon Books as an assistant in the late 90s, particularly True Confessions, which was recently re-released in one of those elongated paperback editions. This weekend was the first time I'd seen her in person and I was disappointed. I suspect she's shy; maybe she was having an off day. Perhaps public speaking is not her forte. Certainly, her position at the podium meant the microphone didn't pick her voice up well and that unquestionably contributed to the situation. But the speech was - odd. And I was - bothered. What's worse is this impression has stayed with me all week, to the point that I put aside her newest book, a book I'd planned to dive into this week.

So my question is this: does it matter when an author you like doesn't live up to your expectations in person? Does it affect your ability to enjoy their work, books you previously would have picked up without question?

Even though I really don't like time-travel books in general - time isn't cyclical people! - I am a ginormous fan of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. After years of reading every book in this series, several of them many times (and they ain't tiny!) I finally saw Gabaldon in person this summer at the RWA national conference and I found her to be - well - rather full of herself. I know she's quite actively involved with her readers; I've seen it with my own eyes. While dining at a pub in NYC that week, we saw numerous women led to an upper room where Gabaldon was hosting a Scottish-themed reader event. I also know, cause I'm a nerd who reads the small print in books and on web sites, that she's very involved in the Scottish communities, going to Gatherings and other cultural touchstones. Plus, her research is exhausting; whatever your feelings may be about her interpretation of the era, she's not phoning it in. But her attitude and delivery at the author's panel I saw in June was rather - smug. Also, the words "share the stage" do not appear to be in her vocabulary. I had to wonder, if I hadn't already read and loved the series, would I be inclined, after that experience, to start Outlander today?

What about you? Does the author-in-person experience matter in your choice of book? Have you ever stopped reading an author you enjoy because the real-life person didn't live up to your expectations? Do you think in our social media crazed world, an author's public face is more important than ever?

I have books - oy the books I have! - and will choose 3 random commentators on Sunday to each receive a book. Titles to come. Some people have said they have problems commenting; if this happens to you, shoot me an email at kiersten@kierstenkrumdotcom and I'll try to fix it.

For now, I have to return that call from the mothership.


  1. I haven't met many, but for me, JR Ward is kinda off putting with her weirdness and sunglasses. I bet if you get her alone she's much different. Then again, her fans are rabid, so I can understand some well known authors using a persona in public.

  2. Jenn - I forgot about J.R. Ward! She does the pacing too while she speaks. I mean, the ones we remember best are usually the ones who are a little weird, very funny or both. She takes it farther though you may be right about the persona issue

  3. I had this happen (with one of the authors you mentioned and I won't say which one), and it does affect how you read/think about their books. It's disappointing. But the flip side is also really great--when you meet an author you like and they are so nice it knocks your socks off. This happened with me with both Roxanne St. Claire and Kieran Kramer. They blew me away at nationals, both with advice and a genuine appreciation for their fans. Note to authors: a little niceness goes a LONG way, and ditto a little bitchiness.

  4. Joanna - you just mention two of my favorite people in the business. I met Kieran Kramer - and her sister - and her sister-in-law! - at the St Martins Press party during Nationals and hit it off immediately with, well, all 3 of them. Rocki is just the best, funny, forthright, supportive, smart - can you tell I adore her?

    The personal interaction really does makes a difference, I think.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Kiersten,
    I can see your point. But I'd still buy their books..if I liked them. In college I met Kenny G. (I was a music/saxophone major) and it was a total fan moment..and he was not nice, and very very smug. However, I still bought his cds. Same goes for me with authors, it's the stories - just like the music - that I go back for. Just my 2cents...

  6. Nicole - your two cents and a dollar more! OK, that metaphor got away from me.

    I'm still reading Gabaldon even when William spends 50 pages in a swamp being pursued by a white whale of a snake, so clearly it wasn't enough to turn me off completely. It is an interesting dynamic though, and I'm sure to look on her work differently going forward than I did previous to seeing her in person.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. I went up to a multi-pubbed author at RWA one year and told her how much I'd enjoyed one of her earlier books. (She'd just won a RITA.) She gave me a weird look and said, "Oh, that old thing." And then she kind of waved me off.

    I still read her books but I often remember that moment and how awkward I'd felt. And how I'd walked away (this nobody writer)thinking I'd said something wrong. She had no idea how much courage I'd mustered to walk across that room and I often wonder why she chose to do that to a fan. She could have said, "Thank you. I'm glad you liked it." That would have made my day. : )

  8. Robena - exactly. So many of us writers are introverts and it takes enormous courage to walk up to someone we hold in such awe to share what their work has meant to us only to get exactly what we feared - a brush off. And those are the moments that we as readers never forget.

    It's a tough line to walk b/c I'm sure there are times when said author is likely weary from being "on" 100% of the time. But thems the breaks, baby.

    Thanks for leaving a comment!

  9. I have never read Rachel Gibson but I find many writers to be shy and speaking to a large crowd can be overwhelming; with that in mind it would not deter me from buying her books.

    On the other hand I did buy a book from an author, I had never heard of, because she was such a blast to talk to and I figure that her personality must come through in her writing so I am looking forward to reading the book.

  10. Bad behavior from an author will definitely affect my buying habits. But it has to be pretty bad behavior. Being a bit weird myself, I don't hold weirdness against them.

    The only authors I refuse to read have hit that list through bad online behavior or plagiarism. I can't think of anyone who's been ugly to me in person. But I've only been to local meetings and conferences. Maybe it's easier to stay polite when you know you're probably going to see that person again next month!

    As for JR Ward, I believe she wears the dark sunglasses because of a medical condition. I don't think it's an affectation. I don't know about any other oddities, since I've never met her. But knowing there's a medical reason, the sunglasses wouldn't bother me.

  11. Lita - the shyness factor is a big point, tho one I have a difficult time relating to. Shocking, I know! I had already stopped buying RG b/c I had stop enjoying her books, but I would still pick them up in the library sometimes. And I probably will continue the "sometimes" trend because, like I said in the post, it was odd all around. But it's good that you don't let one bad experience deter you.

    I totally agree about a good experience creating an auto-buy! Happens all the time with me!

  12. Becky - absolutely the badder the behavior, the more extreme our response. And oh yeah, bad online behavior and/or plagiarism are automatic no goes for me too. But making the call on those two items has to be done very carefully.

    Good to know about the Ward glasses thing; I honestly thought it an affectation.

    Thanks for the comment!

  13. Kiersten - I kind of expect them to be a little weird or different. If you spend as much time in your head as writers do - you're social skills will suffer.

    Also, I think writing attracts people who are socially awkward. They put it all on the page because it is safer, less difficult. I think it is rare when you see one who has the writing ability and the personality of a game show host - Meg Cabot, Virginia Kantra, Cherry Adair come to mind.

    But, someone who is rude is a shole different story and that would probably sway my choice to spend my money on their books.


  14. Robin - We writers are weird, of that there is no doubt. Perhaps the increasing need to promote ourselves is driving writers who otherwise would happily hide in their caves, to come out and meet and speak or vice versa. It's a double-edged sword to be sure.

    Thanks for commenting!

  15. Hi Kiersten!

    Thanks so much for the great review of the NJ conference. I'm so glad you had a good time.

    To date, I haven't met an unkind author but I suspect if I really liked their stories I'd keep reading them.

  16. Ruth - You guys did such a great job! You even delivered real, live fireman. Now that's love!I heard good things from so many people. You should be proud, my friend.

  17. On the flip side, I've met a lot of wonderful authors. FYI: I met Rachel Gibson at a book signing along with Julia Quinn this summer & they were both personable. A lot of authors are introverts. It's very easy to mistake shyness for aloofness. Here's a different perspective. A friend of mine who is a multiple NYT author told me that she gets very uncomfortable at large conferences, because people stare at her.

    Also, some people don't use common sense at conferences. Example: After my publisher's book signing at nationals, I was talking to my editor when this woman showed up, interrupted, and clearly was trying to pitch to my editor!

    It's a two-way street. Yes, there are folks who are full of themselves, but honestly, I believe most published authors in RWA really put forth an effort to give back to the romance writing community. Just call me Pollyanna LOL.

  18. Vicky - It really is easy to mistake shyness for aloofness, and as I don't have a shy bone in my body (tho more than a few cautious ones), it's hard for me to think shy first. I can't imagine what it's like to have so many people staring at you at once. Wait, yes I can, I'm a performer, but to someone more introvert than me (which is basically everyone) it must be horrible.

    Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment!

  19. Kiersten,

    I'm an off-the-charts extrovert, too, as you well know. Twice, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Test & scored 100% as an E. I don't think it's an advantage for authors since we spend most of our time alone with make-believe characters. I have to listen to music while I write or my energy drains fast.

  20. Vicky - Oh, I have to at least have music playing while I write, even tho I've been know to hit the pause and forget to turn it back on. When the music ends and I don't even notice, I know I've really hit my writing stride. But starting out in silence absolutely does not work for me. Contrarily, I can't have conversation around me when I write - too inclined to join in! ;-)