It’s only recently that I started getting books signed by the authors I love, my reluctance to do so previously being partly due to not having the answer to one all-important question: how would I avoid acting like a complete tit?
This question troubles me still, but I’ve been experimenting so I think I’m a little closer to the answer. I’ve tried being smiley and enthusiastic at author events, which was pretty much my natural reaction anyway to seeing in the flesh the writers of books that I think are incredible. This approach was okay, but it did occasionally give me a slightly stalker-ish edge, and I’m certain that one particular teen author was pressing the panic button sellotaped to the underside of her table, slightly intimidated by my manic grinning. Ah well.
I’ve also tried playing it cool, just saying hello politely and sliding the book over, then waiting for the author to speak. I thought this would be a good ploy, giving the writer a bit of a break from all the chatter that they must be exposed to during the course of a signing. And it seemed to work. The author started up a conversation and I was able to reply with words in some sort of sentence-like structure that actually appeared to make sense. But then I realised the queue was building up behind me and began to sidle off, which I fear may have come across as me trying to escape…
I disappeared, clutching my signed book, just as the author was saying how nice it was to meet me. And then I realised that I had failed to tell him how fantastic his books were. Or indicate in any way, other than by bothering to queue up, that I cared about having my book signed at all. I fretted about that for three days afterwards.
So, what wisdom have I gleaned from all my book signing experiences? The following.
When it comes to meeting someone you greatly admire, there is a sort of sliding scale of behaviour from indifference to insanity and what you have to do is try to pitch yourself somewhere in the middle. For example, grinning is fine, limpet-like bear hugs are not. Looking nervous is fine, whimpering probably not so good. Speaking is fine but not compulsory. (Bless Patrick Ness for the following conversation: Patrick: Hi, how are you? Girl does not reply. Patrick: Is this book for you? Girl does not reply. Patrick: You’re not going to speak to me at all? Girl shakes her head. Patrick signs the book. Girl leaves.) Asking an author if they’ve ever been told how fantastic they are seems to be fine, but crying while doing so is taking things a bit far. Presents are good. Your underwear is not.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I’m starting to wonder what it’s like being on the other side of the table. I wonder what the authors think of their slightly sweaty / beaming / silent fans. And I wonder if they are just as worried about acting like an idiot…