Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Authors Behaving Badly

(ETA: Hate the negative? The accentuate the positive and go to "Where Do We Go From Here?" to add your thougts, opinions and observations.)

I can’t remember if anyone has ever asked me about how an author’s behavior affects how I buy and sell their books, but I figured I should address it. Lately I’ve noticed there has been much discussion around the blogosphere about authors behaving badly in the internet setting and how that affects their readers. Personally I don’t care how authors behave on the internet. I’m a pretty easy going person, but I know that it takes about a second to hit the post or send button when you’ve just completed a rant. This is a second where you (usually) don’t have someone around to say, “Why don’t you think about this for awhile,” or, “take a deep breath before you speak.” It’s a second where you are alone, seething in front of your computer, and you have that small touch of anonymity that comes from the fact that no one can see your face. Combine this with the fact that it is far too easy to misconstrue what someone actually meant from their post (seeing how you lack important facial expressions, hand motions and voice quality to give you more clues), and I’m sure we’ve all had our words twisted, or twisted another’s in a moment that we may (or may not) wish we could take back.

But while author behavior on the internet doesn’t bother me, author behavior my store can be a defining moment. Now I know that communication takes two people, and so does an argument. I know that our feelings and emotions are affected by what we experience our whole day long, and a blow up at one incident may have been built up by the anger at many other small things. That said, if you are an author and you go into a bookstore to do a drive-by or a signing, you better be on your best behavior. Because whatever you do there will get back to other booksellers, it will get back to other stores (because we’re a hugely incestuous lot and tend to hang out with other booksellers), and it will get back to the customers.

Think about it. You’re having a bad day (maybe your car died, you have jet lag, your last signing had only three people at it, or all of these things happened on the same day), and you yell at a bookseller when they can’t find your books at your next stop. Maybe you apologize immediately, maybe you stomp out, maybe you only sign your hardbacks and completely ignore the paperbacks they finely find because you are through. Done. You’ve had it for the day. When you get home you have a glass of wine, dinner, and a bath and all is right with your world again.

But meanwhile back at the bookstore, the bookseller has told everyone about your behavior…including the people who have showed some interest in buying the signed copies. And customers that come up asking about said author’s book on the endcap because they’ve never heard of it?

Oh dear.

I actually watched a bookseller tell a customer once that she wouldn’t know, she refused to read so-in-so’s books because they’d been a raging bitch to another bookseller (one who worked in a completely different store). There was no debate after that. No hesitation because the book sounded interesting. The customer put the book back down.

Is the author the book? No. Many really horrible people have written beautiful books.

Should we all take a deep breath, a step back, and realize that maybe we’re not the target or that everyone has an off day? Sure, and in a perfect world that would happen, but this is not a perfect world. Authors, booksellers and readers are all connected together by a chain, and if someone damages one of the links it affects the whole set up.

The faceless internet may not affect my opinion about you or your novel, but a full frontal confrontation? That’s something booksellers talk about for years.

We have enough customers behaving badly, don’t make us throw authors into the mix as well.

Your thoughts?

35 comments:

Michele said...

My thoughts: I agree with you.
Authors behaving badly, unless it is a sitcom, just shoot themselves in the foot.
Smile and the world smiles with you,(and many buy your books)- Share the PO'd mood- and you'll wished you'd stayed in bed. (because no sales is So depressing)

I hope you have many visitors, because your message is timely and helpful.
Thanks.

Lisa Hunter said...

The author is, in a sense, the Public Relations director for his or her book. I doubt authors would behave the way you've described if they were working for an employer (because they'd be afraid to get fired). Maybe we writers need to keep some of our day-job mentality?

Robin Brande said...

BSC, you are SO spot on with this.

For all the writers out there, I highly recommend reading Meg Cabot's post on writer manners at book signings, http://www.megcabot.com/diary/post.cfm/pid/1774.

LaShaunda said...

What you said is so true. I've stopped buying certain authors because of their attitudes.

Why support someone who is RUDE?

I always think of the scene in PRETTY WOMAN. Big MISTAKE.

Be rude and you lose a customer.

molly said...

That kind of behavior is one of the few things that will put someone on my shit list forever. I worked retail and customer service and waitressed for too many years and dealt with too many entitled, rude, insufferable people.

If you can't treat someone trying to do their job with basic respect, I have no use for you or your stupid book.

Of course, I also think it's wrong to speak rudely to telemarketers, and I know THAT'S a minority opinion.

Eileen said...

I took my local bookseller out for a smoothie to pick her brain as I prepare for my book coming out. She talked quite a bit about the connection between seller and author. Be rude to a bookseller means not just selling them a book, but potentially all the follow through sales that the bookseller could have made on your behalf.

Booksellers are in business to sell books. Not to feed author egos or make us feel better/needed/loved. They are our customers- not the other way around.

Kate R said...

The more I learn, the more I think that PBW has it right--authors pushing their books can be a bad idea. We're told to go out and publicize but most authors are better off hiding out at home and writing.

Marianne McA said...

It is all over the place. I've just come from RTB where they're discussing promotion, and before that I was at Laurie R King's blog and she had linked to a piece by JA Konrath on promotion. He says:

Meeting the booksellers is one of the most important things you can do in your career. They can handsell your books. They can put you in key display spots without coop. They can keep your books in stock even though they've been told to return them. Meet and schmooze the booksellers.

Monica Burns said...

Excellent POST! I never have understood why people have to be rude to others.

Why bite the hand of the one who feeds you?

And LaShaunda, I LOVED that part in Pretty Woman. I watch it over and over again. It's makes me feel like there's justice in the world, because I'm usually the one getting cut in front of at the checkout line or having someone wait on another person they think might be more interesting. *sigh* Big Mistake. Big! HUGE! *grin*

Ralph Waldo Emerson said God may forgive sins, but [rudeness] has no forgiveness in heaven or earth.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

My thoughts?

While much truth is spoken to power in what you say, I can't get past the fact that Ms. Bookseller chooses to counter the inappropriate, power-play shenannigans of the authors with inappropriate, power-play shenannigans of her own.

That's not karma. That is spite. Sorry.

Bad behavior is never an excuse for more bad behavior.

We all have our worst days witnessed by SOMEONE. The badge of the enlightened is the ability to forgive and forget them.

Janny said...

While I don't believe in being rude, acting "entitled," or engaging in princess/prima donna behavior...I have to put in one small word on behalf of authors.

Frequently, especially when it comes to those of us who are published with small presses, authors put in yeoman work to get booksignings set up. They don't have publishers or publicists do that for them. They do it themselves. They schmooze. They send freebies. They go through endless clerks to get to the right persons to talk to about a signing or appearance in the first place. They lay the groundwork. They arrange for their books to be shipped and notify the bookstore that they're coming. They send promotional material. They send press releases to the papers. They invite all their known relatives. They bring the chocolate.

And then, when they arrive at the bookstore anywhere from an hour to two hours ahead of time to see if there's anything they can do to make things go more smoothly...

...the table the bookstore promised would be there not only isn't set up, it's still folded up in the stockroom. (As are the promised chairs, the author's photo/sign/advertising and notices about the upcoming appearance--if they can even be found.)

...the display of the author's books which the bookstore also promised to have is nonexistent. There may or may not be a box of books tucked away in the back room that no one had any clue what to do with.

...there is no sign of anything the author sent, be it cover flats, bookmarks, or the like, anywhere in the store.

...the person who is working the floor that day is not the person in charge of arranging events and has no clue who the author is, or even that there's supposed to be an event that day.

...said person has no authority to make things happen, has to make several frantic phone calls to store management who are inevitably out of town and take half an hour or more to call back (and before then, no one can make Move One to get anything set up)...all while trying to also wait on customers, which makes her or him none too happy.

...even if the event does get set up on time, the books do get found, the promotional material is set up somewhere near where at least one customer will see it, and things seem to come together...said store personnel say nothing to customers about said author being in their store, and leave the muzak piped in over the author's attempted presentation...

...and then that bookstore, of course, refuses to have the author back because "that signing didn't do well."

And then they wonder why we authors get a little snarky?

I've personally seen all this happen. I've personally experienced all the broken promises, all the indifference, and all the lack of preparation, and I've known countless authors who've gone through identical experiences, when they did everything right ahead of time.

So please be advised...there are those of us out here who are more than willing to work with bookstores every step of the way. My experience so far is that rarely are we met even halfway in return. If the shoe was on the other foot, how gracious, professional, and magnanimous would those same booksellers be?

It's worth a thought.

Janny

Brian said...

As a former bookseller/CRM for Barnes and Noble, I can only say, "YES, YES, a thousand times YES!"

I booked an author once here in the Twin Cities whose publicist called to cancel on me two days before the event. I asked nicely if we could reschedule. The publicist sniffed and said, "Maybe. We'll see."

I then learned that this author had been booked at nearly EVERY BN in the Cities in a two week period (not a cool move) and then proceeded to be a Class A jerk everywhere he went (demanding the store buy him and his daughter lunch, complaining that they weren't announcing his presence over the loudspeaker enough etc.) And then he sat like a lump at his signing table, reading a magazine and doing zero to promote himself.

After several such bad signings, the Evil Publicist called looking to reschedule. I politely declined.

Now that I'm a Benign Publicist, I coach my authors on book signing behavior and make it clear I won't be them places if it gets back to me that they can't behave.

jason evans said...

I'm very sensitive to authors' behavior both on the internet and off. Public perception and support are so very delicate. It doesn't take very much to swing from adoration to hate. Just look at Tom Cruise. Once he opened his mouth about Scientology and jumped up and down on a couch, he did irreparable damage. He will always be the butt of those jokes. The hard reality of being a public person is that you are not given the benefit of the doubt. You are not forgiven. As a person reaches into a wallet for hard-earned money, you don't want to create any hesitation for them to spend it on your book.

There are authors new to me whose books I've bought because of their positive conduct on the internet. There are others who I will never buy because of their negative conduct. Joe Konrath and Anne Frasier are in that positive category.

Be positive and be nice. That builds success.

Ally Carter said...

Oh my gosh! This is an actual problem? I'm shocked and amazed. As a new author I always worry about being too kiss-up-y when I drop by to sign stock (...do you need some windows cleaned? ...how about a basket of fresh-baked scones I just happened to have in the car?)

Wow. I guess not everyone was raised how I was, though.

This is simply amazing.

Ally Carter, kissup

Madison Reece said...

I guess everyone has an off day, but people are much more likely to remember the bad than the good.

I add new blogs to my favorites list all the time. I removed one from the list the other day because she's repeatedly smashing someone or something. She even admitted that she'll probably lose readers and says that these are her opinions and she's welcome to express them. I agree with that, but there's a limit to how much crap I'll listen to when all I really want to hear about is their upcoming books.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I’m an antiquarian bookseller, so most of the authors of the books I sell are pretty much dust and bones. But I do have a few authors who patronize my business. One, a fantasy writer, is a doll. I am always delighted when she visits. We gossip. We sip tea. We eat butter cookies. And we talk books.

Another, a non-fiction writer, is rude, curt, nasty, and haughty. I cringe when he walks through the door. He is a regular visitor. I can count on him visiting once a week, and he usually buys something. (He collects World War II history). Yet, I’d never miss him if he chose not to come. He’s surly. He’s rude to other customers. He’s rude to me. He’s rude to my children. I've never read his book. I won't.

It takes very little effort to be polite and considerate. People do remember that you weren’t.

Linda said...

This wasn't an appearance, but I rude blog posting. I had posted up a blog entry with a link to a newspaper article involving a plagarism lawsuit that had been settled. No commentary, just a brief mention that the case had been settled. The writer who lost the case posted a comment which pretty much read like sour grapes and sounded like he was spamming blogs. What he didn't know was that I had just started one of his books, that I might have bought more if I liked it, and that when I got the sour grapes comment, I put his book in the donation pile, unread.

Anonymous said...

I have to differ with the poster above regarding J Konrath. I had the misfortune to see him at a multi-author panel/signing event some time back. I was appalled. He interrupted the other authors, he bragged his own book like he was Dickens and the rest of the (invited) authors need not have come. I will never buy any of his books and I wouldn't advise anyone to walk 3 feet to hear or see him.

So rude.

Jana DeLeon said...

Standing in line to register at RWA National last year, I heard an author badmouthing everyone in sight - loud enough that I could easily hear. When she stepped up to register I leaned in to make sure I caught her name. Imagine my surprise when I heard the name of someone VERY well known in the romance industry. Guess what? I will never EVER buy one of her books.

Marketing people have this saying "appearance is reality" and when it come to being in the public eye, they are unfortunately correct.

web said...

I can't help thinking that the shy author is really at a disadvantage being in the public eye. Shyness or poor social skills can often come across badly, but have nothing to do with a writer's ability. I would try to cut authors some slack. They're writers, not talk show hosts. No one can do everything well.

Julie said...

There was a recent CNN or USA Today article that talked about how a business guru said you can tell if someone is going to make a good CEO by how they treat a waiter. I think that's the same for everyone. As a musician I like says in one song, "Eventually, you're the waiter." (David Wilcox, Rule #1)

How we treat the "anonymous" people around us shows our true character...including the blogosphere and the girl cleaning the restroom at the megabookstore.

gail said...

I can certainly understand readers not wanting to buy books written by authors they find rude or unpleasant. And I can understand booksellers not wanting to bring writers into their stores for events for the same reason.

But aren't booksellers who discourage customers from buying stock that is already in their store damaging their own bottom line? Where is the logic in this?

Little Willow said...

You speak from experience, and it shows. Well-said, well-done.

My favorite line of this post: "Many really horrible people have written beautiful books."

Good things can come of blogging as well: Some blogs have endeared me to the authors - the actual PEOPLE - when their books left me, well, not disappointed, just less-than-amazed. When they let their smarts, personalities and wit come through at their website, blog, or journal, they share little pieces of themselves with readers - and that's a good way to spend the time while you're awaiting their Next Big Book.

pennyoz said...

I'm glad that Janny brought something up in this thread. Hopefully the bookseller experience will be good and must say that my own experience of booksellers has always been positive. But I have heard plenty of stories as Janny has said where the author arrives and absolutely nothing is set up. The order for extra books has been overlooked... the order for extra books is in a box somewhere in storage... "can you get Tom to go look for it?" "Tom's at lunch and I'm the only one on the cash register."
Booksignings are frightening things. It's a gamble and you never know how well it will be. So I think that the bookseller should be as courteous as the author... in fact...

No matter who you are, what you are, there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness.

Little Willow I think you are so right. The internet and access to people who once were inaccessible is wonderful. I have recently come up to this phenomena "blogging" and am hooked. Once one tended to forget that there is a human behind the name. The de-mystification works very well for normal human beings. It may not have worked so well for royalty who need mystification in order to work well, but for 99.9999999% of the world's population, its nice to be able to meet.

Sonia Singh said...

Bookseller Chick, you are SO on the money! As an author, I worship at the altar of book sellers everywhere. You guys love books, you know books and if you like me--you'll hand sell my books! It is in my interest to be so sincerely nice to you guys, I'll give you all a toothache! I think my attitude is due in large part to the fact that I'm a cognizant human being who understands that being nice to other human beings works in my favor, but also because I worked at Borders Books & Music for two years before I was published. While at Borders, I had the pleasure of working the book signing for one Mr. Ray Bradbury! The moment he arrived, he thanked all the employees for hosting the event (and didn't seem to mind that I was drooling with adoration). For the next several hours he was the epitome of kindness, gentleness and graciousness. Whenever I do a book signing I think of how he treated all of us...and how I'd really really like his fan base.

Anonymous said...

I second the post about JA Konrath's "manners" (translate: lack of). Apparently, there are people for whom he bends over backwards to be nice. Unfortunately, fellow authors are not those people.

I had the misfortune to appear at two separate writers' functions with this man, and to put it mildly, his behavior was atrocious. The offenses are numerous: hogging a podium long after he was supposed to surrender a room, infringing on other authors' presentation time, failing to stay on topic or on time in his own workshop, "holding court" so loudly during the lunch break that people half a room away had to practically shout over him to carry on conversations at their own tables...

So if you're looking for a model of authors behaving well, IMHO, don't look at him. Just...don't.

jason evans said...

Wow. I've only "observed" JA Konrath's behavior on his blog. I've never seen him in person. I defer to those who have more experience on the matter.

Jaye Wells said...

I think there have been some great comments here. Definitely food for thought. But I find those who are singling out specific authors anonymously just as guilty of behaving badly.

Anonymous said...

Janny is right. As the veteran of 8 book tours, I have seen every kind of behavior you can imagine from booksellers. Most are gracious and welcoming. Others are downright rude and dismissive and act as if my appearance at their bookstore is a huge inconvenience. (I don't schedule them, BTW; my publisher does.) I've been set up in the bookstore cafe and made to speak over the roar of the cappucino machine, the music on the PA, and the bookseller sitting in the second row chatting with a friend throughout my entire presentation. I've been scheduled for a reading and Q&A only to find that they've set up a small table back in the business section (I write novels) for me to do a straight signing. (My readers weren't happy.) At my last event, the bookseller asked me -- five minutes before the starting time -- to write up an introduction for her to use, because, as she cheerfully told me, she had never heard of me, had never read my books, and hadn't had any time to read the publicity materials my publisher had sent more than a month before. I've been ignored, insulted, and condescended to by book store employees with various piercings and unfortunate taste in eye makeup who read only Great Art and can't BELIEVE that they have to play host to ME when really the only authors who COUNT are those who stand a chance of winning the National Book Award -- and they're just as dismissive of the customers who have the lowbrow taste to attend my event, barbarians that they are.

It's a wonder these people stay in business.

Fortunately, the lovely bookstore owners I've met more than make up for the duds -- but before you automatically believe every tale of Authors Behaving Badly you hear, remember that you haven't heard the author's side.

Janny said...

Re: picking on a particular author, anonymously, being an example of "behaving badly..."

Nonsense.

Some people in this business whom we all admire, people who are doing good work, put their opinions up anonymously (Miss Snark comes to mind). Do we consider her "behaving badly" when she calls a spade a spade? Of course not. Same goes here.

This particular guy's name was brought up earlier as an example of good behavior...which was such a (bad) joke to a couple of us that we simply wanted to balance the scales a bit.

So there you go, FWIW.

Janny

Anonymous said...

I agree in regards to your post Authors Behaving badly.

I had something quite similiar happen to a fellow author of mine a year ago. The author was good friends at one time with another fellow author who all of a sudden I think because they were jealous of the other author getting their work published, decided they were going to write a novel. The person in question wrote a small piece for a very popular book and from there thought they could write, boy did their head swell....LOL!
Anyway to make a long story short, the person in question accused someone else, a writer who has been writing since they were like 13 years old of stealing their work! The person who made the absurd accusations sent the real writer nasty, hideous emails and IM's.
Guess what that real writer did? They posted those emails and IM's on a personal space thus stopping the accuser in their tracks. The emails and IM's were littered with misspells, run on sentences, punctuation mishaps. Anything that would make a true writer wince when they see them, LOL!
The accuser faded into the background and was has not been heard from in a longtime, the real writer also sent emails to the suspossed publisher that was interested in publisher this accusers' work. I personally think the accuser stole from the real writer, too much of a coincidence with the story layout and so forth. The real writer was friends with this person for close to 5 years and had posted parts of their work in question with this person for their critique.

It's a shame that a writer has to be doubly careful on whom they consider a friend on the internet. It also goes to show you how you can mess up a good thing by opening your big fat laptop...LOL!

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto this blog (Awesome, by the way). I am a bookseller at one of the *ahem* major corporate book retailers. My thing about authors that visit to sign is this: I, and my co-workers who are also my friends, get more hours when our bottom line is up. Therefore it is very rare that I would say to a customer, "Don't buy that." Now, if a customer asked my opinion on a book I read, I will be truthful. That, to me, is just part of being a community that loves books. It would take a lot, however, for me to say "Oh, don't buy that book. The author is a mean, nasty, rude old curmudgeon." But if you're an author that comes into our store and runs ramshod all over the booksellers, is rude to us and our managers, acts entitled to all sorts of things, etc. chances are that I am not going to display your books in my department, I am not going to handsell your books when a customer asks for a recommendation, I'm not going to go out of my way to keep your books stocked and I'm definitely not putting your book on the rec. wall. Why would I go out of my way for you when you couldn't even have the common courtesy to be polite to me?
I'll also say that I understand authors who are frustrated with bad signings. I've seen instances where the table isn't ready, the books are all over the store, etc, etc. It's unfortunate but the bottom line is that usually the author takes it out on a lowly bookseller working the information desk who only knows about the signing from promotional materials around the store. There is one person at most bookstores who handles signings and if they are bad at their job, having a busy week or brand new, sometimes things are not in place as they should be. I always feel bad when this happens, and I try to do everything I can to make up for it, but the truth is that I make my 8$ an hour that is putting me through college by selling books, catering to customers and making sure my work gets done.
Mostly authors are lovely people who I really enjoy getting to meet, who give great talks and engage with readers on a wonderful level. They get to sell their books, booksellers are often interested enough to read their books, we sell more of their books... it's good stuff all around.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Great blog. I'm a new author (just non-fiction/relationship stuff so it's not like I'm famous or even close to it)...we had a booksigning scheduled in Chicago at a popular Borders. Of course, ONE person showed up. I felt so bad for the manager and like a complete fool! But my co-author and I sat down and chatted with the manager for an hour. It was one of the best experiences of the entire publicity campaign. My five minutes of fame are over but that manager from Chicago is nice enough to recommend her favorite books (The Kite Runner--loved it). I can't believe authors acts like jerks. To hell with that.

Anonymous said...

Not only will I not recommend books if the author is rude, I will return them.

But honestly, my good-author experiences outweigh awful ones by about a hundred to one - and the people that I like personally, I am much more likely to get a stack, face them out, and remember them when I'm handselling.

Unfair? Yeah, maybe.

DMV said...

Very good blog, even more great people.
I've been in the customer service business for a long time and I have to say that thos of us who do these types of jobs tend to have a thicker skin, so if we can actually say, "That person was rude." then there must be something to it.
Sadly, I'm human, when I read an author putting the a portion of his/her fanbase on blast. I take a step back, give it a bit, see if they come back with; "I'm was having a bad day." or anything of that nature, I'll give them a pass.
However, if it's something that keeps happening, then I don't want to hear, "I was having a bad day." because at some point and time we have to realize that as adults, we are responsible for what we say and our actions.
I love my bookseller, B&N, Borders and a smaller place called Mysterious Galaxy. If they recommend, I'm taking a look at, if they happen to mention an "Author behaving badly", I'll surf the net to see what the incident was but if it's something that affects the people who make up their fanbase, or help them get their material out there then I won't be reading them.
As for the book signing things, I can sorta understand the miscommunications. I tent to think of it like me telling my 14 y/o to the clean the kitchen and it not being cleaned the way I clean it.
If you want things a certain way, you have to be specific and not pout if it's not the way you want it.
I'm the buyer at a comic book store, and the way I'm treated, whether it's in person, over thep hone or as late on their forum, I'm not selling their product, anything I have in my store from them I'm pulling off the shelf and if I'm waiting for the order to come in, as soon as I get it I'm sending it back.
That may sound petty, but my thing is this, you never know who the person you are being rude or insulting to just might be.