Recently on Twitter, the lovely Nova from Out of Time Book Blog asked for advice on talking to authors at events. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, I immediately set about crafting a post because I’ve recently had quite a few author meet and greets. At the beginning of 2015 I hadn’t met any YA authors, and by August I’ve met dozens: Morgan Matson, Marissa Meyer, Leigh Bardugo, Stephanie Perkins, etc (Thanks YALLWEST and ALA for the opportunities!) I’m sharing some of my go-to conversation starter tips when meeting authors that help when you’re dealing with a limited amount of time and potentially starstruck and at a loss for words!
1) Location, Location, Location
My first go-to author conversation starter is to thank them for visiting the area, and asking them how they’re enjoying it so far. I live in an area that’s not quite as popular as many other cities for book signings, so I like to emphasize that readers really appreciate when they deviate from the more “normal” cities on tour routes, and that they have a fan base in the area. I also like to ask them what about the area they’ve enjoyed so far, as local attractions/sights are a great conversation starter, and you can recommend places to check out!
2) A Specific Element from One of Their Books
When you’re meeting an author who you’ve read multiple books by, it can seem like an insurmountable task to condense what you want to say about an entire body of work into just a handful of minutes. I recommend choosing just one element from one book that you really want to talk about. Whether that’s gushing about the love interest that made you swoon or a particular plot twist you can’t stop thinking about, having a specific subject to broach can lead to a more meaningful conversation than just the typical “I love your books!” “Thanks!” exchange. *cue awkward silence* For example, when I met Stephanie Perkins I had several books for her to sign, but I decided to focus on the setting of Lola to talk to her about. I told her how I loved that Lola was set in San Francisco and how I wish more YA books were, and asked her what inspired her to write about that city in particular. We had a lovely chat for a few minutes where she told me why she loved the city, and she actually spent her first year of college there! (See? I found out a fun fact about her that I may otherwise had never known!)
3) Have a Writing Question in Mind
Another great tactic is to ask a question about the author’s writing process, influences, and distinctions. When I met Morgan Matson at the Bay Area Book Festival, I asked her what the main differences were between the books written under “Morgan Matson” (which I’ve read) and those written under her pen name “Katie Finn” (which I have not read). It’s something I’ve always been curious about, and what better way to get an answer than straight from the source! (In case you were wondering, the Katie Finn books are more plot drive, while her other novels are more characters driven). If I were to meet Cassandra Clare or Leigh Bardugo (again), I would probably ask them about the process of writing different series set in the same universe, and how they connect subtle threads between the novels while still holding the integrity of a separate story.
4) Feel Free to Venture Outside “Book Talk”
Authors don’t exist in a vacuum where they do nothing but read and write. So even though it may seem important to talk books with them, if the conversation goes in another direction embrace it! Morgan Matson complimented my outfit and wanted to know where I got my necklace, and we talked about the chunky necklace trend. When I was in line for Leigh Bardugo, me and a few others complimented her on her nail polish design she talked about the pros and cons of gel manicures with us. When I talked location with Jandy Nelson, we shared our mutual love of Lake Tahoe and things to do there. Sometimes it’s special to have those more random subjects crop up because they’re the things you most likely won’t hear them talk about in interviews or online, where the emphasis is on their books.
5) Don’t Be Afraid to Mention Social Media
At YALLWEST, my first author signing event, I was a little shy about mentioning my book blog. Why? I have no idea. Most likely because it’s something I’ve put SO much of myself into and it can be scary to put it all out there and admit you’re the blogger behind the content. Yet I’m so glad I did mention it, because I received such positive and friendly reactions. When I met Robin Benway and mentioned I had a blog she asked me the name, and remembered chatting with me and Lauren @ Bookmark Lit on Twitter! I mentioned my blog to Abigail Haas and we got into a fun conversation about her love of posting cat pictures on Instagram. And Morgan Matson remembered me and when I tagged her in a pic after meeting her she left a lovely comment on my Instagram! I have yet to meet an author who wasn’t super supportive and enthusiastic about book bloggers and so appreciative of how they help to spread the word about their books, so if it feels right don’t be afraid to mention your blog!
And when all else fails: REAL TALK
Sometimes you may be too nervous, or tired, or anxious to think up a great conversation starter. That’s totally OK. Sometimes it’s been a long day and you just want to say “Hi” and “I love your work” and move on. And sometimes you just can’t keep from fangirling all over the place (which may feel embarrassing to you in hindsight, but I’m sure the authors are very flattered!) Saying the first thing that comes to mind is sometimes the best approach, especially if you’re nervous. As long as you’re polite, genuine, and sincere I’m sure the author will love engaging with you. As is the case when I met Marissa Meyer, the first signing I attended at YALLWEST and which I had gotten to the venue 3 hours early in order to make sure I saw her. When she asked me what I was most excited for that weekend, I literally blurted out: “You! You’re my number one priority!” Blunt? Yes. Sincere? Definitely!