Close Encounters of the Writer Kind

Author Martha O’Connor bumped into one of her favorite authors in the grocery store:

I stared for awhile (she probably thought I was nuts), just to make sure I was right. Anne Lamott lives in Marin County, about
five miles from me. In fact, I am almost certain I saw her driving her
car once about a year ago.  Anyway, I was pretty sure it was her. I got in line to pay; Anne
Lamott was paying at a nearby register. As she was leaving I stopped
her and said:

Me: Excuse me, are you Anne Lamott?
AL: Yes (smiles)
Me: I
just have to tell you how much I love your work, especially your
writings on faith and spirituality. They’re the kind of books you can
just read over and over again.
AL: Well, I’m so glad (humble smile, seems genuinely happy to hear this)
Me: I know you’re on your way somewhere but I just had to tell you that.
AL: No, it’s OK. (smiles again) Thank you so much for telling me!

Oddly, since I have told this story a few times, every single person has asked me why I didn’t say something about MY work…. "I’m a writer too, may I send you a copy of my book?" something like that. To be honest, it didn’t even cross my mind.

(Now, I’m sure Joe Konrath, the book promotion machine, would dismember me if he knew I didn’t take the opportunity to do so, but it would have polluted the moment with horrid
black dreck and mold. All wrong. Ya know?)

Yes, I know. She did the right thing. The moment wasn’t about selling herself. It was about telling another person how much you admire them and the positive impact their work has had on your life (and what would Martha have gained by telling her that she, too was an author? It would have made a special moment seem insincere and self-centered). I’ve been lucky enough to have had several experiences like that over the years and, at the risk of sounding like a geek, it’s magical. And on those occasions I’ve rarely, if ever, mentioned my own connection to the entertainment or publishing industries.

But there are authors I know (and I’m not saying Joe is one of them) who see every encounter as a book-promotion opportunity…and they come across as obnoxious and self-involved. And they miss out on some very special moments…like the one Martha had. More often than not, it’s better just enjoy the opportunity to meet people without feeling compelled to promote you own work.

15 thoughts on “Close Encounters of the Writer Kind”

  1. And how often do we really get to make someone smile like that? I’m sure that it must make an author’s day to hear good stuff about their work, pure and simple.
    And if I met Anne Lamott, I’d be a gushing mess. Just saying.

  2. I agree. I known there are some people who are constantly in “sales mode.” I think it’s part of their personality, in which case, they’re probably wasting their time in the book business, they should be in something that has a more intelligent business model with higher profit margins.
    Besides, had this encounter turned into a normal conversation, which apparently it did not, Lamott would have asked her something about herself and she would have had the opportunity to say, “Oh, I’m a writer. Thanks for asking.”
    I can’t help but feel it’s better not to turn every human encounter into a sales opportunity, and probably my sales reflect that; but I would prefer not to have people avoid me on the street (more than they already do), whispering among themselves, “Oh dear God, it’s Mark Terry, he’s going to try to sell us one of his books.”

  3. As an unpublished writer, I’m wary about approaching authors for help with my career. My method to mention that I’m a writer is to tell the author that their books have inspired my writing. (Not a lie…if you are published, then there is something I can learn from you and your writing).
    Most authors say: Thank you, keep trying, and some offer advice or other inspiration.
    One author asked to see my work and gave me some leads.
    I think the trick is to throw the information out there and let the other person decide what to do with it.

  4. It’s the sort of tacky thing a vanity press author would do. I was contacted by an author with a historical question, which I have expertise with and promptly provided the info. To my delight he used it in the book and cited my unpublished work. I’m hoping that will help in some way to correct my situation.

  5. David,
    If I may explain Mark York’s question, I had to read your sentence twice to understand it myself.
    Read has two meanings. Coupled with your he’d it makes the sentence confusing.
    You meant (I believe) “if he would read”
    Mark York (and me the first time) saw “if he had read.”
    Someone correct me if I’m wrong.


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