How to meet an author? Ask an author

Roy Peter Clark has written six books about writing. Here are his five tips for meeting your favorite writer.
Author Roy Peter Clark
Author Roy Peter Clark [ Chaz Dykes ]
Published Nov. 2, 2019

I am a big shot author. I have proof. No author has appeared more often at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading. How about Peter Meinke, you may ask, Florida’s poet laureate? That old man puts the dog in doggerel. How about Michael Connelly? Pish posh on Harry Bosch, I say.

No, I am the man. My six writing books in 12 years prove it. Writing Tools just hit a quarter of a million copies in print, translated into 10 languages. Yes, I am a big-time author. I know how to auth.

In spite of this greatness, I want to assure you that I am NOT unapproachable. But there are ways to approach an author at a reading festival that are more effective than others. Here are some tips:

1. Buy a book for the author to sign or — if you are broke — bring a book by the author that you already own. At a recent event, I signed one of most beat-up copies of Writing Tools I have ever seen. What a great compliment from that reader.

2. As you approach an author’s signing table, check out how fast or slow the line is moving. It will give you a read on how long you can chat with the author without overstaying your welcome. I love give and take with readers. I ask them questions. I personalize my inscription when I can. “To Jessica, a new friend and Florida’s next great writer.” Warning: It is discourteous to folks behind you to try to engage the author in an extended conversation.

3. Attend the author’s session. Get there a little early if you can. The author may be setting up, but we can often double task, answering a question or receiving a compliment, or even some civil criticism. After a session, there is often a rush to the front to meet and greet. A common scene is to see a popular author surrounded by admirers. A savvy, considerate author will lead such a group out of the conference room, as a courtesy to the next speaker. Rather than have readers line up, I receive and answer questions loudly enough so everyone gathered can hear me.

4. I am not encouraging stalking of authors, but they have to get to the room or the signing table just like you do. The walk and talk is not a bad thing, but respect the author’s time and space, and rehearse your question or comment. If you know the author’s work, it helps to demonstrate that, perhaps by reference to a scene in a novel or piece of advice in a self-help book.

5. The most famous and popular authors attract the biggest crowds, which means that you may get to enjoy their readings, but little more. You are more likely to make a personal connection if you pursue a lesser known author instead of a big shot author like me or, say, Dave Barry. New authors and lesser known authors are less likely to become jaded or automatic in their appearances. Before I became a big shot author, I was thrilled by the unexpected attention of readers. “Might I trouble you for an autograph, Mr. Clark?”

“Trouble?” I said back then before I descended into arrogance. “It’s an honor.”

Roy Peter Clark has taught writing in St. Petersburg since 1977. He is senior scholar at the Poynter Institute. He has written or edited 19 books. His next one, due out in January, is “Murder Your Darlings,” a writing book about writing books.

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Times Festival of Reading

Roy Peter Clark will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 9 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, He will speak at noon in Room 105 at the Poynter Institute. Free.