A Class Act

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’ve just returned from a great weekend away at the Malice Domestic conference where Mary Higgins Clark received a richly deserved lifetime achievement award. From the first moment I met her in the elevator I was struck by both her graciousness and her humility. In all her speeches and panels she provided wonderful advice with an air of total professionalism. She was, in short, a class act.

Although almost everyone else I encountered was similarly professional I did witness, on occasion, behavior that convinced me it was time to address the delicate subject of ‘conference etiquette’ (or as I like to subtitle it ‘how not to make an ass out of yourself’). My draft rules of etiquette (and believe me, I’m hoping for your comments to add and refine these) are as follows:

  • Remember, if you happen to be a published author of any ilk, that arrogance like pride, usually comes before the fall. I couldn’t believe how some authors treated aspiring authors (or even other published authors) with barely concealed disdain – as if that somehow made their work seem superior. I know it’s a cut-throat industry but dissing others will not get you ahead.
  • Remember that marketing does not include foisting your book on a reader without their permission. I was actually at a session where I was told to ‘write my name’ on a slip of a paper only to realize (I was never told) that this meant I was now in an enforced raffle for someone’s book who was not even a participant on the panel I was attending…People need to be asked if they want your book or marketing material….
  • Remember the basic common courtesies – don’t push in, cut people off, ask rude questions (and yes, demanding to know some person’s print run may constitute a rude question if they don’t know you!) or crash other people’s parties.
  • Smile and be generous to those who are waiting on you at functions, serving you coffee, helping with the AV or volunteering. The snafu is rarely their fault…
  • When on a panel do not hog the mic, be rude to the moderator or generally act as though you are far too superior to impart your esteemed knowledge on the attendees (believe me, I actually saw all three occur!)
  • Remember the unwritten code of published and unpublished authors – we’re in this together – so never denigrate, belittle, bitch about or undermine a fellow to author to anyone else, least of all an editor or agent!

So those are some of my initial rules… What would you add or amend? What conference faux-pas/ breaches of etiquette/ acts of unbelievable rudeness have you ever witnessed?

12 thoughts on “A Class Act

  1. We had a guest (a cozy fan) at Magna Cum Murder and while we were in the bar at the Roberts two female authors of a book strong-armed my sweet guest to buy their book, which she had no interest in, and it made me furious. That sale spoiled this guest for any other books they write, and were over the line. Every conference I go to is filled with arrogant authors, pushy authors, and uncomfortable situations, but the good far outweighs the bad. Authors like John Gilstrap and Jeffery Deaver are examples of how published authors can be open to aspiring authors and give our trade a good name. I always try to speak to people but I tend to be shy to a pain and I am sure people take this standoffishness as arrogance on occasion. I have been high on the hill and I know what the base looks like.

    Great post, and accurate.

  2. If you want John Ramsey Miller to open up, get him in a van and ask about his chickens. He isn’t all that shy.

    I may know the authors of whom John is speaking.

    I had my own run in at Magna Cum Murder where the fellow panelist decided to set up a marketing gig on the way to the conference. The two of us were supposed to be in the very first panel, but I show up only to find out I’m by myself. Lucky for me, the wonderful Louise Penny stepped in and helped me out.

    I remember at Bouchercon the author at the signing table right next to me sat there for 5 minutes and then left. He mumbled something like, “This is B.S.” Turns out Laura Lippman signed at teh same time and her line was a mile long and I guess he was jealous.

    I get most angry at the Authors who hog the microphone at panels. Happened to me once at a library panel.

  3. I remember dodging a writer at a conference over consecutive years. She kept her book in hand, trying to press it on any hapless acquaintance who crossed her path. It was like being stalked by a hyena.

  4. If someone slips you a manuscript under a bathroom stall, rip off a page and pass the MS back with a note, “Thank you. Your book has met my needs at this time.”

  5. Great post, Clare. I’m fascinated with the social dynamics of conferences. At my first Bouchercon in St. Paul, MN, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed. I had never been to one as a fan, and there I was as a first-time author, and I didn’t really know what to do. Mostly, I sat quietly and listened–and I sought out the company of the two or three people that I knew from an online chat room in the defunct AOL Writers Club. I’m forever grateful that Harlan Coben took me under his wing and introduced me to the party crowd. That was very nice of him. Later in that same conference, Bob Randisi realized what a crappy panel assignment I had, and he invited me to join his panel at the last minute–one that actually had a lot of people in the room.

    At that same conference, though, a writer who was on a hot career arc at the time actually carried a portable sign on a stand that read, “No Signing Zone.” I thought that was a special breed of rude.

    For what it’s worth, I really feel for the yet-published attendees at these things whose queries haven’t yet captured anyone’s attention, and the sense of desperation that comes with it. I’ve written here before that I’m a Type-A extrovert kind of guy who loves to meet people, so if you see me in the bar (always a good bet at conferences), always feel free to come by and join the conversation. Just please don’t try to hijack the conversation by hawking your manuscript. Unless there’s an agent at the table, no one in the group can help you find a publisher.
    When you join the conversation, do it with the idea of chatting and getting to know people. Emphasis on the PEOPLE. It’s rude to treat people as tools or stepping stones in your career.

    John Gilstrap

  6. I should have added the ‘no bathroom pitches’ as well as the ‘no stalking’ rule! I have to admit the rudeness of some authors takes me aback – thankfully most out there are wonderful supportive friendly people – even if they are shy:) Sometimes I wonder if the conference atmosphere and that whiff of desperation that often accompanies it, is to blame…I just hope some people aren’t as rude at home!

  7. The best part of conferences is in the bar when people swap conference experiences. There is usually a great deal of howling, and rolling on the floor …before the puking starts. And do get close to Gilstrap in the bar and you’ll split your dial-0-fram.

  8. It was a great conference – it really was the actions of just a few that prompted me to comment:)

  9. Great post Clare – and as one who was also at Malice and one who won an unexpected raffle prize, your comments are far more gracious than mine would have been. Following Bouchercon in 2005, a few authors wrote a terrific “Moderators Manifesto” — I think we should send that out again and have an official “Panelist Manifesto” too …


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