A Book Signing, and a Bit of Advice for Aspiring Authors

First, the news: Author Brian Thornton is signing and reading from his newest release, The Book Of Bastards: 101 Worst Scoundrels and Scandals From The World Of Politics  And Power, at 3 p.m. Sunday at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island.

Technically, by mentioning this, I’m sort of cheating on one of the purposes of this blog, which is to promote the works of Kitsap County authors. And Brian, sad to say, lives in Pierce County.

But another one of the purposes of this blog is to pass along whatever advice I can pick up and share with aspiring authors, and in Brian’s story toward published authordom is some sage wisdom worth repeating.

Namely, make friends. So much of where you get in writing and publishing comes from who you know. And more than that, who knows you. And even more than that, who likes you.

Brian is a friend of mine. We met last summer at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. He’s the president of the Northwest Mystery Writers Of America chapter, and since crime writing is my thing, I pegged him as a person to know. As it turns out, that was a great move because a) he’s fun as hell to be around; and b) he knows freaking everyone. We’ve hung out a handful of times, had a few meals and a few drinks, gone to a few literary events.

Now, note what I said: He’s a friend of mine. He’s not someone I with whom I networked (though the net effect is in some ways the same). He’s not someone I schmoozed. He’s someone who’s willing to open some doors for me, and I in turn will do what I can to help him along in his quest to become an established author of historical mystery fiction. You know, the sort of things friends with mutual interests will do for one another.

Brian, who is one of the most naturally garrulous and gregarious people I’ve met, owes a lot of his success to date to the friends he’s made through his own initiative. I’ve asked him to share a bit of his story with us.

“I got my first book contract in part because of my fondness for the work of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke,” Brian said, “and sold my first short story to a national publication in part because I gave up my seat in a crowded bar to a couple of ladies with no place to sit.

“Of course the longer versions of these stories involve friendships struck up while networking,” he added. ” In the first case, a passing reference to Rilke’s work in a posting on the e-mail list of a national writers’ association (Mystery Writers of America) led to a friendship. My new friend, an editor at Adams Media, eventually asked whether I was interested in writing a book for her.

“I’ve written seven for that press, including my latest one.

“In the second case,” Brian continued, “I was at a conference for mystery writers, fans, editors and agents, and gave up my seat to a very nice lady who turned out to be the editor of a nationally distributed mystery magazine.

“She was a real class act, suggesting I send her a story when I thought I had one.  I did so.  Having made that connection got me out of the slush pile, which is a big leap.  And while she passed on the first story I sent her (as well as the second), she eventually bought one, and it wasn’t the last one.”

Pretty cool, huh?

Just in the last few months of knowing Brian, I’ve gotten to know that Adams Media editor as well, and she and I have exchanged e-mails that may lead to me doing some work for her. And most recently, through Brian, I’ve been invited to submit a short story to an upcoming anthology of West Coast mystery fiction. Neither of those prospects may pan out, but that’s not the point. The point is to have prospects, and prospects are most commonly forged through friendships.

How do you make these friendships, you ask? In my experience, it’s as simple as approaching them. Most authors aren’t remote, unapproachable Buddha-On-A-Mountaintop figures; mostly, they’re working stiffs with day jobs and families and bills who have been fortunate and persevering enough to generate a small side stream of fame and money through their writing talent. Brian, for example, is a guy who squeezes in his writing dreams when he isn’t working as an eighth-grade history teacher.

Follow the basic rules of friend-making: Don’t be obnoxious, don’t be fawning, don’t pester them to do things for you. Contact them online — most are on Facebook or have a contact e-mail through their websites — and show some knowledge of their work. If they live nearby, ask them if you can buy them lunch or a cup of coffee at a convenient time. Listen, and allow yourself to be listened to, and relax and enjoy yourself as much as you enjoy them. In my experience, most are fun, funny people, full of great stories, great advice and a great desire to do pay forward the kindnesses that were given to them when they were like you, on the outside looking in. I’m not the most socially adept or outgoing person on the planet, but I’ve made many friends this way, and treasure them all. And feel confident than if and when my time comes, they’ll probably help me out however they can.

Here are some of Brian’s time-tested rules for breaking the ice with book folks:

1. It costs you nothing to be gracious.
2. Every single author you’ll ever meet has been exactly where you are now.  The lion’s share of them never forget that.
3. Most of the authors I’ve met are funny, interesting people, fun to talk to, and incredibly generous with their time.
4. Because of the changing terrain of publishing most everyone in the business is looking to network all the time.  You rarely reach a point where you think, “I don’t need to meet anyone else new.”
5. When you encounter someone who isn’t interested in networking, you’ll know it (or you should).
6. Every author I know has a horror story about people trying to take advantage of them.
7. Don’t become someone’s horror story!  Don’t ask for someone to refer you to their agent or their editor within ten minutes of meeting them.

Sage wisdom, like I said.

So, there you are. Brian and I will be walking the talk on Sunday. I’ll be taking he and his fiance to lunch before his 3 p.m. reading. And then I’ll hang out with them at the reading itself. Come on down say hello, if you can. I’d be happy to meet you … and I know Brian would.

One thought on “A Book Signing, and a Bit of Advice for Aspiring Authors

  1. I’ve been a friend of Brian’s for seven years and can vouch for all that you’ve said about him. He’s a terrific guy and doing a great job for MWA. And he can write! The advice you both offer is sound also. I, too, have found friendships that sustain me as a writer. When I lived on the east coast I was in a writing group for twelve years and I belong to one out here too. I joined both groups at the urging of friends of mine, writers I already knew. Both groups have beenvery helpful.

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