June 2003

Joseph J. Finn

sf libertine

Convention etiquitte

Summer, summer, summer! Travel time is here, and it's time for conventions! Even more important, soon will be the fall book season, full of author signings and appearances. Since it is this wonderful time of year (I live in Chicago; I'll take any sun I can get), here's some basic guidelines for when you're in line, panting to get that rare Ray Bradbury volume signed by the master himself. Some of my advice will depend if you're at a bookstore or at a convention, but it's all relevant.

1. Brush your teeth. Really, folks. Would you want to be signing for people for two hours and dealing with folks with spinach in their teeth? Brush that hair and be neat. Don't be sloppy fan boys, and the author will be much more appreciative.

2. Know the rules. A really good idea is to call ahead to the bookstore and find out how many items you can have signed before you get in line. Sometimes, authors will only sign the book they're on tour for; sometimes they're a little more liberal. A particularly egregious example is Anderson's in the Chicago suburbs, which requires that you purchase the book at their store to have it signed.

3. Politeness, politeness, politeness. Whether it's toward the convention workers, the bookstore employees or to your fellow line holders, always be polite. No griping to the employees about how long the line is, okay? We're all in the same boat, so just be nice.

4. Call ahead and confirm the time. I can't count the number of times people showed up late for signings when I was working at a bookstore and then made a stink about it.

5. Not everyone is in line. Whether it's a convention or a bookstore, make sure people can get at the shelves or booths.

6. Be considerate to employees or con organizers. They're doing their damnedest to make sure things move smoothly. Be they handing out passes or asking you to move along, it's always for the good of the whole line and for the artist.

7. Are you at a question session? Know your venue. If this is a causal time, this is not the time for your post-graduate thesis questions on why all the men are such pigs in Jane Smiley novels. Don't ask stupid questions, but also try not to ask questions that would take half an hour to answer. Write a letter instead.

8. On a related note, be aware of your surroundings. If there is a two-hour line, say thank you and disappear. If you're the only person there while Judd Winnick is pleasantly smiling, chat him up about his wedding photos (no, really; they're linked to on his website, and the photographer is fabulous).

9. Try to be a little original. How many questions do you think Judd Winnick has had about the Real World? Try and come up with a good semi-original question. People on signing yours and the coin circuit are out there for weeks; try and go beyond the usual questions.

10. Finally, take a chance. If you're strolling along at a convention or a bookstore, and you see some poor person sitting at a table as folks pass them by, stop over and chat for a while. Hell, that's how I met Jackie Robinson's wife, Rachel Robinson. Exceedingly nice woman, and I both met her and picked up her wonderful book - all because I took a chance.

See? Nothing too onerous, and we all have a good time.