Here’s an amusing (in a sour kind of way) item on fantasy author Terry Pratchett and the “problem” his popularity caused at a recent Washington D.C. literary festival, noted in the winter issue of The Author and picked up by Ansible:
He ‘had a queue of fans stretching round the block; the poets weren’t so lucky. The organisers “were absolutely desperate for my signing queue to finish — ‘you mustn’t have it sticking out of the tent because it upsets the poets’,” Pratchett says. “We all made our decisions, they chose poetry, I can’t help it. There’s another 600 people in the queue, what do you think would happen if I put my pen down?”‘
Goodness gracious, those poor versifiying dears, dying a little inside every time they saw the line of readers waiting to get autographs from a mere fantasy writer. O the horror, the horror, of the poet’s life in a realm of crass commerce. Doesn’t your heart go out to them?
No, actually, it doesn’t. When I write, I write, and when I hustle, I hustle, and if you aren’t at a literary festival to hustle your book, then exactly why are you there? If I were sharing festival space with a bigfoot like Terry Pratchett, you can bet I’d be out there with a sandwich board and a bell, or a barrel organ and a monkey on a chain, telling the people on line that Pratchett is great but man does not live by Discworld alone. Yeah, a lot of the people on line may have been fantasy nerds who wouldn’t dream of buying something without a dragon on the cover, but not all of them were. In a world dominated by non-readers, anybody who cares enough about reading to come out to a book fair is somebody worth getting to know. If you’re at a book festival where 600 people are lined up to see somebody else, then that just means you have 600 opportunities to make a connection with somebody who’s never heard of you. Unless you’re a snob about mingling with such people, in which case I have no sympathy for you at all. Snobbery is its own punishment.
When I was at the Collingswood book fest a few months ago, I had the good fortune to get a spot near the food court. Should I have stayed in my booth and pouted because people were lining up for chili dogs instead of The Last Three Miles? Hell no — I was chatting with people, telling them about Frank Hague and automobiles, and if they still weren’t interested then no hard feelings. I’d see them off with a little flyer that had a picture of the book and my Web address, against the possibility that some other time they might get a hankering to read themselves some history.
Part of it is that I’m an incurable ham, but in an age when the odds are heavily stacked against writers, there’s a lot to be said for making like the organ grinder in the picture and getting in touch with your inner huckster.