Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How I Find New Authors to Love

E. Duranty by Degas
Once upon a time, I gobbled up every new book of fantasy and science fiction that I could find. I'd trek to my local independent specialty book store or my local branch library and devour each month's arrivals. Now getting to the closest (general) bookstore requires a trek, our local library branch is in danger of closing (or maybe not, it keeps changing), not to mention losing its human librarians, and the number of new books has multiplied beyond any hope of keeping up with everything that's being published. I don't recognize many of the authors, at least not under those by-lines.

One way through the deluge is to connect with authors online. (Shameless Promotion Hint: Book View Café is a wonderful way to get acquainted. A whole community of fabulous writers with a wide range of styles and genres is right here -- we will now pause while you read a short story from a writer new to you. Okay, aren't you glad you did?)

Conventions also work well for me as a way to sort through the enormous number of new titles. I'll hear someone talk on a panel or read aloud from their work and be impressed with what a strange and thoughtful mind they have. Sometimes, I'll meet them afterwards and be curious about their stories. Sometimes when I hear a writer in person, I'll pick up a book whose title or cover would not otherwise appeal to me or I'll be willing to read something outside my usual "taste zone." Since I believe in supporting other writers, especially newer ones, I usually buy (at least) one "unknown" book from the dealers room. This has the additional benefit of helping out my friendly convention dealers, who get even friendlier and more diligent in carrying my own books. The next step is a request for an autograph, which is a pleasure for everyone involved. So many times, the few moments it takes can give a writer, even an established writer, a lift. "Wow! Deborah J. Ross bought my book -- and asked me to sign it!"


A delightful outcome from these meetings has been personal as well as professional friendships. That happens when we love each other's work and enjoy each other on a personal level.

A third method is personal recommendations and reviews, although with discernment. I may like and respect another reader/author but have different tastes in reading. (I have a good friend who gives me anti-recommendations: anything she loves, I am sure to hate, although I don't always like what she detests.) Reasons for liking or disliking books are particularly valuable. For instance, a reviewer or friend may say, "I couldn't stand Book because Topic or Theme turns me off" but I happen to adore stories with Topic or Theme, so a negative review can actually make me more likely to go out and read the book.

Sometimes the experiment is successful and I go out and buy everything else I can find by that author. Other times, the library book sale is the recipient of these autographed copies. That's the breaks. I don't always enjoy the work of people I admire and like (and sometimes I like work by people I can't stand), so I try to look at the process as an interesting experiment. A book can be well done, but is just not my cup of tea. If I don't care for it, someone else may love it.

Now comes the delicate issue of reciprocity, because I extend this support not only as an avid reader, but as a fellow writer. The first sale is without expectations, but after that, I pay attention. Unless I'm utterly captivated by the author's work (in which case I devolve to the status of a fan), I notice whether the support is mutual. Alas for human nature, I'm more likely to continue to buy your books if you also read mine or at least let me know you are interested in my own career. I don't demand that the other writer adore my work, only that they extend the courtesy of giving it a try as I have done for them. If that sounds self-serving, it is. Relationships between peers (we are each readers but we are both writers as well) require mutual support. If we are honest, we can separate out personal taste and be of genuine help to one another.

What do you think? How do you find new authors to love?

2 comments:

  1. It's a fascinating subject, and totally subjective ... but something you said toward the end caught my attention, that of reciprocity.

    When I was young and just discovering SF/F (I never knew such a critter existed until I was in my teens) I would not have dreamed of contacting the author to tell them I admired their work.

    When I started writing, and realised how hard it is to write well, I felt even more intimidated by the authors whose work I admired. I couldn't possibly intrude into their mysterious and lofty world with my geeky fandom.

    This all changed when I summoned the courage to attend a writing workshop by Trudi Canavan, (who thus, will always have a place in my heart)where, apart from recieving great advice, a bolt of lightning struck and I saw that writers were people too!

    Fast forward a few years and I have moved to Canada and am working like a trojan on my first novel. I write and learn my craft, gain the skills I need to make this business work, read author blogs, attend conferences, etc. But that separation between 'me' and 'them' remains. Between me, the writer, and them, the published author.

    Gradually I became bold enough to comment on the blogs I read, and my comments were commented on by the blog's authors.

    That's when the next quantum shift happens. Those exchanges told me that the author wasn't just hanging it out there to sell books, they were genuinely wanting to engage with their readers, with their community, of which I had become part of.

    I've read many books that are out of (and within) my favourite genres, because of this one simple concept.

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  2. Hooray for you!

    I've always believed that we are all storytellers, even though we have different levels of prose skill. As working writers, we need to set healthy boundaries that enable us to interact in a gracious and encouraging way with readers and aspiring writers AND protect our time and energy.

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