Sunday, March 20, 2005

Clueless

Someone asked who was the first entry in my Authors Behaving Badly file. As it happens, I am. I created the file to teach myself what not to do along the pro road, and started with my first big mistake, so I would never forget it.

It happened during the first national industry conference I attended. I had been invited to one of those exclusive Big Important Private parties that only the top bestselling authors go to. I personally hadn't been invited -- my first book had barely hit the shelves -- but a BSL author who had an invitation kindly asked me along as a guest.

Before I went, I mentioned the invite to another writer who had been getting friendly with me. The writer congratulated me and told me this was my big opportunity. All I had to do was make sure everyone I was introduced to got the right impression. The writer gave me very specific instructions.

Before I get to the embarrassing part, let me admit that initially I was a bit suspicious. I've worked rooms when I was in the corporate world, and the instructions seemed overly-pushy. Then again, what did I know about how this publishing stuff worked?

I was so clueless that year. I should have been arrested for sheer stupidity.

Unhappily the Publishing Cops never showed up, so I got dressed in my nicest party dress, slapped on as much makeup as I could stand and went to the Big Important Private Party. I was introduced to many famous writers, editors and publishers. I shook hands and smiled. Then I followed those very specific instructions and gave them all bookmarks for my first novel. Although they were only homemade and a little bent from being in my purse, I handed them out like they were Havana cigars.

I can't remember how many I passed out -- Roberta Gellis was one of my victims -- but it was at least twenty before I saw that no one else was doing it and stopped. Too late. Everyone was looking at me like I was from another planet. The Planet of Deplorable Taste. Including Louise Burke, who was at the time top gun at Penguin Putnam. I think I nailed her with a bookmark, too.

The author who invited me as a guest waited until we had left the party and were alone before telling me how tacky my promo-ing had been. Aside from that gentle reproval, no one ever said a word, harsh or otherwise, to me about it, and likely dismissed it as the usual dingbat rookie behavior.

As for the person who set me up? I didn't have a confrontation or try to get even. I took the faith and dignity route, turned the other cheek and pretended like nothing had happened. I wanted to learn from it, though, so when I came home from that conference, I started the ABB file with my own story.

You move on. Recently another writer asked me for advice on how to navigate through the first season in hell. My first impulse was to go all X-Files and say Trust No One but you can't do that. Maybe the best advice is to Trust your instincts. If I'd paid more attention to mine, I'd have saved myself this story and a couple of others.

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