By Donna Andrews
The other day I was at an event sponsored by a writing-related organization. (Maybe it wasn't SinC. Maybe it was MWA. Or RWA. Or a local writing outfit. I'm not telling. Let's call it RISC, for Really Impressive Scribbler's Club.) Anyway, this particular RISC meeting was well attended. Most of the people there were writers--published or aspiring--along with a few avid readers and a few friends and significant others of writers. The meal was edible to tasty, the speaker was excellent, and most of the attendees had a great time.
Most. Not all. I had a great time, myself, but then, I lucked out. I didn't sit at Boris Sharpe-Payne's table.
You all know Boris. He started coming to the RISC meetings a month or so before his first book came out. Came out, I should add, from a major publisher, to decent reviews. He's personable, well-spoken, apparently on his way to success. Only one problem.
Boris's a really gung-ho promoter. He seems to have forgotten how NOT to promote. No off switch. No volume control. And no sense of when his listeners have had enough.
Everyone at Boris's table heard all about his latest book, all his fabulous reviews, how fabulously long the lines have been at his signings, what a fabulous blurb so-and-so gave him, how fabulously many books he sold at his last signing, and how close his agent is to making a fabulous movie deal. They also got an earful about how fabulous his publicist is, how fabulous his panel was at the last convention, and a few coy hints about what his next fabulous work will be.
Boris had a fabulous time at the meeting. The rest of the people at his table were testing the edges on the table knives by the end of the meal--though I don't know whether they were contemplating seppuku or a reenactment of Murder on the Orient Express.
Of course, it could be worse. There's Boris's sister, Brynhilda Sharpe-Payne. She's been known to show up at other people's signings and start selling her own books in the back of the room. Brynhilda doesn't get asked out much these days.
Part of being an effective self-promoter is to know when to BSP and when to shut up. A savvy self-promoter would have looked around the table at the RISC meeting and asked himself, "Why are these people here?" And unless his name was, say, Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammett, the answer probably wasn't "To hear me talk about my books for an hour." RISC members come to see old friends and meet new ones . . . to network with fellow writing professionals . . . to hear the speaker . . . to learn about the business and craft of writing . . . and yes, to learn about new books by fellow RISC members. So no one would fault Brynhilda or Boris if they said a couple of sentences about their books and offered their tablemates a bookmark.
But after that, if I were Boris or Brynhilda, I hope I'd have the good sense to put the BSP on hold for the rest of the event. They could talk to the other people at their table. Ask them about their lives--including their writing. If someone asked for information or advice, they could offer it--if they have any expertise in the area. They could participate in whatever conversations their tablemates are having. (But if their contribution invariably starts with "Well, in my books . . ." watch out, Boris and Brynhilda, you're BSPing again.)
Are you wincing as you read this? I confess, I'm wincing as I write it. I can remember moments when I, too, was a Sharpe-Payne. I hope I'm having fewer such moments these days. Too many of us have learned that mantra "Never pass up an opportunity to self-promote!" I'm working on learning a new one. "In every situation, consider whether it's possible and appropriate to self-promote." Sometimes less is more. Sometimes any BSP is too much.
You don't agree? Fine; then I'm sure you'd love to sit at the Sharpe-Paynes' table next month. Trust me, there are plenty of empty places.
Donna Andrews is the SinC Chapter Liaison